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Rika Usami: 10 astonishing facts about the Queen of Kata

The picture shows Rika Usami the Kata World Champion of 2012.

Rika Usami is by far one of the most famous contemporary Karateka world wide. She is best known for her Kata victory at the World Championships in Paris 2012. In this article, we present you 10 astonishing facts about her life and Karate career.

by Dr. Christian Tribowski

Rika Usami trained Goju-ryu first and moved then to Shito-ryu

Rika Usami was born on February 20, 1986, in Tokyo Japan, and began Karate with 10 years. However, while she is known today as one of the top Shito-ryu representatives she started her Karate education in a different style, namely Goju-ryu. She explained the reason for this in an interview with Jesse Enkamp a few years ago:

“The reason was because one day I saw a cool female fighter on TV, which made me really curious about the martial arts. Back then, my older brother had already been practising Karate for a while, even letting me wear his gi on occasions, so that helped me a lot when I decided to eventually start practising Karate myself.”

We do not know exactly when she moved on to Shito-ryu. But a lot suggest that it was when she met legendary Yoshimi Inoue (1946-2015), who later became her Sensei in 2005. Inoue, whose athletes collected 20 world championship titles over the course of his career, was one of the major Shito-ryu masters of the last 40 years.

Rika Usami started competing with 12 years of age

Rika Usami began competing with 12 years of age. Back then, she was a green belt as Patrick Donkor found out. After a few local tournaments she attended the national school competition in 2001. While she already showed some talent at that time, it took her two years until she won the first bigger title in 2003: the national high school championships.

9 years later, she reached the ultimate goal and became World Champion in Paris. Rika was 28 back then. Between her first competition and her victory in Paris lay 16 years. Thus, Rika is also a great role model when it comes to perseverance and endurance. Nothing comes easy and without many years of hard training – even for Rika Usami.

Yoshimi Inoue made Rika Usami the champion she is today

The foundation of her success has been, of course, her dedication and hard work. However, both needed excellent guidance to flourish. This guidance came from Yoshimi Inoue as mentioned earlier.

How important he was for Rika Usami show two instances. Firstly, she moved from the vibrant metropolis of Tokyo to the Tottori Prefecture in the north-west of the Honshu peninsula, where Soke Inoue ran the Keishin Kai Hombu Dojo. For people from Tokyo, the Tottori Prefecture appears to be a hicksville at the end of the world. Unlike the industrial belt at the south cost of Japan, the north is less populated, poorer, and winters can become long and harsh. Thus, one needs a very good reason to move from Tokyo to the the boonies. In case of Rika Usami, it was the master tutelage of Yoshimi Inoue.

Secondly, shortly after joining his Dojo, she won her first international Kata title at the 4th World Junior & Cadet Karate Championships held on Cyprus. This first big success was followed by several victories at several All Japan Karate-Do Championships and a third place at the World Championships in Belgrad in 2010 before she finally became World Champion in 2012. The tutelage of Yoshimi Sensei had, hence, a very positive effect on Rikas Karate and competition performance.

Strength Training is very important for Rika Usami

While Yoshimi Inoue had a great influence on her technical precision, he also focused on another aspect of her Karate: physical conditioning. Older pictures of Yoshimi Inoue show his splendid physic.

Until today, Rika Usami stresses the importance of conditioning the body for Karate:

“Strength training is the starting point for my techniques, and it’s actually very important for this reason.”

Even during seminars, she shows how she exercises in order to strengthen her body and to develop the physical foundation for her strong techniques.

Best Kata performance of All Times

On 21 November 2012, the finals of the 21st WKF World Karate Championships took place at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in Paris, France. Rika Usamis opponent was Sandy Scordo from France, who also belong to the Top 5 of the Kata world. Thus, the audience was ready to witness an excellent heads competition between two elite athletes.

What happened instead was a stunning performance by Rika Usami that many deem as the best Kata performance during a championship ever. Rika chose the Kata Chantanya Kushanku (for the Kata see video below) from Shito-ryu. The Kata is characterized by several fast changes of the direction and height. Even the fight from below is demonstrated. While it omits high kicks but incorporates a rather simple jump – compared to Unsu, for instance, – at the end, the Kata requires a tremendous body control and balance. Especially, the generation of power through the quick rotation of the body is crucial for an excellent execution.

Sandy Scordo, on the other hand, chose Gojushiho Sho, a Kata, that is nothing less complex and challenging like Chatanyara Kushanku. And Sandy delivered a splendid performance. However, Rika Usami was unbeatable on that day.

Her presents, grace, and spirit created the impression as if she was made for that moment. Being full in her flow, letting the rhythm, execute itself, and maintaining nothing but the highest technical standard she delivered the Kata performances of all Kata performances. She set the benchmark, what Kata is or must be, new during these two and a half minutes.

The audience recognized this true historical moment and started cheering for her even before she finished the Kata. Afterwards, she gained the deserved standing ovations.

Rika Usami Kata Performance has been watched more than 16 Million times

And her performance still enchants the masses. On Youtube, Rika Usamis final Chatanyara Kushanku has been video more than 16 million times, which makes the video, without a doubt, one if not the most watched Karate videos in the history history of the internet. Watch it right below.

She is a Karate instructor at Kokushinkan University

Rika Usamit retired from competitive Karate only one year after her World Championship victory. However, she has not left Karate. While in Tottori, Rika Usami already worked for the Tottori Prefectural Board of Education. Becoming a teacher or Karate instructor was, thus, a logical next step for her. To do so she had to graduate from University first. And she chose the Alma mater of her mother: Kokushinkan University in Tokyo.

Kokushinkan University is also a stronghold of martial arts education in Japan. Especially the Judo club has produced several Olympic Gold Medalist. Also legendary Karate masters like Mikio Yahara studied at Kokushinkan.

Since her retirement, Rika Usami has not solely taught at Kokushinkan. She has held many seminar in different countries throughout the years. Therefore, nobody has to worry: You will have the opportunity to experience her magical Katas sooner or later. Just watch out for a seminar close to you.

Olympics Ambassador of JKF

Rika Usami also remained in a another role important in the field of Karate. She became a Goodwill Ambassador by the Japan Karate Federation in 2015 in order to promote the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Karate was supposed to be the first and only time one of the disciplines during the Games. Together with Mahiro Takano and Juri Iwata she traveled through Japan and visited schools to present the art of Karate.

Many would have wished to see Rika Usami start in the Olympic Games. But her retirement and Corona made this dream unimaginable.

Rika Usami promoted the Olympics together with Miki Nakamachi

In October 2019, another unimaginable event took place: Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi of the non-Olympic JKA joint forces and performed together in a promotion video for the Olympics. The Kata tandem was accompanied by the Japanese Kumite experts Ken Nishimura and Ryutaro Arago.

The movie they shot was meant to be an introduction to the disciplines of Kata and Kumite. Beside that it should make the wider audience of non-Karateka acquainted with Karate during the Olympic Games. As Miki Nakamachi stated did the production company find them through YouTube and approached them. This comes as no surprise considering the success of Rika Usamis video of the finals at the 2012 World Championships.

Rika Usami is a mother of a 3 year old boy

What comes as a surprise for many is the fact that Rika Usami is a mother of a four year old boy. She gave birth on June 9, 2017. Find a picture of Rika Usami and her boy here.

The father is unknon to us. But we know that Rika got married two years earlier. Rumor has it that he is not Japanese.

However, we do not want to convey rumors but wish the greatest Kata champion of all times and her family a long, happy, and satisfying life. All the best to Rika Usami!