Kaito Streets is one of Japan's best sabre fencers, but he used to be one of America's best sabre fencers. In 2016 Kaito made the decision to change from team USA to team Japan and is now agonizingly close to qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
In this episode he speaks to us about changing national banners, why fencing isn't a very popular sport, and his own journey to qualifying for the Olympic games in the time of Covid-19.
Episode 10 The Way of the Sword
Tue, 3/2 12:50PM • 46:07
japan, fencing, sport, japanese, competition, olympics, athlete, people, fencers, qualify, tokyo, sabre, compete, big, qualification, referee, lightsaber, team, federation, olympic
hitting people with swords is a great way to make a living. And that's just what today's guest does. Although he was born in Japan, Kotor street spent most of his sporting career living in and fencing for the US. Just a few years ago though, Keitel decided he wanted to represent his birth country, leaving the familiar setting of Team USA and joining the Japan men's Sabre team. Now in 2020, Kato is agonisingly close to qualifying for the fencing at the Olympic Games. The final qualifying tournament have of course been delayed by COVID-19. So Cato took some time to talk to us about switching national banners. why most people don't watch fencing and what lightsabers could do for his sport. title. Thank you very much for joining us.
Well, thank you for having me.
I'm excited. So kinda you're half Japanese half American. Can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing and where you were brought up.
I was born in Japan, my dad's American, my mom's Japanese. And I actually lived in Japan until the age of seven. And then I moved to the United States to California, pretty much I grew up in California. Once it was time for me to go to university. I went to Penn State to the east coast. After I graduated college, I spent two years in New York before moving back to Japan almost two years ago, I was just
gonna ask. So when you're seven years old, and you up sticks with your family, and you move to the US that excite you, I've
got a nine year old son, so I'm just wondering how he would suddenly sort of deal with moving to Japan, it was quite a shock. Because I didn't speak any English. My dad, he taught us a little bit basic English, but like we didn't speak English at all. So when I got to us, you know, I had to go to school right away. I didn't know any English. I don't know how to make friends. But at first, it was a shock. But I think once I started making friends and learning the language, it got a lot easier
to do Japanese, and is how do you make friends in any way? Because this would have been around the time of Pokemon and Japan and mania?
I mean, in a way Yes. Because I think there was no other Japanese kids. I was like a unique kid. So people ask me, how would you say this? How would you do that? Say that house life in Japan,
this and let's move on to talking about sports. So fencing isn't something that seems particularly Japanese or American. Can you tell us how you got into it?
When I was Japan, still living in Japan, I actually played two sports. I was doing karate and baseball. And I think baseball was my first love. I love baseball. And when I moved to the US, I continued with baseball, and then started picking up basketball and American football. And I have an older brother, we will play this same exact sport, but he'll you know, being a different age group. And he looks like seal tremendously in each sport. Now I'll do one myself. But he was a superstar in each of those sport where I was trying to get known as his brother. I mean, I didn't mind it at all. But I guess my family saw that as an issue in terms of identity. They wanted me to try another sport that I will only do but it has to be something that I will be passionate about. And I guess when I was little, I was playing with a lot of toy swords. It could have been like lightsabers or Sam like Katana swords or something like that. And they thought, okay, let's make that interest useful. So they signed me up to this programme that had fencing. And I quickly just fell in love with it.
How old were you at that time,
but eight years old.
So you've walked into the fencing sale, you've looked at what was happening, and you chose to fence Sabre.
Actually my first coach was a foil fencer, but I guess when he saw the way I moved, he's like, no, you're doing Sabre and just put a Sabre in my hand. And I was like, Great choice, I think, I think that just fit my personality and my style, and
he's looking at me with a very blank face
as the one that's the one you know, non fencer here I think I had a little connection with with fencing when I was doing some work with National Youth and sport games. And can you explain the difference between sort of the approach to Sabre and foil say, for our listeners, for those of the listeners like me, you have little fencing experience,
I'll try to describe it as clear as possible. So in fencing, there's three disciplines, there's Sabre boil, and fa. They're all pretty much a different sport. Usually one person has only one category. For Sabre, it's what you see people get influenced by Zorro or even Star Wars, you can slash and poke with a weapon and the target is from the waist up, and it is a very fast sport compared to the other two weapons pretty much if you're thinking about walking, jogging, sprinting, it's on the sprinting category.
