Giving Australian karate an Olympic-sized kick along


Grenville Francis, Writer

Shobu hajime. The bout begins.

The fight of a young West Australian woman as she takes guard against the best karate fighters in the world for Olympic glory at next year’s postponed Tokyo Games.

Karate is making its debut as an Olympic sport in Japan in 2021 much to the delight of exponents the world over including Olivia Clifford, a 20-year-old black belt from Dongara and part of the Australian team bound for the 32nd Olympiad.

“The Olympic journey has begun . . .  it’s so exciting,” she says referring to the moment in August 2016 when it was announced karate would be part of the program.

“It’s amazing . . .  everyone thought it was not going to happen,” Olivia said.

Now that the games are going to happen, how does Australia shape up against the rest of the world especially against leading karate nations like Japan, France and Egypt?

Mike Panossian, 6th dan black belt and Australian karate coach feels our isolation puts us at a disadvantage when compared to other countries who can travel and compete on a weekly basis. We are “quite restricted in that respect but we do what we can . . . to lift our profile,” he says.

Dion Panossian, 7th dan black belt, Australia’s head referee and Oceania’s sole official at Tokyo concurs with his brother, “In Asia and Europe, they’re exposed to high-level competitions every week.” Whereas here in Australia, there are only two national competitions in the whole year.

But that won’t stop the Aussies from punching above their weight – or in this case, above their belts – as they shape up for a spot on the winner’s podium, with the coach thinking Olivia is good chance of standing on that podium.

“Her work ethic is amazing . . . she’s there, on time every time,” Mike says and believes if mentally prepared, she could well add to Australia’s medal tally.

During the COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent lack of sparring practice with another fighter, Olivia has kept up her fitness, flexibility and focus with punching pads and kicking bags.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have my dad step in and hold pads and things like that to train,” she said.

Competing at the Olympic Games has been a goal since she was a little kid and when asked what a medal means to her, Olivia answers with a passion that can only come after a lifetime of blood noses and broken bones. “It means the world!”

Beginning her karate training even before she began kindergarten, Olivia is currently in the world’s top eight for the Women Under 21 Category. But when the referee says, “Yame” to end the Tokyo 2021 competition, we could see Olivia Clifford as Australia’s first Olympic medallist in karate.

Time and well-executed punches and kicks will tell.

{Shobu hajime is the Japanese command to begin a karate tournament fight. Yame is the command to stop.}