Team Panasonic: Sakura Kokumai
A Champion. For Progress.
Sakura Kokumai's path was influenced by the same force that propels so many Olympic athletes, her mom. When her mother brought her to a local YMCA for a karate lesson, she lit a spark for the sport and a deep commitment to furthering the important work community centers do. Sakura had tried many other sports, but felt an instant connection with karate, inspired by her teacher and the other students around her. While in that moment she could never have dreamed of arriving on the Olympic stage, she knew karate would be part of her life. Walking into that Y, she became a lifelong karateka, a practitioner of karate.
As her training progressed, Sakura found a second home in her local dojo, the facility where people practice karate. To her, the dojo community championed the principles of family and teamwork, united by common passion for the sport and lifting each other up.
“That family vibe in the dojo is very special – it's something I really enjoy being a part of.” – Sakura Kokumai
A champion's focus
Two forms of karate were featured in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Kumite and Kata. Kumite is freestyle fighting between two competitors using various karate moves. Kata, which Sakura practices, is an individual event comprised of choregraphed movements. The objective is to continually refine one’s movements, performing each punch, kick, block and stance in perfect form. Striving for perfection is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Sakura’s progress has taken years of focus on the ideal form, envisioning the movement as it should be performed.
When the pandemic shut down much of the world, Sakura could no longer practice in her local training facility. She quickly adapted, converting her garage into a home dojo and studio. Sakura was able to continue her training while teaching and inspiring the world through virtual training sessions. This is the kind of focus that transforms elite athletes into champions, thinkers into innovators and everyday people into leaders.
A champion for community
Channeling the inspiration she found as a young girl at the YMCA, Sakura has become a champion of Terasaki Budokan. The Budokan is a community-driven project that offers Los Angeles families, youth and seniors access to sports, instruction and activities. Sakura’s connection to this opportunity runs deep. Today, she pays forward the passion for karate she experienced as a young girl in her community center. Even more special, she feels honored to help the organization promote Japanese-American culture.
Her goal at Terasaki Budokan is to empower boys and girls to imagine themselves as young karatekas, strong individuals who can achieve anything. She knows that it's important for kids to learn proper techniques, but believes it's more important that they understand the process of learning, and making progress towards goals.
“Our small gestures toward a child might change that kid's life. I think it's really important for everyone to have somebody to look up to.” – Sakura Kokumai