How a World Champion Survived a Small Mistake (That Nearly Cost Him the World Games Title)

Imagine the fear:

You are standing on the mat in the kata finals of the World Games.

You have been competing all morning against top Karate athletes from around the planet, and you defeated many of them to stand here. You only have one more opponent left, before you can call yourself World Games gold medalist.

Luckily, you still have your best kata left to perform.

A kata that you’ve been practicing since you were little, one you could perform in your sleep if you had to, the exact same kata you won your previous World Champion titles with.

You bow. 

You announce your kata.

And then you begin…

WITH THE WRONG FOOT.

(Yes. You read that right.)

You begin your best kata in the finals of the World Games with the WRONG foot.

That’s exactly what happened to Antonio Diaz from Venezuela yesterday, as he faced Ibrahim Moussa of Egypt in the 2013 World Games kata finals in Cali, Colombia.

A day he will never forget.

Diaz began his usually flawless kata Suparimpei with a left step (instead of a right), and continued walking three more steps until he, after what must have seemed like an eternity of internal panic, smoothly transitioned into the normal pattern of his kata and finished it with the full grace and power that characterizes a champion.

diaz-suparimpei

The result was 4-1 against his Egyptian opponent (who performed the kata Sochin), and proved that even the best in the world are not always perfect.

Like we say in Japan: “saru mo ki kara ochiru” (“even monkeys can fall from trees”).

So…

How could he still win?

Because according to the new WKF (World Karate Federation) rules, which permit endless variation of a kata, it was only considered a technical foul (which explains the 4-1 result instead of 5-0) and not reason for disqualification. The new rules take the whole performance into consideration, not just technicalities.

But still…

Those few seconds before the judges decision had to be the longest in his career.

So of course, I had to ask Antonio-san personally about this.

Was it a real mistake? Or did the change the kata on purpose?

Here’s what he wrote back, a few minutes ago:

“Dear Jesse san – I can’t lie, it was a mistake. I’m human even though I have made this kata many many times, my body and mind move my left leg first. Of course I notice what happen immediately but I could not stop right? Kata is a fight so I have to continue my fight and resolve like I try to do my best with the situation I got at that moment.

And there you have it.

A sincere answer that even World Champions are human like the rest of us, and the important part is not winning – but never giving up.

How?

By keeping your inner calm and fighting like there’s no tomorrow.

Quiet in defeat, humble in victory.

The heart of a champion.

________

* PS. Read more about Antonio Diaz in my 4-part interview:

