Virginia Beach, Virginia
It seems that it’s becoming routine – members of the Tamai family bringing home medals from the Senior National Kata Championships. But this time it was different – Karl Tamai and his sister, Diane Jackson, had never competed together in Nage No Kata at the national championships.
Although they were already experienced national and international kata competitors, they sought guidance from experts and previous national champions, including Jim Takemori, John Anderson, Edwin Takemori, Peggy Whilden, Karen Whilden, Barry Hoffman, and Chuck Medani.
They not only won the gold in the mixed gender division, but scored the highest rating of any Nage No Kata category in the entire national championship tournament, held in Virginia Beach, Virginia on April 13th.
Karl, who is sensei at the College Park Judo Club along with his twin brother Kurt, and Diane, sensei at the Hui-O Judo Club with her brother Kevin, both hold the rank of Yodan (fourth degree black belt). They are two of the six sons and daughters of the late sensei Ken Tamai (the founder of Hui-O) and Dottie Tamai who have all earned their black belts in judo. Sensei Tamai would be understandably proud of the tremendous success of his family, as is Dottie: “I am so amazed and proud of Diane and Karl and the rest of the kids. They do judo because they enjoy it so much, and they are carrying on their father’s legacy of giving back to the sport”.
Diane, who is a nuclear engineer at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, lives in Silver Spring Maryland; Karl, from Alexandria Virginia, is an engineer and attorney, and works as a Training Quality Assurance Specialist at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They somehow manage to find time in their busy family and work lives to practice judo regularly, and have consistently been among the nation’s best kata competitors for years.
After successful shiai (fighting) careers, each of them decided to focus on kata. In the years since, they have earned numerous national medals in multiple katas: In addition to this most recent victory, Karl has won the U.S. national championships in men’s Nage No Kata twice with his brother Kurt, and, with Fran Vall, in mixed Ju No Kata, twice in mixed Kime No Kata, in mixed Katame No Kata, and all-around mixed kata. He and Kurt also placed 2nd and 3rd in the Pan American kata championships. Diane, with kata partner Karen Whilden, has held national titles in Nage No Kata, Katame no Kata, Ju No Kata, and Goshin Jutsu, and are five-time Pan American kata champions. She and Whilden have also represented the United States at the World Kata Championships.
This brother and sister team are international-level kata competitors who also contribute heavily to local and regional judo development. Recently, Diane and Karen Whilden conducted the successful regional Nage No Kata clinic at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, with the assistance of brother Karl.
Karl and Diane add to the rich legacy of kata competitors and coaches from Shufu over many years. Karl recalled that when he and brother Kurt began competing in kata in 1999, Sensei Jim Takemori challenged them to be the best, so they sought guidance from who they considered the best in the country: Takemori himself, John Anderson, and Edwin Takemori, all of whom honed the Tamais’ kata skills and guided their development as kata competitors. Tamai also emphasized that in order to further develop as kata competitors, kata teams benefit greatly from preceding kata competitors that defined the standard of excellence, mentioning four-time Nage No Kata winners Barry Hoffman and Chuck Medani, who were coaches for Kurt and Karl, mentoring them in their development into the next generation of Shufu Yudanshakai kata champions.
After their success in Virginia Beach, Diane and Karl are positioned well to be named to the US national team to compete against other national champion teams from around the world in the world kata championships, to be held in Kyoto, Japan, in the fall.
When asked about the possibility of competing at the highest international level of kata, Karl said,”It would be an honor and privilege to be able to represent the United States as a kata competitor. It would be a great opportunity to compete at the World Championship, to visit Japan, and to compete with my sister.” Diane followed by simply saying “It would be thrilling to represent our country!”
Shufu’s success at the national championships did not end with Nage No Kata, as a number of teams continued to build Shufu’s reputation and legacy in kata: Kevin Hobbs and Bill Brownlowe from Pennsylvania won silver in the men’s Ju No Kata, Christine Levine and Ariana Kwoh of Philadelphia won silver in the women’s Nage No Kata, Karl Tamai and Fran Vall won silver in the mixed Ju No Kata, and Karen Whilden and Diane Jackson took the silver in Women’s Ju No Kata.
What’s next for Karl and Diane while they await the word on Kyoto? Diane has just accepted the chairmanship of the Shufu Kata Development Committee, succeeding Karen Whilden in that position, and Karl will continue to teach at the College Park Judo Club and further hone his skills as an IJF-Continental referee.
When asked what the best aspects of her participation in this life-long sport, Diane said, “I love judo because it touches upon all parts of a healthy life, is great exercise, it builds confidence and instills humility at the same time, and it requires mutual respect and support for others. The people in the judo community are extraordinary. I have been fortunate to have many judo mentors encourage me throughout my life. These people were involved because they are passionate about judo and want everyone to succeed in judo and in life.”
Karl was also enthusiastic: “Kata is fun, challenging, and rewarding. Practicing and/or competing in kata is a great way to develop all aspects of your judo, and it provides a cardiovascular workout, a strength workout, and develops balance and coordination. Kata competition also provides an alternative competitive edge to judo other than randori shiai.”