Now I hate
Yeah. And then there's foil, which is I think the most traditional one that everyone usually starts with the target is a smallest, it's only the torso and you can only poke with it, and I will categorise it as a jogging. You know, there's some intense moments but it's not as sprint constantly. And then there's the FA which In terms of rules, it's the most simple because targets a whole body, whoever hits gets a point. So if both fences hit there's both get a point to poking weapon, but it tends to be a little bit USA boring because a lot of standing around it's because if you get hit, you lose a point. So it's a lot of a waiting game. Maybe more defensive. Yeah, you know you're trying to read your opponent longer in a way. Okay.
We are going to get a lot of angry letters from ethicists.
Fantastic, thank you for that for a very concise lesson.
Did all of those sports you did earlier like American football happy you aggression in quick movements? For Sabre?
Yeah, I think so. I when I was fencing, I had an aggressive style, I like to attack and go forward. And just being an athlete of other sports, basketball, baseball, football and karate. I was just an athletic kid. And so that athletic ability turn into aggressive movement. And so he just told me, all right, you grab a Sabre and just attack as much as possible. Okay, that's fine with me.
Let's move on just a little bit. When did you first become a part of Team USA Team USA fencing,
I had pretty good success early on. I was number one, the nation for us from pretty much each cat, young category in a wide 10, wide 12. By 14, I was always one or two in ranking. And then I started representing us at World Cups at the age of 15. But I did not make my first World Championship team for us until 2013.
Sorry, can I just take you back one step for a second. So you started fencing? A and two years later, you're number one in the US
for the white tan, the youth tan category? Yeah.
Yeah, that's, that's still an impressive trajectory. You either had some incredible talent or incredible coaching, or I'm suspecting it's a combination of both.
I there was definitely in both. I had a very good initial coach, he understood how to develop young students new to sport.
America is a big place. What was it like travelling around so much for still being so young and competing? Yeah,
I mean, it was tiring, for sure. You know, but I think my parents did most of the work because they're the one driving and spending money to take me to these places. So I'm grateful for that. Almost every weekend, I was competing at a local tournament or national competition. And, you know, from a young age, I learned that there has to be some kind of sacrifice. I missed out on birthday parties, friends, sleepovers, even other sporting events. Eventually, I had to prioritise fencing competition over baseball games, basketball games, in a way as long as I was doing well in those competition, and kept me motivated, and I didn't mind sacrificing social life.
For a guy that that is involved in winners is more aggressive with a small a sports I think, you know, you're you're such a great ambassador and role model for for younger offences coming through.
Thank you. You've been representing Team USA for for a few years, you've won a few medals. And then you made the decision to change to represent team Japan. What made you make that change?
So those a lot going on, I made the decision in 2015. I was going into my senior year, in 2013, I went to junior World Championship for us. And in 2014, I won for the NCAA. And so that was my last year in juniors. And that means I had to eventually compete in a senior level in 2015. During 2015 season, I solely focused on competing only collegiate tournaments are still doing national tournament but no international competition. The reason why I did that, I want to think what do I want to do in terms of my fencing career after I graduated college, I don't know the number but majority of fencers retire after college, some you know, if they have Olympic hopes, they keep training, but they still have to kind of work in a way. And so I took one year thinking what I want to do, do I want to keep fencing of go for the Olympics, or just be okay with fencing collegiate for two more years and then retire? And then the announcement that Tokyo Olympics will be for 2020. And then me thinking how great would it be? Why don't I go back and fence for my birth country and then try to go for Olympics in 2020. Not only in Tokyo but as an Japanese athlete. And I think my mother had a big influence in that decision. I think she wanted me to do that as well. She wants to bring my she wanted to bring out the Japanese pride and honour of doing it. And so after one year of thinking, I decided okay, let's finally switch And represent Japan.
So what was the reaction like from Team USA having lost one of their best Junior offences? So I know
from past, like history of other fencers switching countries, it can get quite ugly. I had a close friend of mine, she was a US fencer, and she had to switch to a different country. And sometimes when the Federation don't agree, you have to sit out multiple years, it can, it can be a huge hit. Fortunately, I had a good relationship with the US Federation. And so when I asked them, they were happy for me to leave. I don't know, I don't know exactly what maybe they thought less competition for the other guys, so they might be better for them. They signed off within a week. And obviously, Japanese Federation, they really wanted me to be on their team. They accepted me in that same week as well. So I think the whole process I was surprised to took like a week, not even a week, I think it was like few days, I wrote an email. They released it, I sent it to FIFA. They said, okay, everything's good. I sent some Japanese version takes up to the boom, I was a Japanese fun.
