Ganbatte Kudasai Junna Tsukii!

Last September 30, 2017, Filipina-Japanese athlete Junna Tsukii celebrated her 26th birthday with a big bang- she won for the Philippines the gold in the women’s open weight category of the 7th Karate-do Goju-kai Association Global Championships held in Richmond, BC, Canada. The victory was not that easy as she had to get past other worthy opponents from Asia as well as her former teammate in the Japanese national team. In the finals, she had to endure a lot of bruises and a black eye before beating her tough opponent from Hungary.

Warming up for the Philippine team a month earlier, she captured the bronze in the -50 kilogram event in the 29th Southeast Asian Games held in Malaysia. She just came from an injury and was out of action for the most part of 2015 and early 2016 having suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on her right knee.

But who really is Junna Tsukii besides the cute young lady who looks more like cosplayer from Harajuku than a 2nd Dan Karate blackbelt? Junna Tsukii was born on September 20, 1991 in the city of Pasay. Her father is Shin Tsukii, a Japanese who was the former national coach of the Philippine Karate team from the years 1994 to 1997 while her mother is Lilia Villanueva Tsukii, a Filipina. She later moved to Japan at the age of three and studied there from grade school to college. She finished International Studies at the Takushoko University.

Junna Tsukii is not your regular martial arts hobbyist- she is in fact a member of the fabled Japanese Karate team. A five-time All-Japan champion with an extensive international experience, her most memorable ones were in 2013, when she won the gold in the 6th World Gojukai Karate-do Championship held in India; in 2015, when she won gold in the 29th Yoshida Cup International Karate Invitational held in Portland, Oregon; and in 2016, when she won the silver in the 10th Polish Open International Karate Grand Prix held in Bielsko, Poland.

This year, she won the gold medal in the Thailand Open Karate-do Championships (April), the bronze in the US Open and Junior International Cup in Las Vegas, Nevada (March), and a gold and a bronze in the Canada Open Karate Championships (June). All these victories were won for the Japanese national team.

Today, Junna has decided to live in the Philippines and represent its national team in international events. But why? Why has she decided to leave the Japanese national team and represent the country of her mother instead? The ever smiling Junna says “after years of giving honor to my father’s native land (Japan), I think it is now time for me to give honor to my mother’s native land (the Philippines)”. But she adds “it was actually my father Shin who convinced me to play for the country of my birth.”

With this firm conviction to play for the Philippine Karate team, she has now set her sights to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. There, she will be pitted against her former teammates in the Japanese national team like world champion Kiyou Shimizu, etc.

But, the foremost question in the minds of many is “will she be able to win the Philippine’s first Olympic gold in 2020? It will be three years from now and she has a lot of time to prepare. Tsukii says “I am now very happy to be a member of the national team; I want to work hard for the country and the team”. “I wish I could win more gold medals for the Philippines in the future” adds Tsukii, who is now very busy teaching Karate to Filipino and Japanese kids (those residing in the Philippines).

For the moment, the only thing we could hope for is that she gives out her very best. Ganbatte kudasai Junna Tsukii! “Hai, gambarimasu”, she quipped.

Note: Ganbatte kudasai means good luck; but it also means give out your best.

Junna Tsukii fighting another Asian opponent during the quarter finals of the 7th Karate-do Gojukai Global Championships held in Richmond, BC, Canada.
Waving the Philippine flag with proud papa Shin Tsukii.
With godfather, Manuel “Pocholo” Veguillas

About George M. Hizon

George M. Hizon was the former Karate-do head instructor of Claret School. This was during his college years at the De La Salle University from 1980-81. He would later become the head instructor of the University of the Philippines from mid 1983 to 1984.