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Karate Champion Antonio Diaz Shares His Kata Secrets


– Is it possible to become
an Olympic karate champion at 40 years old? Well this man is gonna find out. Today I’m joined by karate
champion Antonio Diaz, who’s gonna share the secrets
behind his training routine, how he manages to consistently
achieve peak performance after all these years, plus, what he never, ever, ever, ever, gives up. Keep watching. (action-themed music) What’s up, I’m Jesse
from KaratebyJesse.com, aka The Karate Nerd, and today I’m joined by the one and only Antonio
Diaz, thank you so much… – Thank you Jesse – For sharing your time with us. Let’s just start off by
talking about a little bit about what you have achieved. You are a two-time world karate champion, two time World Games champion, World Combat Games champion, sixteen times Pan-American champion, and you have Guinness world
record for the most amount of medals in the World Karate
Championships, correct? – That’s correct. – Why? (Antonio laughs) Why don’t you leave some
medals for the rest of us? – A lot of people quit
when they get one medal, or two or three, or maybe
they don’t even get any medals and they quit.
– That’s right. – But you keep going. – Yeah, yeah, the thing is in 2002 I got my first
world medal in Madrid, it was a bronze medal, and, I say like okay, I’m
close to, you know to, I think this is, you know, possible, to get the first place. And I started working for that, and then, next year, next world championship, I was third place again, then, 2006, in Finland, and
then I was third place again, and then I said like okay,
this is getting hard, but I’m very stubborn and I was like okay, no, I know I can do it. So, then I got a silver medal, 2008, and then that time I said
like okay, I tried it, I didn’t, you know, get it,
but at least I got to a final. And then I go back home say like (sighs), I’m gonna try it one more time, and that the one more
time was the gold medal. – So for many many many years, you were, like you almost reached the top, – Yeah, yeah yeah yeah, so… Inside I knew I could do it, but it was getting really difficult, that’s why I kept trying. I was like, I’m not gonna give up because I know I can do it, so, I just tried a little bit harder. And then also I was
enjoying what I was doing, so I think that’s the main thing, and then also I’ve been like, kind of a karate nerd, the same with, also with the competitions and the results. Since I was a kid, I knew who
got the most medals, records – The statistics? – Yeah, statistics, so I really like that. And then say, so I won
one time, I said okay, I wanna repeat, you
know, and do another one. So 2012 I won again. Then I was going for the third one, to try to get three world
championships in a row, and have like the same
record as Sakumoto sensei, or Midon or Lukova Desi and I was like, okay I wanna try one more. And that time I lost before the final, I get bronze medal. And say okay, maybe this
is good time to stop. But at that world championship
I didn’t feel good, I was a little bit sick, mentally, I don’t know, I
was not really connected, so I said okay, I don’t want
this to be my last experience in a world championship. So I said okay, I see if I can try one more. During that time also I
had the loss of my sensei, he died in 2015, so I was a little bit lost. So I went 2016, I tried, I
lost the semi-final with Japan, but it was different, I felt good. Say okay, now I think I’m done. I felt good, I got a bronze
medal, but okay, this is it. And then, karate was
introduced into the Olympics. (both laugh) – Oh no, I have to continue. – What am I gonna do? I say too many years of winning, but, I didn’t stop really, when they decided, I was still competing, I went to the World Championships in 2016, so I say like, what should I do? And, also that year, we
had the Rio olympics, and I was watching on TV, and I was like, I dunno,
I don’t see myself… – So you started visualizing… – Yeah, I don’t see myself,
2020, or twenty twenty, sitting in front of the TV and,
say like, what if, you know? So I said, okay, I have to do it, I have to try.
(Jesse laughs) – So if there are other
people who feel like they are too old, or it’s
too late to do something that they always wanted to
do, what is your message to them? – Do it. Do it, you know? Many times we think only in the result. It’s like I got that
experience with the medal of the world championship,
I was like you say, many times almost, almost. And when I see the others
are like, ah, maybe if I did this different, I could have been world
champion in 2004, or 2016, but at the end, if you ask
me, I would not change, because all those almost gave me a lot of – Motivation – Motivation, and also, a
lot of learning experience, and I think not only for
karate but also for life. And that’s my message. If you think you’re too
old or it’s too late, do it, you know, because on
the way you’re gonna find small goals that are gonna be
very rewarding and motivating. – For some people it is not motivating when they don’t reach those
small stepping stones. They stop; it’s like a road block. And then they get discouraged,
and they don’t know how to overcome that feeling of negativity, so they get in a negative
spiral and fall all the way down after climbing a certain
part of the mountain. But if you wanna get to the top, you gotta keep climbing,
so how can you stop from feeling negative when
they have those setbacks? You turned that into motivation. Others turn it into depression. – Yeah, I think, the
important this is, you know if maybe you’re not reaching something, try to go, not backwards but,
to put a little bit smaller, you know like, okay, and understand that, sometimes we have good days, bad days, not everything is gonna be
perfect every time, so… I think that putting small goals or and if you don’t get it one
way, try to do it a lot of ways. So I think being more
flexible, that also helps. Sometimes if you’re too like
this, okay I’m gonna do this, and you don’t get it it’s like,
okay, you get discouraged, and okay I’ll do extra. Okay let me try to find another
way, try a different way. Maybe this way can, can work. – So let’s apply this to
your kata, for example. You must have done a lot of
bad kata, or average kata, and some very exceptional kata. So how do you keep going even
though you make a mistake in a kata, it’s the
exact same thing, right? But now we apply it to
the physical form, right? Or if you’re competing and you had a shitty round and you did a bad kata, how do you keep going or
how do you kind of use that to move on and make an
even better kata next time? – I think… – Or even, if somebody out
there is not competing, but let’s say their sensei
gives them criticism, and they feel like it’s negative, again, in that same mental state? – Yeah. Yeah, yeah. But like in the example
you were giving I think, it’s not easy but you have to focus on what you’re doing next,
you know, for example, you do one round, your kata was not good, that doesn’t define what
you’re gonna do next, so… Okay, I have always the opportunity, also if you do something
bad, you always have the opportunity to do it better and to improve in something, so, I think that’s kind of the mental way you have to approach to that, not say like okay I’m not
getting this, not getting this, no, see in that an
opportunity of improving, of doing something better. – So, since you’ve been
competing for such a long time it has helped you with
these different goals, different competitions,
micro goals, macro goals, but for people who are not competing, how can they use goal-setting
to keep improving, because if you just practice for health, or for self-defense, it’s not
as specific as a competition, because it has a date, it has a deadline, and there is a clear
goal, you need to win, you need to get a medal,
but other people don’t have these clearly defined goals. – Yeah I think when you’re competing it helps you to get that more structure… – Would you have practiced this
long if you didn’t compete? Would you have put in all
of these hours in the dojo if you didn’t have these
competitions coming up? – Maybe. It’s hard to say, but I think, in some way maybe not so many, but in some way yes
because I really love the, being in the dojo, you know, and training. But yeah, definitely competition helped. What I can say to people
that don’t compete is that they should to put
that, you know, goals. Yeah you don’t have a
competition or the medal but yeah, you can put some dates, like okay I’m gonna try to
get this letter by this date or something, because that really helps, that’s why I said like, some things of the competition environment
help you in the long aspect of your life, so, that’s why same, for another things in my life
I don’t have the competition, but I try to apply the same. – So even if people don’t
want to become a champion or win medals, they can still compete, and then use those lessons in other areas. – Yes, yes yes. – So in essence you think everyone should at least try to compete. – Yeah, I think it’s … If you do it with that mindset, it’s good. – How do you prepare when
you’re about to perform at a competition? You know you gotta do your
best right here right now, no retreat, no surrender,
you cannot give up, how do you not crumble under the pressure? Do you have any methods for making sure that you can be your best? – Well I try to focus
a lot on my breathing, I think that helps me. – Any specific way you breathe,
or just thinking about it? – I try to do three deep
breathing, take air, hold it a few seconds,
and then let it out. That helped me to kind
of relax a little bit all the thoughts that are
going before a competition, because even though I have
been competing for so long, I still sometimes get these thoughts that try to get you out
of the focus or the way. So I think you’re constantly also fighting in some way to control
these thoughts are like, going, thinking too much ahead. – Yeah, exactly. – My idea is try to
focus on what I’m feeling in the exact moment
also, that, the breathing helps you do that or do
that, or maybe one movement. Okay so what I’m feeling
exactly when I do this movement, and not thinking too much ahead. – Yeah, exactly. So even in a kata, you only think about
this movement right here, or you’re mentally, kind of going through more movements in your head. What are you thinking
about when you do a kata? – I try to not think. (Both laugh) – But if you try to not think, then you’re thinking about not thinking. – Yeah, yeah. Sometimes during the competition, I’ve been really disconnected, you know? – Like your head is somewhere else? – Like I was in the kata, but after I finish it was
like, I don’t remember thinking oh, I was in a (mentions
foreign language moves), ’cause like I was, you know, really – Like a zen buddhist monk. – Yeah kind of way. – So was that a good performance? – Yes. – So everything just flowed naturally? Hmm, interesting. So how did you manage to
repeat that feeling afterwards? Can you achieve that flow state
of mind now automatically, or do you have to use
some methods to get there? Does it just sometimes happens? – Yeah, when you are well
prepared, it’s easier to get to that state. Your body feels ready,
your mind feels ready, and of course I try it, sometimes some kind of psychological training
and visualization and a little bit of meditation and this, but for me I think if you do a hard training,
if you prepare good, that’s the best mental training (laughs). – It gives you the confidence. – Yes, for me that works very well. The times I felt stronger in my mind was the times I knew I trained really hard and really good for that performance. – Sometimes you see
people who are warming up but they’re actually training, because they’re trying to compensate, because they didn’t do it in the dojo. But how do you warm up for a competition? – When I start, I think I waste
a lot of energy warming up. You know I was a little bit like that, doing too much, and then I have
to be really really sweaty. With time I think I tried
to become more efficient. – Save it for the mat. – Yeah, yeah. Basically I do my… My warm-ups are with a lot of mobility. A few dynamic stretching. And then I try to go through
the katas a little bit, and I.. – Do you do full speed or
do you gradually increase. – Gradually, gradually increase. I think one of the mistakes
maybe in the warm-up, is when you think you go to
something that is not like, okay I know this part is,
I’m not very good with this, and you start trying, and you know, you have all the pressures
of the tournament, if that part is difficult, at
that moment it’s going to be maybe more difficult so then, maybe you have the
unbalance, and you try again and unbalance, unbalance,
and your mind is like, so, I think, it’s better to go through your
good parts, your best parts, because those parts are the ones you gonna give you confidence, and so… Check and then if you’re gonna
do some more with full speed do parts like you feel very comfortable to get more, you know… – And that’s more for your
mind than for your body. – Yes, yes. Because the work is done, you’re not going to correct
something in 30 minutes before the match, so… I think that’s a good
way to do things that give you confidence instead of things that can put you more stiff and nervous. – So that’s what you do
before a performance. Is there anything special
you do under the performance, during the performance
that makes it better? – No, no. I think during the performance it’s just be in the moment and let it go. – And after the performance,
do you review it, do you think about what
went bad, what went good? – Yeah in the competition,
when I pass one round, okay this is, for now
this is on now, next one. Even sometimes like, I
finish one kata and it’s like maybe this part didn’t feel very good okay but I’m not gonna
think about that now, so focus on the next one. But of course, after
the competition finish, I try to review the videos if I have the
opportunity to film it, and see it more detail, to correct things. – So how about your training. So we talked about the competition, so how would you train for a competition to make sure that you can be at your best? – I was very lucky to have senseis that put a lot of importance on kihon, so I think I had many, many many hours of kihon training during… – When you say kihon you
mean just, the basics, punching, kicking, blocking, stances…
– Yes, stances, back, forward, different directions. And sometimes, very basic. Sometimes people think that
you have to do something that’s very complicated but sometimes it was just (mentions
moves in foreign language), back and forwards for, just stances, for example. I think that gave me a good foundation. So for many years, the main
point of my training was kihon. The idea is to understand
what your body’s feeling, with something simple
and then transfer that to something more complex. – So, you talked about
the importance of feeling how your body moves. Can you give some advice for people who don’t have any connection with their body? They’re just moving their arms and legs, and they don’t know even
what you’re talking about? How can you find the
feeling with your body, I mean my body is my body, it’s here, but like how do you find that
connection, that feeling? – It’s, I don’t know, it’s
important to try to be aware of all your muscles, so that’s… I don’t know, I mean, I think… Do it, will be maybe
the best way to say it. You know because it’s difficult to say it, okay how you can feel your body, but… I would say do it, and
that’s why simple, or kihon, is good, because okay, (foreign
language word) let’s do it, back, forward, back forward, and you’re gonna start,
okay, my muscles are having some pain and muscle sore, okay which muscles are working now? So maybe that way you
can start feeling, or I’m feeling here, maybe
this is not, I’m not using the correct tension here or,
I’m not relaxing enough here. Sometimes also I teach
people to just do kihon, and say okay, but you have to put the
intention and awareness, because if not this, you know you just… – Some people are just
thinking of other things, they’re looking at what
other people are doing, trying to look good
when they’re doing that, but you gotta kinda go inside. So speaking of the body, when
it comes to physical training, a lot of people wanna
get faster, and sharper, and more explosive. Do you have any advice, especially
as you start approaching 40 years old, I guess people
say that your peak is at 25, and then it’s just downhill, do you agree with that,
and how do you view the physical practice of karate? – I think it’s important to
have a program that helps you have that foundation of strength, to mix it with technique. My sensei used to say,
it was like a pyramid, you have this basic strength. And I think also many people
want very fast results, or they want to do,
they see something now, because now we have a lot of
information with internet, so maybe you see, ah
this exercises look very impressive, you know,
because I’m doing something I dunno with one leg and
this, or maybe you saw a video of one champion doing it, but you don’t know what’s
behind that just small video. Maybe they have a program
that makes possible to do that very impressive exercise. So I think the recommendation is always try to do something that has support, not just invent and say
maybe this is nice exercise. But I would say it’s
important to have a base, a strength base. And then I was talking about this pyramid, then it’s like, the karate strength, that’s when I say you can
do some exercises that are similar to the angles you
work with the stances, and then also with the kihon, doing some also exercises
that can help you for the strength, and at the end,
at the top of the pyramid, is the technique, so if you have all this, maybe I dunno if you’re doing one stance, the nekoashi-dashi, say
okay, it’s better if you put more weight on the back leg, but if you don’t have enough strength, it’s gonna be like oh no I cannot do it. So the concept of, the technique
of where to put the weight, if you don’t have that
support of the pyramid, maybe it’s gonna be difficult
to do the technique. So that’s why it’s important
to have a physical training that helps you, to support that technique. – What do you think are some
important ways or methods to improve the technique? Because we can say that we
wanna get better technique, but the question is how? For strength you can go to the gym, you can have a program
and a plan, but technique, there seems to be so many different ways to do a technique, how
can we know how to do it? Do you have any specific
methods to improve a technique? – I think, I think it’s… trying, repeating, and
you start finding… – You’re searching through repetitions… – Yes, yes. Of course, like I said, I’ve been lucky to have some guidance, to, you know, kind of what to look for, but then it’s, I think that’s also, a very
nice part of the process, you know try to also find things your way with those key points, then, you know, start finding. But I think through
training and repetition you start finding how that tsuki is moving when I’m relaxed and when I’m stiff, and then you start finding this, how it works better. It’s not that you make your own technique, but with some key points you find a way of improving your technique or
how to make your technique or your movements more efficient. – So would you say the
goal of a good technique is efficiency?
– Yes – But how do you define
good vs. bad technique? – The efficiency of the… I mean, to be more effective, using less effort or less
energy, I think maybe that would be a good concept. – How has your training
changed during your career? Because you’ve been competing
for such a long time. Do you still do everything the same way, or have you have evolved or changed things as you get more mature in the art? – I think with time you
start also trying to be more efficient with the
time you have for training, and I’m trying to, the times
I have for training, be focused more on what I’m doing. Before maybe I, I have more time so I say
okay I can do the session a little bit more relaxed in a way. – But now you’ve got family and
kids and responsibilities… – Yeah, so I think now
I’m facing a little bit trying to get the most of
the time I have for training. So it’s difficult you know, because I think to improve something
like technique in kata you need time. – So for other people out there
who need to combine karate with their work, with their
family, school, all of that, they also need to be very
careful about not wasting their training time, so
how you can make the most out of your training? Do you have any advice or method? Because there’s so much
you can be training. – Yeah. I talk a lot about the kihon, so maybe if you cannot a whole session of kihon, you use the kihon for the warm-up. So okay I’m gonna do a little
bit, maybe some minutes of kihon for warmup and then
I use the rest of the session for the specific kata training. So in that way you can mix both things, and not just go I’m just
gonna do some repetition of the kata. So that way okay you
warm up with the kihon and you can go directly
to then perform your katas at full speed; you don’t need to go, I don’t need to go doing
it a few times, so, yeah, it’s different ways of mixing it, but at the end, it’s, the key point is what we talked before, the awareness you put to the training. – Interesting. So also, I’ve heard, as you get older, I’m still young, you know… – Me too, me too (laughs) – You are, you are. I’ve heard that recovery
gets more important. Can you talk a little bit
about how you view recovery, do you do any specific things to recover, so you don’t get over-trained,
what advice can you give? – Well I think rest is important, the hours of sleep you get… I like to train in the mornings, I try to schedule my day to get some at least – Siesta? – Yeah, some time to sleep,
after some time the training maybe a power nap, that can help you, and at night try to have at
least seven to eight hours of sleep if it’s possible, and if it’s possible I try
to put some such sessions, sometimes I wish it would be more frequent but that helps, you know? But yeah I think recovery
is important, and when you when you pay attention to that and the opportunities
I have to get all these ways of recovery, I feel the difference, the difference it makes
on your performance, or how your body is
prepared for a next session, or for a competition. So yeah, definitely it’s a
very very important part. – So I think we’re out of time, it’s time to wrap up, but if you could just pick your
top three pieces of advice, let’s say to the average
karate practitioner out there who wants to achieve peak performance and improve their skills and get better, based on your extensive
experience at being at the top of the world elite, if
you could boil it down to what you think will make a difference, three pieces of advice? – So first will be,
don’t forget your basics. – Kihon? – Yes. Then, be aware of your body and your mind. – Always be centered and aware. – Yes. And, last, will be, smile and relax. – Smile and relax. – Enjoy. – Enjoy the journey.
– Yes. – Thank you so much, that’s awesome advice – Thank you – And hope you guys like that. Cool.

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