I'm really interested to get inside your headspace with that decision. So you raised in Japan through your seven was hung up in the US quite Japanese. And this this decision to sort of move back to your birth country, when you said that just now you could just feel a real natural passion for Japan. So would you say you'd always kind of identified yourself as Japanese or, or American or
I always identify myself as American and Japanese, I'm never gonna say I'm only Japanese, or I'm never only American, I'm always I'm 5050. I'm proud to be 5050. I think it's important to be diverse in culture. That's how I am as a person, when I go to other country, I tried to absorb as much of that culture in that country and the people, and I love it, you know, I try, I'll try to eat their food, you know, try to talk to the people learn how they live. So just me being half and half. I think it builds character and me wanting to learn about other cultures as well. And so when I made the decision, you know, it was difficult, because I did want to represent us for the Olympics. I mean, anytime you think Olympics, America is such a dominant country. And you see a lot of superstars and athletes there. But at the same time, I saw that Olympics is so big in Japan, they have so much pride in the Olympics. And even though at that time, I still felt like an outsider in terms of, you know, I don't live in Japan, I don't quite speak the perfect Japanese. But if I can do well, and fencing, and make good results for them, they're not going to question who I am.
Incredible, thank you so much. There's so much in what you've just said about the, you know, being proud of having two cultures and the powers of those cultures to sort of support each other.
It's really nice to hear in a world that seems to be turning more and more towards nationalism, and that choosing to represent one country over another doesn't mean that you're turning your back on the other one, you can be both. So you've made the switch to Team Japan. Was it difficult to fit in to the team early on? Or did you face any kind of hostility from people?
So the team itself and the coaches are super nice, they're always friendly to me. But there is like that feeling of I didn't quite fit in. But I mean, that's not their fault. My Japanese wasn't great. I have complete different cultural background in a way that you know, Japanese, so they have standard procedures in a way. And I didn't know about those. For me, I felt like I didn't quite fit in, in the beginning. But they were very nice. And I think in a way, I was also the youngest out of all the athletes. I know it was a little bit difficult for them as well, because they're they're seeing this 21 year old kid coming in, like who is this kid? I didn't to worry too much personally about fitting in or not. If I've focused too much on, are they going to accept me as a team member Baba, then my performance will suffer. I said, I let my results talk for itself. And I can get accepted that way.
And now you feel like you've completely settled into team Japan.
Yeah, I mean, I knew it takes time to fully be accepted. And so there's nothing I should worry about when I first joined.
So what were the main differences between being part of Team Japan and being part of Team USA in terms of your life as an athlete,
the big difference is in the US everything spread out. There is that Olympic Training Centre in Denver, Colorado in the US, but no one trains non defenders train there really. Everyone trains at their own individual clubs and coaches. Whereas in the Japan, sharing the national team, we all train in one place. There's only have one one sort of coaching staff, but it's us. It's separate. That's why you see a lot of different styles and us fencers. Not everyone tends to the same. There's I mean, there is clubs in Japan, but much smaller Bruce, Japan's fencing programmes just starting to happen right now there's more clubs and I guess High School fencing, but it's not nothing compared to us.
Two lovely little microcosm for Japanese culture, favouring the team over the individual and coming together in one place. Just talking about life. Now, fencing is quite Eurocentric, most of the big competitions take place over in Europe. I remember when I used to visit competitions, it was always just a short, cheap flight away, you know, 2030 pounds and two or three hours. But coming from Japan is a lot different. Can you tell me what the workload is like?
Yeah, it was quite different from when I was coming from when I was training us, and then go into the competition. One, it was much easier flights and also less training camps. When I live in Japan, Windows goes, European competitions are stacked together every other weekend, we kind of just stay in Europe and train there, the mindset and figure out your body and training is different. Whereas in the past, you make a trip to a competition, compete, come back, no reset, train again. And it goes to nonconscious. Whereas now it's a lot of times to save money, and time we get ready, go to a competition. After competition, we stay either in that same country or a country nearby and train there and then go to another competition. So not only are you you have to prepare your bags and all that, but you know, make sure whatever you need in terms of supplements, food equipment, you have to take and be able to train us again over there. But in a way, you have to adapt that way if you're an athlete, be able to train at wherever you are.
