Editor's note: As part of our coverage of the 2018 Asian Games to be held in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia from August 18 to September 2, we will be previewing the different national teams that will see action for the Philippines.
2014 Asian Games performance
Seven Filipinos competed in Karate in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. Only one of them, however, was able to bring home a medal. Mae Soriano secured a bronze medal in the Women's -55 kg Kumite when she defeated Wong Song I of Macau, 11-3, in the quarterfinals. Sadly, she lost in the semifinals to Kazakhstan's Sabina Zharakova to the score 1-6. But she closed out the competition strongly by defeating Indonesia's Cok Istri Agung Sanistuarani, 11-3, in the bronze medal match.
2018 Asian Games representatives
Mae Soriano (-55kg kumite)
Junna Tsukii (-50kg kumite)
Jayson Macaalay (-60kg kumite)
Sharief Afif (-84kg kumite)
James Delos Santos (Men's Individual Kata)
Just four months ago, Philippine Karate was in turmoil after the former local governing body, Philippine Karatedo Federation, was caught in controversy concerning alleged misuse of funds. The issue grew so big that it led to the group's disaffiliation from the World Karate Federation.
With the country in need of a new governing body, former national team member Ricky Lim founded Karate Pilipinas (KP).
"I started taking over last May in the Philippine National Games (PNG)," said Lim, the President of Karate Pilipinas. "I was assigned to be the tournament director and then the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) recognized me as the leader of the new federation."
As a karateka himself, Lim was familiar with the struggles and frustrations of the athletes. He also understood the grind that they needed to go through in order to improve. He had major plans in revamping the program, hoping to give Philippine Karate a fresh start.
One of the new federation's initial moves was to bring in new personnel. They introduced two new coaches in Japanese Shin Tsukii and former Philippine national team member Sonny Montalvo. They also added more athletes while keeping the core of the previous national team.
"The first time we went out, I brought them to the Indonesian Open last May. It was just an open championship but Indonesians are high-level karatekas so I thought it would be good," Lim shared. "However, their national team players did not compete. So we were able to dominate."
In the national team's first competition under KP, they were able to bring home 12 gold medals and the overall championship. The success they experienced there was all the convincing the athletes needed to fully trust the new federation.
"Last June, we held training camp in Japan. They practiced three times for a total of 8-9 hours per day," said Lim. "They would wake up and train, have a one-hour break then train again, have a three-hour break and then train again. That was their daily routine for two weeks."
While in Japan, the Philippine athletes had a chance to test themselves against world champions. They trained with them and competed against them. "It was difficult to keep up with them, but we understood that it was the only way to get to the level those world champions are at," said Sharief Afif, who is set to represent the country in the upcoming Asian Games.
Those two weeks of training were very fruitful for the national team. More than the skills that they learned and developed, the most biggest boost reflected on their confidence.
"We never understood our full potential because we never felt pushed to our limits. When we trained in Japan, we were surprised that we could score against world champions," Afif said. "That's when we realized that we can really compete. So we asked ourselves, 'why don't we join every tournament possible?'"
That's exactly what they did.
"Not long after we got back to Manila, we flew out for the Asian Karate Federation (AKF) Championships in Amman, Jordan," said Lim. "We had four players in Amman. While we were there, Sharief and some of the other athletes who were left in Manila, used their own money to fly out and compete in the Malaysian Open."
The athletes were pumped and eager to see the results of their camp in Japan, so much that they were willing to dig into their own pockets to just to be able to compete.
"It was a sacrifice we were willing to make to see how far we've really improved," said Afif, who won a silver medal in Malaysia. "When I won the silver, I thought 'if we continue this kind of training and program, we'll surely keep on taking home medals.'"
What was expected to be a catastrophe for Philippine Karate turned out to be its biggest blessing. The team was almost lost. Now they look better than ever.
"The progress I've seen over the last three months has been excellent," Lim said. "They've been working hard and they have adapted to the changes very well. I hope that the trainings we introduced have stuck to their minds and have settled in with their bodies."
Prognosis for Jakarta
Since Karate Pilipinas took over the national team, there hasn't been a lack of preparation for the Asian Games. But despite the progress and the promise that he's seen, Lim chooses to stay realistic with his expectations in the continental meet.
"With only three months of preparation, it's going to be tough for us in the Asian Games. But a miracle is always welcome," he said. "Honestly, I'll be good with a wild silver or bronze."
Lim admits that they're looking more at the South East Asian Games that will be held in Manila in 2019. He promises, however, that there will be no lack of effort from his team in the Asiad.
"We want to show the POC and the PSC that given the proper training and support, the Philippines can prosper in Karate," he added.