Outstanding in Paris in 2012 when he was only 20 years old, Koji Arimoto is still remembered for the astonishing performance of the Japan Kata team during its successful world final. Since then, he has become a teacher in the JKS (Japan Karate Shoto Federation), but he has not given up competition. 3rd at the Guadalajara Serie A last February, he continues on in his career in the individual and team categories. Today, at 26 years old, this young Sensei (3rd Dan) dreams of one thing : to become World champion again.

By Florian Fournier

Photos : Steven Taing / Instagram : 09_steven_pics


Today, Koji Arimoto walks between two worlds : the Olympic competition and his teaching within the JKS. World champion at 20 years old in 2012, he has become physically stronger without losing any technical soundness. Beaten in the 2014 Worlds in Bremen (Germany) in the round of 16 by Turkey (5-0), this early defeat of the Japanese team got him a little bit away from competition.
Since, he has slowly came back in the individuals. He gets his first podium last winter at the Guadalajara Serie A where he finished 3rd. Eager to rise in the WKF ranking, the world n°23 will compete in the Istanbul Premier League (Turkey) from June 8th to 10th. This specialist of Gankaku, Unsu and Gojushiho dai will not miss this opportunity to shake once again the Kata world’s planet.

What is your training program ?

Every morning, from Monday to Friday, I train at the Honbu Dojo with the other instructors during the "Sensei Class". In the afternoon, I am at Teikyo University where I train with my students. Sometimes, I coach them but only when competitions approach. Otherwise, I often tell them : "look at me and do the same" (he smiles). Finally, on Saturday, I give Karate classes at the Honbu Dojo.

In Teikyo, you train with the Moto brothers with whom you are in the Japan national Kata team, how is it going ?

It's going very well. They are very strong Karatekas, with a superb mentality. I spend more time with Kazumasa (winner of the Guadalajara and Salzburg Series A last February and March). I can tell you that he is exceptional! We both train together. At a moment, he observes me, at another one, I give him advises. We help each other to become stronger and stronger.

Is this Japan team with the Moto brothers better than the 2012 one ?

In 2012, when we became World champion with Takato Soma and Takumi Sugino, it was amazing. Our level of practice, especially in the final, was exceptional. Soma and Sugino are two very high level Karatekas, but I think the Moto brothers are slightly better.

Does it seem possible for you to win a new World champion title ?

Yes, it’s one of my major goals. In 2018, in Madrid (from November 6th to 11th), this will not be possible because our team is not selected. But I want to be World champion again in 2020.

"It will be very hard to dislodge Kiyuna"

What do you think of Karate in the Olympics ?

This will give us more media exposure and we will be able to more easily develop Karate. However, we must make sure we do not forget that competition is only a part of Karate. Traditional Karate, as it was passed on to us by our Senseis, should remain intact and should not be distorted by Olympism. If we manage to keep our traditional authenticity and, alongside, the sports competition, then we will have successfully entered the Olympic world.

How do you rate your chances to be qualified for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo ?

They are very small. Things aren’t over yet but to get the selection is a tough thing. In Japan, the level is above all that one can imagine. For the moment, the favorite is Kiyuna. And it will be very hard to dislodge him.

Will 2020 be the end of your athlete’s career ? What do you wish to do afterwards ?

I strongly think that I will retire after 2020, but who knows ? A World champion title may keep me going. In the meantime, I know that after my athlete’s career, my goal is to open a Dojo and, above all, to teach Karate around the world. Today, I have the chance to do it from time to time and I like it a lot. Why not increasing its frequency when my schedule will allow me to do so ?

A favorite destination ?

France of course. It's been three years that I come to France through the JKS France Nord to give seminars and I love this country. People are nice and friendly. The food is excellent and I like French culture, especially history. Visiting castles, gardens... are my favorite hobbies when I come.