So let's move on a bit to talking about fencing in Japan in general, that Japan's really famous for its martial arts like karate and judo. Do you think fencing finds it hard to find a place as a combat sport in Japan when it's got all that competition?
Yeah, that's that's a really good question. I think yes. And no. You Yes. Because, you know, Japan has such a rich history of combat sport with karate, sumo wrestling, judo. They're big in wrestling as well. All these combat sports are nonlinear. They had a long history of it. They're very successful in terms of Olympic medals, and people are diehard fans when when it's on TV, it's almost like sold out arenas for the sports. And how is fencing something that's such still a niche sport, not only in the world, but in Japan kind of compete with the sport. I think we we can find some success with the technology that fencing can bring with the lights and just the speed. Obviously, the most difficult part is explaining the rules. But if we can kind of distract that part with all these lights and technology, I think will bring a lot of popularity into sport
is a Japan's Japan's great at innovating.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And then like other those other combat sport, you can't do those lights. You know, there's no swords or anything, it's all hand combat. So it's hard to incorporate that technology whereas fencing you can Tokyo special it's such a futuristic city freakin incorporate that technology I think people will be attached to.
This is a great segue into you the author who's Japan's most successful inventor, he created the fencing visualised project where he put tracking lights on the sword. So it shows you the path the blades takes and really brings to life. Just how complicated these actions and movements are. Do you think that that's needed? Because fencing has a bit of an understandability problem for non fencing audiences?
That's the biggest issue right? It's so fast that Sabre is a second fastest sport behind rifle shooting in Olympics.
Yeah, the tip of fencing is always the second fastest object to the Olympics behind the bullet
so so fast that it's hard to even like myself sometime you know, I watch like a fencing match Sabre match. I'm like, What happened? I have to watch it again. But yeah, that's the issue for sure. Not only the speed but the rules not whoever hits first gets a point. There's the whole right away. Whoever has someone has to be going forward to get the point with that factor. And we also had the referee it's every referee has a style of how they kind of call each point. Sometimes he does this person point but the referees gonna call differently and say, well, they said in the rules, that's that fencers. Why is the referee giving you qilta for sure. has done a great job trying to explain the rules. He's incorporated technology with those demonstrations and low motion technology of lights. In a way we have to bring out more exposure to fencing before the Olympic maybe somehow it's commercials or anything like that. So people kind of have a pre knowledge of what it is and I think they'll be better than and they can enjoy the sport.
They were you did a great job of this yourself and you'd recently featured in the eponymous named Tarzan magazine in Japan so they ran a big feature on you so from for relatively and I'm using Mike's words just in case the fence is out there Hey me for a niche store yet making this mainstream and and bringing it to the forefront of the Japanese sports fans. I think you know that's that's a testament I think Japan does this really work really well generally, is educate people about sport and promotes and market sports really well, I think you're playing your part.
So one thing I noticed living in Japan is that fences started to appear more and more on TV on variety shows and talk shows explaining the three different types of swords and the basic rules. Lend the house have a go. But there was no actual fencing appearing on TV. Is that still the case? Even with the Olympics so close?
They stood eyes recently, I've seen a couple segments of certain athletes and they follow them through certain competition and practice. Yeah, it's it's difficult, right? To explain what's going on. I think we're still in a phase that we have to try to capture the attention of broad audience. Because if you try to do it now like right now, here's the sport. Let me explain you the rules. And like explain it, it might get boring, and someone might turn change the channel. But if you show on TV, just clashing of swords, it's a combat sport that was originated in Europe. But these Japanese fences, you know, finding success blah, blah, excitement involved, that people are going to tune in like, Oh, what is this a law? And if they really interested, then they might kind of learn it on their own, do research on their own. But I think if you're just on TV and trying to explain. Okay, here's a clip of a point. Let me explain to you who got the point, then people who is not that fun and entertaining. So I mean, it's a difficult it's a difficult situation, for sure. But as of now, I think just try to show as much excitement as possible on TV, tried to capture the broad audience.
I'm just going to get back to you here to very quickly, he became a household name in Japan with two Olympic silver medals in Foil Fencing. How important do you think those medals were for Japan and that wave of auto fandom with a really important for Japanese fencing?
Yeah, for sure. Anytime I say I'm a fencer in Japan, all of them. You're guilty, you're guilty. Um, he's a superstar. I mean, he should deserve it. People didn't know there's a sport called fencing. But then he got a medal in Beijing Olympics. 2008 got a silver medal. He's a pioneer of Japanese fencing for sure. He brought fencing to Japan, in a way, especially the young foil fence, all these next generation for fencer, they start offensive because of you qilta. And my job, and then whoever's competing now our job is to, to make it a regular, normal sport, make it popular.
I think it's one of the big problems in the UK is that our last fencing medal was 1964, in the original Tokyo Olympics, and it's difficult for a sport to generate enthusiasm, when there aren't any medal winning faces that get put on posters and TV shows. Anyway, so let's get back to talking about you. As you said, fencing is a very niche sport. So how is it you're able to support yourself financially as a full time athlete?
In Japan, we're very fortunate a lot of the athletes, we become like an employee to accompany give you a salary to train as an athlete, and varies from each athlete. But some might have to go to work once a week, once a month, some don't even have to work, you just have to keep training. It's almost like a sponsor, but you become an employee of a company. For me, I represent a company, once I moved to Japan, I was able to find that company to fund my journey. But before when I was in the US, or training in the US, I was supported by my family, and I'm very thankful for them, you know. And so, for that sacrifice, my journey, you know, trying to compete for the biggest not just about me, it's all for my family, you know, if I become an Olympian, they become Olympic Olympian, because they supported me this whole journey, not just the last four years, you know, training professionally But prior know when I first started fencing, they've been supportive, non stop. And, you know, currently, I'm trying to find more sponsors, more funding, in a way to help my family kind of pay them back as well. My main focus do well on result wise, so if I don't find out if I can't make good results that you know, none of the sponsors or opportunities won't come. So I'm not. I'm not trying to stress too much about money itself. I'm just focused on proving and doing well and each competition
and who's that you're employed by common shaddam out
there called bs International, but in a way, I can't get too much into it, but my contract will end with them. So I'm currently looking for new employment. Anyone
anybody listening to this podcast
for sponsorship yeah
you know, fencing you know it. It's you know, it's it's a really cool, you're a great ambassador. You're a very humble guy, you're really smart guy. So, anybody listening to this podcast who wants to make a smart financial investment you man
and has no is singing your praises it brings us perfectly to your qualification journey for Tokyo 2020 and you are so agonisingly close to the qualification for fencing is not simple at all. Can you just give us a quick rundown of where you are and how you could qualify for the Tokyo games?
Yeah, it is such a strange way to qualify right fencing it's a year round, cumulative ranking point system Olympic qualification started 2019 April 2019. Trying to think how many competition counts? Oh gosh. No, it's a you know five world no spot six World Cup slash Grand Prix and in zone championship and World Championship Harvey do knows will lead to Olympic points in fencing, there's a team event and individual event, there's so many different ways to qualify him can qualify as a team, then all those three fencers, the top three fences in that team can fence individually, not the fourth, just three was if you don't qualify team, you can still qualify individually and for the individual event. So let me break it down for Team event. First, top four teams in the world, one to four qualifies automatically. Team event is only to eight teams. So next four will be the top team from each zone. So Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. Those top teams from each each of the zones will get the next four spots. And so as of now, the top four in the world is Korea, Hungary, Italy, and Germany, I believe. And so the next four teams will be do us for America zone, Asia zone is Iran, Africa is Egypt and in Europe is still open, I think it's either going to be Russia or France, we saw one more competition. So it's gonna come down to that. And so unfortunately, Japan, we won't be able to qualify a team. And then now for individual event, excluding all those fencers that already qualify as team top two ranking from each zone. So next to Europe, fencers that haven't qualified that those teams will qualify into individual event, to fencers from a one fencer from America, and Africa, just because guess the level of competitions weekers, they only get one each there. And then Asia gets to and after that. There's a zonal qualification. So they do a tournament itself from each winner from those competition from each zone gets added into the competition. So if you somehow didn't qualify, or your country member from your country didn't qualify, yet, there's one more tournament called the zone, qualifier zone qualification qualification tournament, and if you win that you qualify. So there's all this so it's very complicated, as many ways comes down to it. In terms of my situation, I am number three or four in terms of Asia, there's one Chinese fencer, and then one Japanese fencer. So my goal is to surpass my teammates, the Japanese fencers to get that last Asian spot. But then, then, there's more. There's more since the Olympics held in Tokyo, the Japanese Federation gets automatic amount of bids they can add into the competition. So I think there's eight top athletes, fencers, they can automate put in for competition, then they can give it to those guys and just automatically compete in the Olympics. And obviously, I don't want to do that. But that's another way of qualifying for the Olympics since we're the host country. So I don't know if I could if I explained it clearly enough. It is very complicated. I get a headache every time I think about it as well. All I know is I'm close, but I'm not qualified. And I you know, I want to try to qualify on my own.
