Sakura Alforte: Will She Win the Philippine’s First Olympic Gold?
Last June 1, 2016, the International Olympic Committee announced the inclusion of Karate in the Summer Olympic Games which will be held in Tokyo, Japan in 2020. This was great news not only to Jacques Delcourt, founder of the European Karate Union who lobbied very hard for the inclusion of the sport to the Olympics since 1970, but also to the hundreds of thousands of Karate practitioners who want to see their martial art featured in the most important sporting event held only every four years.
A total of eight gold medals will be contested in two events- the kata and the kumite. Two gold medals will be given in the kata competition, one for the overall winner in the male category and another one for the female category. In the kumite competition, six gold medals will be given- three in the male category with weight classes of -67 kgs, -75 kg and + 75 kg, and another three in the female category with weight classes of -55 kg, -61 kg and +61 kg.
In the Philippines, one karateka has set her sights on those gold medals. She is Sakura Alforte. She, together with her supportive parents, Nino and Sachiko and brother, Naoki were also responsible for having hundreds of petitions signed online for the inclusion of Karate in the upcoming Olympics.
At the tender age of eight, Sakura took up her first lessons in Karate under the tutelage of Chino Veguillas, a 5th Dan Karate Master. She was only in grade 2 at the De La Salle Zobel School in Alabang.
According to Mom Sachiko “one day when Sakura was grade 1, she showed us her mawashi geri jodan (round house kick to the face), it was well snapped nice kick even though she had never learned karate. (She just tried the kick without any knowledge.) Since her kick already looked like experienced person’s kick, we thought she should learn martial art, especially Japanese martial art because she is half Japanese.
She was born and raised in the Philippines, so we wanted her to do Japanese sports, but we had no idea what kind of sports DLSZ offered, until the time came when she became grade 2, school gave us grassroots paper, a list of sports clubs. When we found karate in the said list, we immediately contacted the coach of Karate-do that was Chino Sensei”.
A few months later, in March, 2011, she would win her first Karate tournament- the gold in the Milo Super Karate Kids held in Megamall. She was only eight years old. Little did she know that this was only the beginning of her long list of victories in the martial art of Karate? In July, 2011, she would win her second gold medal in kumite in the Adidas Martial Arts Festival held at the Mall of Asia in Pasay City; she also took the bronze in kata.
The following year, in May 25, 2012 to be exact, she would capture the gold in kumite in the 25th Philippine Karate-do Federation National Championships held in Baguio City; she again won the bronze in kata. She would later win the gold in both the kumite and kata events of the 26th and 27th Philippine Karate-do Federation National Championships making her the undisputed national karate champion in 2014.
But it was in the international scene where she will not only win most of her gold medals but also gain rave from Karate masters of the old school.
In April 22, 2012, she would win her first international gold medal in the Adidas Japan Karate Championship. For six consecutive years, she would win all the gold medals in the Adidas International Karate Cup held every year from 2012 to 2017. She would win back to back gold medals in Japan tournaments (Nagoya and Chiba) in years 2012, 2014 and 2016. In November, 2015, she would win the gold in Gojukai Asia Pacific Karatedo Championships in Jakarta, Indonesia. And, in July, 2016, she would win gold in the 10th Sicilian Open held in Sicily, Italy.
Her most memorable achievement however was, when she topped the *Jr. Nippon Certified Athlete Test held at the Yoyogi Olympic Center, Tokyo on August 10, 2015. She passed the screening test with highest score among over 100 karatekas from Japan, the US national team, Scotland national team and South Korea, etc. Sakura’s performance was so impressive that Yokose Sensei (chairman of the Jr. Nippon Training Camp and back to back champion in Japan Master’s Cup) said “Sakura and her younger brother Naoki, showed great promise for the future. I’m sure they will be able to get Rank SS soon. (Rank SS is the highest rank; most of the SS students are now in the Japanese national team). I strongly recommend them to participate in our next Jr. Nippon this coming December and All Japan Dojo-Selected Championships in January 2016”.
Haseme Sensei, one of the masters teaching at the training camp observed “Sakura has extremely strong muscles that many Japanese don’t have. They are flexible and powerful muscles. I have never seen such strong knee lifting (during the Empi kata) before with any karatekas, even better than Vietnam’s Ngan Nguyen, a world champion. I want to be her teacher for a year or if it is impossible at least during every summer”.
According to 7th Dan Karate Master Tsukii Sensei “Sakura and Naoki have large rooms for growth and high potential, so if they could regularly have high level lessons like this, I cannot even guess how much they will be able to grow in the future. They have bottomless potential because they absorb everything we teach and quickly acquire the techniques”. Miyatake Sensei, one of the organizing staff of Jr. Nippon was also so impressed with the siblings and said “they are the students who give instructor’s motivation and if they could regularly visit Japan, they could be world-class karatekas in the future. Sakura was very much like the Vietnamese world champion Ngan when she was young” Miyatake Sensei adds.
To date, Sakura has won a total of 117 medals; 98 of them are gold, 10 silver and 8 bronze. She is only 15 years old. She will be 18 and her skills will be at its peak come Olympic time in 2020.
Looking Forward to 2020
Inspite of all her achievements- winning gold medals in local and international competitions, there is one major stumbling block to Sakura’s quest to win the Philippine’s first Olympic gold medal-politics. Only athletes that come from POC (Philippine Olympic Committee) affiliated organizations are sent to compete in international sporting events. Sakura’s organization, the Association for the Advancement of Karate-do (AAK) isn’t affiliated with the POC.
Will Sakura Alforte’s great talent be put to waste? Her case reminds me of another well known Filipino talent, chess prodigy Wesley So. So got a very unfavorable treatment from the POC; later, he decided to represent the United States instead of the Philippines when he was offered US citizenship to play for their national team. At present, So is ranked number 2 in the world by Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE). Like So, Sakura Alforte might instead represent Japan should she not be included in the Philippine Karate team; she is half Japanese. And should she win the Olympic gold, what country will be the big loser here?
Well, we have three more years before the start of the 2020 Olympics. Hopefully by then, there will a change of heart among the leaders of the POC. And, when that time comes, we could truly say that change has come to this beloved country of ours.
The author, George M. Hizon was the former Karate-do head instructor of Claret School and the University of the Philippines.