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 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.
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”).
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.
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.
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: