Africa: Meet Ujunwa the first Nigerian to become Karate World Champion
Ujunwa Caroline Nwankwo, became the first Nigerian ever to be named a karate world champion. Ujunwa put Nigeria on the global spotlight when she outclassed over 600 competitors from 50 countries to clinch the coveted top spot at the World Shotokan Karate-do Federation World Championship held in Budokan, Tokyo, Japan.
Nigeria had previously participated in the bi-annual event without successes. In in 2017 Nigeria was represented by two competitors who were knocked out in the quarter finals. This year Nigeria increased its number to 3, Ujunwa Caroline Nwankwo who became a world champion while Dolly Philips and Olatunji Suleiman-Oba both finished 4th in their respective events.
What is your full name?
My full name is Ujunwa Caroline Nwankwo
How old are you?
I am 22 years old (born on the 12th of October 1997).
What state are you from?
I am Ezzar North Local Government Local Area, Ebonyi State however I reside and represent Anambra State and presently a student of Uniport.
What level are you and what are you studying at Uniport?
Am in level 300, studying Sociology
Are you active in sport or hold any position at the university?
Yes, I am very active in sports both nationally and internationally.
Currently I am the director of sports in my department (sociology and anthropological studies) and also the active representative of sports in my faculty (social sciences).
When did you start Karate and why?
I started karate on December 2010 at the age of 13 years. As at that age I enjoyed fighting and I liked martial art so I decided to join karate because it was the only martial art close to my residence
What grade are you and who graded you?
Am a 2nd Dan black belt holder (Nidan), graded by Kasuya Sensei 9th Dan Chief Instructor
What Club and Organisation do you belong to?
I belong to Reneiskan Dojo Anambra state and am a member of WSKF Nigeria (World Shotokan Karate-Do Federation) which has its Headquarters in Japan
Who is your coaches?
The name of my coach is Godwin Okoro Sensei and he is also my state coach, while Bamgboye Sensei is my national instructor based in Lagos and is the Chief Instructor of WSKF in Nigeria.
What local and national championship have you won?
I have won countless of local and national championships in Nigeria such as the Shotokan Cup on the 7th of October 2017 where I won gold silver and was crowned the grand champion. In 2018 Shotokan Cup I defended my Champions by winning 2 gold. At Zainab Saleh International Female Open Championship from 2016, 2017 and 2018 I have always placed in first or second positions. And I also participated in the karate open championship in Abuja 2017 where I won gold.
Have you represented Nigeria prior to the recent WSKF Championship?
I first represented Nigeria at the All African youth games 2014 in Botswana and won bronze. In 2016 I went to UFAK Zone 3 African championship and won gold and bronze.
What is your ranking in the country?
I am currently ranked number 1 in Nigeria for my division.
What is your ranking in the world?
I am presently ranked number one in WSKF Jiyu Kumite and number two in WSKF Shobbu Ippon Female +53 Kumite – I will hold the title till 2021 and return back to Japan to defend my world champion title and I endeavour to also do better than silver in my second event.
When did you start preparing for the WSKF World Championship?
I started my preparations after winning the 2018 shotokan cup. I had to travel to Lagos every month to train at the WSKF Nigeria headquarters for more than 6 months before going japan.
Did you ever expect or dream to become the first female Nigerian to win a world championship on the world stage in Japan the Mecca of karate?
Before I left to japan I said to myself that am going there for the gold and nothing less, that I must make a good record for Nigeria. So I decided to implement this 3 Ds( discipline, determination and dedication).
Which country was your toughest opponent?
All the competitors were hard in their way however the first Japanese girl I fought with was the most technical with so much speed and determination so I had to raise my standard and do my very best which I did and my Sensei and I were very happy with my performance.
How did you feel after winning the world championship?
I was so ecstatic and overwhelmed, I felt like crying and shouting at the same time, It was like a movie to me, for me to go all the way to Japan and compete with the best competitors from all over the world and win Gold. I will never forget that feeling and I want it again and also for other karateka from Nigeria to achieve the same.
Was this your first time to go to Japan, what were the conditions like (food, weather, people)?
It was my first time to go to Japan. I was very lucky to go in a team lead by Bamgboye Sensei who has been numerous times before and took care of me, making sure I ate and rested well. The weather at that time of the year was like Lagos weather so I was able to cope very well and enjoy the country. Apart from the championship we attended an International seminar and trained in a dojo outside Tokyo owned by Bamgboye Sensei’s friend in Kamakura.
What are your plans for the future (Include retaining your grand championship at Shotokan Cup in November 9th, 2019)?
I think I have more challenges now to face at the upcoming Shotokan Cup. I am back in training already, training very hard for it and am ready because I must retain my grand champion which includes Kumite (Sparring) and Kata (Patterns). Please come watch and support me at the Shotokan Cup at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos on the 9th of November I will not disappoint you.
Is there anything you would like to say?
I will urge everyone not to give up on their dreams, keep striving and work hard till you become the best of your version, karate is for all ages for fitness, awareness, physical and mental agility, self-defence, confidence, discipline, flexibility, fun, meeting strong positive focused people.
I will also like to use this medium to thank my coach and team mates in Anambra including my friend Zola and WSKF Nigeria. Thanking Zainab Saleh for providing the annual competitions in Lagos, WSKF Nigeria for annual Shotokan Cup – and I hope other stakeholders of Nigerian karate will also conduct championship regularly for the youths to prefect their skills and get experience as we really need so that we can dominate the world stage.