Did you follow that? No.
Surprisingly, yes. Yeah, I'm never gonna, I'm never I'm never gonna qualify for anything again, but you know, it makes qualifying as a distance runner. seem like a piece of cake. All you got to do is reach a standard and be out of it. Yeah. Good luck with that Geico will definitely be right behind you for this whole process.
So your last competition was in Luxembourg, which you may know both ones and there was a part where you disagreed with the referee quite, quite vehemently. Is that something that's common in fencing?
Especially in Sabre? Yes, Sabre so fast, and you got to be Precise in each movement, especially as an athlete, you think you're moving in a certain movement or speed, but the referee might see a complete different. And so there's no arguing. That's why we have video replays. But at the same time, there's also pride in the referee too, so they don't quite want to change the calls. It's tough. You know what I'm fencing I'm seeing it this point of view. But from the side, it might be complete different. Maybe my arm isn't coming out as I thought it was, maybe my feet aren't moving as well as I thought it was, you know, it's hard to argue because I don't get to see that his point of view or the camera point of view in the video. And so you I think I'm right, he thinks he's right. So there's, you know, there's gonna be butting heads. And so I think it's very normal in Sabre, and that's why in a way that's makes it exciting.
As an international referee, I can confirm that this is not in fact, exciting
for me, is a visually impaired person trying to keep up with you moving at speed was quite a challenge. But it is really exciting. It was really exciting. I definitely urge anybody who hasn't watched fencing at that level to check it out.
So one last thing to talk about before the end is that Coronavirus is obviously a thing. And this is a very sudden stop to the qualification tournament's and to take a qualification in general. How has COVID affected your journey personally on fencing in general?
So yeah, it was a very sudden stop. I remember, I got back from Luxembourg, we had a weekend off. And then next weekend, we had our last competition, Budapest. And the week went by, it was a Monday. And I had my bags ready because I was leaving Tuesday for Budapest, Monday comes along, and everything gets cancelled. The competition, travelling, everything shuts down. And I'm like holy cow, like, you know, we're only one competition a way to know if we qualify for Olympics or not. In my head, I was like, let's just get it done. Like, who cares? Let's go. But then, you know, there's stories that like, you know, I think it was an epic competition in Budapest prior. And there are some positive cases. All this big news coming in, we realise, okay, this is bigger than the sport itself, you know, how it needs to come first. Because at first, you know, we hear news, it's like, oh, just stay in for a week or a month, and it'll be over. So our minds and brains, okay, it's like a month break, and then we'll get back into, it was a little crushing. Because, you know, my dream was so close, I can almost reach it. But during that season, I was actually kind of dealing with an injury. So it was a blessing in disguise. Because that postponement allow me to just recover from an injury. At that point, I was just kind of grinding and pushing through my injury. And I was like, you know, this, I've been working my butt off for four years, I don't care. I know, My leg hurts, but I'm gonna compete and try to qualify no matter what. My mindset was okay. Even though they cancelled a competition, you know, my dream isn't cancelled, it's just postponed. Let's get healthy. And when it resumes again, I'll be 100%. Ready?
And so how is the communication from everyone about the way things are going to change once the postponement had happened? Did you feel confident that you knew what was going on in the future?
I mean, it was just unclear. I mean, every we had no say in what was going on. It was optive, FIA, and also even like the government, so they couldn't host anything. And so when we knew when the governments of each country was shutting their doors, we knew is bigger than anything. So at that point, it's a big pandemic, we just got to wait it out, try to train if we're allowed to train just trained, you know, stay ready, in a way. But once we knew this news, how many people die in Italy, because I know Italy was big. In the beginning, all this numbers coming out. We started every day we started realise, okay, this is gonna be a long break, not just a month that thinks it's gonna be few months. And then, you know, hear rumours like that. We're not definitely not going to compete until next, you know, season. So everyone started getting that mindset. It's like, okay, we're not competing. So just kind of relax before that we're competing every other weekend. So we're in like competition mode, like just aggressive, like, mindset. And then, you know, after a couple of weeks, we kind of sell down metal down, we also have to quarantine. So, in a way, we've started relaxing, enjoying stuff outside of fencing in a way.