23 Comments

  • Jesse (Not Jesse)
    The mark of a professional. Not only did he continue his Kata without so much of a flinch, but he still blew his opponents away with nothing but a small hiccup in the grading.Something we all need to consider. Even though we may mess up here and there, we gotta keep plugging away.
  • Marko
    Antonio is a true champion and he should be respected. He is not the issue. Wkf rules are. He made a mistake and he should pay for the mistake.Even if he inveted the karate so what? A mistake is a mistake. If you accept these things sooner or later you will have people ,who are less performant than him, doing bigger mistakes and win.Wkf rules in kata are becoming a real bull****. Tomorrow we will see a dude mirroring a kata and if he's performance is better that the one who did the same kata the right way but had a slight balance issue, he will win.Karate kata is becoming a real joke. There is no more power, no speed, no intensity like it used to be with Milon, Abe, Wakai , Valdesi and Diaz. Next generation kata man or women are far from these champions.Their punches and kicks are empty without anything. How could we espect from them to know what striking is when they never punched a bag in their life. How can they perform a good bunkai when they avoid combat? This Karate is becoming a big joke. People are laughing at our martial art.Why ?Beceause we are selling a bad karate and we tell our practionners that it is okay to make a mistake and to win.18. Kyokun : In Kata search for perfection...." How can it be perfect if the mistakes are authorized?Greatings
  • Charles-Olivier
    I really love Antonio, and there no argument that he is currently the best. But I think he should have been more penalized on this ( just like Luca Valdesi at the last EKF for lot less). Winning 4 -1 is not "nearly losing". It almost means it wasnt taken into account. It's not like he lost balance or something like that ( that isnt a technical mistake to me ). I'm wondering if the judges have been objectve on that, in other words would another athlete get away with similar situation.Greatings
  • AlexN
    People are a bit too forgiving these days. 'That'll work" - motto of our age. Competition and the judgement of others seems to be be important to this guy. Maybe losing instead of being forgiven would be a better incentive for him. Maybe.
  • Rae Leggett
    You guys aren't seeing the forest for the trees. He did an excellent kata! What does it matter if he started off on the wrong foot? He did take a penalty for it, and he still won.Those are the rules. You accept the rules when you compete under them.A kata isn't just a pattern of movements set in stone. If it were, we wouldn't have any of the wonderful variations we have now.See with new eyes.
    • Marko
      No problem next time I'll do a salto instead of sankaku tobi in Unsu. It's just a variation. If I win I'll start the kata in backwards it's just a variation. If I win again I will do the kata mirroring it's just variation. If I win again I'll do the kata with a knife, it's just a variation. They will be good and there will be no mistake. It's just variations of my kata.And so on. And you will have this kind of kata.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xu4O38XvM0kWhy shouldn't we ? They are just variations.Greatings
      • Felipe
        Congrats
  • Graeme
    just to clarify, Antonio didn't make the decision the referees did. After both kata performances were completed the centre referee from Japan called all the referees in to talk. They were told of the mistake and returned to their seats to make a decision, the Japanese referee deemed it a mistake and voted for Egypt, the other four decided it was a variation. Antonio has not tried to say it was a variation, he has said it was a mistake, I am sure he would have taken a loss gracefully as he does when he wins.
  • Dr.T. Mohan Raja
    Jesse san, Karate as we all know was never compiled to be adopted for sporting purpose or tournaments. Katas were developed with a purpose of amalgamating a series of defensive and attacking techniques in a particular stance. The sincere and the loyal students of the great Master's copied them and branded them "as taught by Master....." Both Master Shoshin Nagamine ( Matsubayashi ryu) and Master Zenryo Shimabukuro (Shorin ryu Seibukan) claim to have learnt some of their katas like Wankan and Wanshu from Chotoku Kyan Sensei. But the katas in both the ryu differ drastically. The question of who is correct and/or who is wrong is not important at this point. Similarly whether Antonia began the kata with a wrong foot is not important. The importance lies in the "SPIRIT "of the performance. Success means not giving up after a failure, but the ability to get up and get going once again. Dr. T.Mohan Raja.
  • Dean
    Jesse, is it true that The general secretary of WKF will challenge for the presidency at a special congress that will held at the Junior Worlds in Spain this coming November?
    • Not that I know, Dean-san!
  • Raphael
    Kata is a fight so I have to continue my fight and resolve like I try to do my best with the situation I got at that moment ! Great champion, well done ;)
  • Ian
    A lot of comments here wanting to throw Antonio under the bus for his mistake. That's not the point. (His performance isn't measured against against an academic ideal of kata, it's measured against his opponent's kata. Look, I could have gone out on that mat and done a "technically perfect" kata right after Antonio, not missed a step, but ... his kata would have still been far better than mine any day of the week. All he had to do was be better than one opponent.)(Don't tell me why Antonio should have lost unless you can tell me about both kata performances.)No, the real point is ...... that success in kata isn't "not making mistakes" but rather how one perseveres through mistakes. You miss 100% of the shots you never take, and you lose 100% of the kata you give up on halfway through because you made a mistake.
    • Marko
      I disagree with you. It's not Antonio who is being pointed here. He made a mistake. It happens. He is still a great champion.The problem is the rules which are giving today a opportunity to make a mistake and still win. What kind of message does it gives to a lower level karateka? Continu in your error it doesn't matter you can win? If you you were a Samurai in the old times with this kind of thinking you would lost your life before even you pulling out your sword.So what kind of message are we giving with this kind of rules?The guy is his McDojo will say : Ok he did a "really big variation mistake" and he won. Why should I train my kata correctly when I can do my own variations and if I am a little better than the other guy I'll win. I don't need to do traditional kata in correct way. I can do my own traditional kata.If is your own kata it's not traditional. To be traditional it must be passed to a another person. To ignore tradional kata is to ignore what our ancestors did for Karate.Another thing and another level of thinking of some practicionners. I don't need to train. What for ? I can do my kata how ever I want. No need to train stances. I can do Shiko Dachi instead of Kiba dachi. Moto Dachi instead zenkutsu dachi uppercut instead of gyaku zuki. What forbids me to do that? And I can win.Then imagine what will a guy who trains 20 to 25 hours a week and comes to a competition, who makes tousands of kata every year respecting every detail of what his sensei thought him, has to say about that. I respected every single detail and I lost to a dude that doeus a uppercut instead of gyaku zuki. Next time I'll do the uppercut and I'll win.Then the guy will say hey its normal to do mistakes. I'll take steroids. I know it's a mistake to do that but i'll be forgiven if I am caught. Why should't I ? Mistakes are human they will understand it.And then yo go to infinite number of interpretation and you deviate from your basics. Today many karatekas are ressembling to average low level dancers. They dont strike they dont punch they don't train. They don't need to because mistakes are forgiven.We need both sides the traditional way and the sports way. But we should try to contain as much as errors as possible because when you open that door there will be no returning back.Greatings