Amazing, so how's the future looking? Do you know what's happening with your final competitions and the last bits for qualification?
I think they want to do to competition. In a way it's like a practice competition, but they think they're gonna count it to world ranking next year after Olympics, one in January, one in February. I don't know how they're gonna do it. But that's what they're thinking and Then the main last competition that counts for the qualification for the Olympics will be in March. So pretty much a year later. My mind says March. That's the big one. Obviously, I will if they host other competition, I'll go because that's really good experience getting the competition flow back. But the main focus is March you know my delay even further, but I'll try to be ready. You know, even in January, I'll try to you know, start getting the competition mindset ready.
Amazing. We wish you every success in those competitions. We couldn't be rooting for you more throughout this journey. Really good luck with everything.
I just wondering as the first athlete we've spoken to who is training in Japan during this period? What's the mood on the street light regarding the Olympics and Paralympics? Because we hear little bits and pieces, people have done surveys looking to the volunteers. It's a little anxious about it. What's the general mood on the street like?
So I haven't really asked people like they want the Olympics or not, I think everyone's gonna have their opinion. I have a feeling no matter what we'll have the Olympics, we're gonna host it to what capacity in terms of audience I don't know. But I think Olympics such a huge event in Japan. And not only is it like a big event for sports, you know, you get to cheer on your favourite athlete, your team. But it brings people together, it brings a lot of pride in Japanese people. It brings communities because a lot of these athletes that come they come from even smaller towns, not only do they represent Japan, but they represent those towns so those communities get huge, and they come together and cheer for those athletes. I think the regular citizens want to have the Olympics because they want something to cheer for. And if it happened if the Olympics happening, it takes the mind off this you know, this horrible year?
I think that's such a powerful answer to be honest, because it speaks to the power of sport at the Olympics and the Paralympics. Beyond the success of the individual athlete.
athletes compete against China we know we're trying to beat each other want there's going to be a winners and losers but work uniting as athlete, just showing like we're the best in what we do. We're coming together performing to in a way entertaining everyone else in the world. Like it kind of like distracts everything outside of sports like politic, national disasters or anything like that. And everyone just focus on the sport itself. And I think that's like the beautiful part about the Olympics.
So it's time for kaitos final recommendations. I've been speaking an awful lot this episode, and I'm getting very bored in my own voice. So no, would you like to kick things off?
For the benefit of our listeners who may not have travelled to Japan? Or even for those who have travelled to Japan? Can you recommend one place potentially off the beaten track that you would recommend them visit?
Oh, gosh. I mean, obviously, if it's your first time coming to Japan, Tokyo is this amazing city in terms of so many places to see amazing technology lights and all that. But I tell people try going to the countryside of Japan because you see a completely different culture not only in like the building so you see like the traditional old Japanese building but just people are different. I'm not saying jack people are nice in Tokyo but when you go to the countryside, they're even way nicer. Just the air is different. In Japan, they're big on old sun, which is like natural spa. My mom came from Kagoshima, which is like this further south of Japan. So that's a very countryside obviously they have a city too but you know if you have a chance to visit that in each region Japan they specialise in different food and different types of no I guess it just different vibe culture so if you can try to visit outside Tokyo try going south even going up north to Hokkaido Sapporo. Try doing that I mean, just try to see different parts of Japan because you realise it's it's different throughout.
For the next one can you give us one activity that you would recommend our listeners do whilst they're in Japan
on son for sure. It's like a not such a very popular you know Japanese into what I like to do is I tried to go as many like food markets, there's so many in Tokyo in other towns and just kind of like go through a food market and try things that you never you don't know the name of or what it looks like. Just try everything because that's like the best place to be able to try everything because you know you're not getting a full meal you're just kind of getting a snack. And so if you go to those food markets, you can try more dish Japanese traditional dishes, without you know sitting down at a restaurant.
And you have one that beautifully recommendation which is one food That you think everybody should try when they visit Japan?