      • WKF wants all styles and schools to be able to compete. However, they can't possibly force every judge to memorize the exact pattern (along with common variations) of each and every kata in the world. So, this leaves us with two options: 1. Have a few standardized kata that everybody must perform, and all judges can memorize, or... 2. Let it be 100% free. Everybody can join. You can do whatever. And you will only be judged on your power, speed, balance and athletical ability - not memory. Both options have consequences (as our discussion here undoubtedly proves), and the second option is what the WKF has finally settled on after years of testing the first option (turns out, it was too hard to keep so called "shitei" kata standardized throughout the world). And that's where we are today! :)
        • Hi,There is a 3rd kata option: style-only divisions within the WKF where athletes are expected to know a certain number of kata (like your option 1) and for each round a style kata is chosen at random for each to perform. The referees would have to be certified for that style. There are weight divisions for kumite to make competition more fair, so why not for kata styles? From the national to world level events these style kata divisions could be implemented.Oh, kata variation should only be a dojo practice thing for reality training, like doing the mirror version so you can defend with the same skills in other directions. Official events should require proper sequences, otherwise the door to variations gets blown wide open and things get ridiculous.Diaz made a minor mistake with the order of his feet while still continuing in the right direction with a proper kata performance so just a minor error. If the majority of judges thought his kata was better than his opponent, good for him. Athletes make mistakes in all sports all the time and still win, same for kata competition. Had his opponent's performance been better, he would have won.An obstacle course requires the athlete to move in certain directions to conquer challenges using the best pre-determined techniques that best complete the course. If the athlete goes in a different direction, they are not following the obstacle course path that everyone else is, hence they are out of competition. If Diaz had done a mirror version of his kata, even if the best kata ever performed, he would have to be disqualified in my opinion for going around the obstacle course in the wrong direction.
      • Ian
        Thanks, Marko. I actually think our opinions are closer than some people might think.I agree that mistakes in kata ought to be noticed, corrected, and have a negative affect on tournament scores. It's not the *only* scoring criteria, of course, and all the criteria ought to be considered ... not just "speed, speed and more speed" the way it can be sometimes.To pick up on your example of the old-time samurai, I'd say this: if he makes a mistake against an opponent, maybe it costs him his life and maybe it doesn't. (It depends on what the mistake was, and the quality of his opponent ... can he capitalise?) IF our imaginary samurai makes a mistake, mentally loses focus and gives up, then his chances of dying rise close to 100% ... but if instead he carries on with full force and vigour, then maybe he still has a pretty good chance of living ... certainly a lot better than in the other option.I suspect we *both* really prefer a kata performance where we end up thinking "hey, that could have really killed somebody!" rather than "golly, that dancer wearing a gi was really fast and accurate".For me, at the "heart" of kata is the demonstration of your ability to defend yourself (aka stop your attacker ASAP) through the sequence of techniques in the kata. Ideally, you have to get the moves right *and* defend yourself but ... if I had to succeed 100% at just one of those two ... :)
  • Adamant
    Is there a video of this performance?
    • Yup! httpv://youtu.be/KWclX-qrsjQ
  • Luis
    In my humble opinion, one thing it's a variation, and another it's a mistake. If you start, let's say, Jion, with your left foot to the back, instead of the right, you're not varying your kata, you're making an honest mistake (wich Antonio recognizes as such). I recently have done my exam for national judge of kata, and failed it because of a minor mistake. I guess the error isn't on Antonio, it's on the criteria of the judges. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to the technical outcome of this, and for his next performance.
    • Luis
      And that's why I failed my test.... I was trying to say "Start Jion with your right foot instead of your left" Gomenasai
  • Hi Jesse,At first I was surprised and frankly, a bit upset toward the referees because I thought that Diaz should have lost. After a quick check of the rules and some thinking, I've come to understand that -- by the rules -- he should have won (consequently I'm now upset toward the rules rather than the referees).It is highly unlikely that any of the referee has never seen Diaz perform Suparimpei before. From that point, it is clear that the left-foot-first is not a variation but a technical foul, otherwise he would always perform that way. Therefore, let's put the variation thing out of the debate for a second.If you check the WKF rules (8.0), Conformance (correctness of the form) is one critera from a total of four; namely Conformance (1), Technical Performance (2), Athletic performance (3) and Technical difficulty of the kata (4) and "All of the four major criteria are to be given equal importance in the evaluation of the performance".Arguably, one could think that Diaz lost on the Conformance (1) critera but won on the three others critera (as 4 referees out of 5 might have thought and as I do now).In conclusion, I think that we might want to stop talking about the variation rule, because (1) it clearly isn't a variation (Diaz admited himself) and (2) it doesn't need to be considered as such to vote for Diaz and (3) it generate a debate about how this rule could be abused (which is valid but off topic). Also we should discuss the rules rather than the decision, because it seems now clear that voting for Diaz was a possible (and arguably even correct) decision according to the rules.
  • Rajapontar
    But why the judges never considered IT as a fact? The judges only see HIM. Osu.

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