My answer is gonna be different. But like, obviously, first of all, try No sushi and ramen all that complete different level compared to other countries for sure. But there's if, if I can say one food that I've rarely ever seen outside of Japan that I love here is Nagi, which, you know, it's almost like grilled Nike fish over rice. And the best way to describe it's kind of like, I know, disgraceful to say it's like teriyaki sauce, kind of, it's very simple dish. But it's so elegant and very delicious, that I don't ever see high good quality outside of Japan unless you go to a really good Japanese restaurant. But in Japan, you see, quite often, it's not a eye pleasing dish. And so people might not be attracted to it. And it's also evil. It's not like a very pleasant fish. And so people will be like, I don't want you. But when once you have it, it's amazing.
It took me 20 years to try it the Negi because I had some issues with with with with certain types of seafood. And then a couple years ago, I was in Turkey, before close to heaven, and we were in a kind of formal meal have been taken out by the Corporation. And they presented Maggie and I tried it and it was absolutely amazing. Yeah.
The thing about Japan is a lot of the restaurants, they specialise in one dish, when you go to a restaurant, they only have unagi. That's all they make. So you know, that's good. They, you know, they put all their attention on that dish.
Final question. Do you have a Japanese word or phrase that kind of identifies you or sums up your feelings as a Japanese fencer? Yeah,
actually, I don't know how I think I'll just say kind of studying Japanese on my free time. And I came across this quote or phrase in a way and I really liked what the meaning of it it's called in Japanese is shaped by what Seiko know how they are. Which kind of translate to failure is a stepping stone to success. As an athlete, that's like the meaning of being an athlete, you you need failure, you need losses, and sport, find success, because you learn from those losses and failures. And then you work on it, fix those, and never give up on those, you know, even after you lose, then you're going to eventually, you know, start winning and finding success, no matter what just keep going forward, you know, getting better learn from your losses, and eventually you're going to succeed.
One final question, greatest fighter, that Luigi or Luke Skywalker
was the first one
in this car, is that the blind Samurai? I'm a visually impaired person here is my all time heroes. Don't worry, we're
sharing your age here. No,
yeah, I guess I'll say Luke Skywalker, because I want to say I'm a big star wars nerd, but like, that whole lightsaber trend actually influenced my fencing. I think it just, that was my childhood. I always wanted like a lightsaber. Right? And I guess, lightsaber. I fence with a Sabre, I think, you know, it's like I had a connection to this, I'll say Luke Skywalker. And
we may or may not include that.
Did you know The French Federation officially sanctioned lightsaber as a fencing discipline? Just a couple years ago?
I saw that there's those four, honestly. I mean, I think that'd be very entertaining. I mean, top level athletes would, would they do it? Probably not right now. Doing this can be more for fun. But I think it'd be very interesting to watch. I mean, I wouldn't mind trying either. Just for fun, but, I mean, we'll see how it goes. I don't I have no input on that. I
just think it'd be impossible to take a swim without making the noise. You know, every time you learn to just have to do a
venture tried to use your force when you go.
kite or thank you so much for Thank you for having me. Your time. It's been it's been really fun. It's been really, we learn a lot. You've got an amazing perspective for someone hasn't been around. Well, you've been around the sport for a long time, but you still relatively young. So it's been it's been great for me to learn more about fencing about you as a person. So we're right behind you. Yeah, let's hope that someone next year we can see in Tokyo. Yeah,
thank you so much. No, I appreciate it. And yeah, I mean, I my goal, obviously is to qualify for Olympics and to be Olympian for my family, all that but also, in a way promote this beautiful sport. And it's given me so much, you know, it's taught me a lot. It allowed me to travel around the world meet so many people. And so if I can, you know, promote motors for I would in any way possible.
Thank you for listening to Japan sports stories. Thank you once again, Cato for taking time out of your busy training schedule to talk to me and no promoting the sport of fencing. If you want to keep track of Clayton's Olympic journey, give him a follow on Instagram by searching Kato streets. We're on social media as well and you should definitely follow us on Twitter at Jay s stories. We love hearing your feedback. So give us a message on there or leave us a review on iTunes telling us how much you love us. We'll be back in two weeks time and boy do we have something special for you? Fresh from her 2020 French Open victory. We'll be joined by the innumerable wheelchair tennis Grand Slam champion YUI committee who will be telling us about her incredible journey. Make sure you subscribe to us to hear it first.