US basketball

Southern Falcon: Junna Tsukii is grounded but soaring

Ariel Ian Clarito
Southern Falcon: Junna Tsukii is grounded but soaring
Junna Tsukii shows she was never built to be cooped up and quarantined, finding ways to make a positive impact despite the lack of active tournaments

MANILA, Philippines – Junna Tsuikii seemed destined to fly.

Born in Pasay City to Shin Tsukii and Lilia Villanueva, she was named Junna which when broken down means “falcon” (jun) and “south” (na). She was never built to be cooped up and quarantined. 

Tsukii remains the brightest hope of the Philippines for an Olympic spot in karate. With the sport making its maiden appearance in the Tokyo Olympics, she aims for the No. 1 spot in Asia to qualify for the global showpiece.

Automatic spots will be alloted to the 4 highest ranked karatekas in the world while another slot is reserved for the host country.

If Tsukii fails to meet the qualifications before the cut-off period, her final chance will be the world qualifying event where only 3 more slots will be offered. 

Tsukii was gaining momentum before the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed the world. She claimed bronze medal finishes in the Karate 1 Series A in Chile and the Karate 1 Premier League in France. She then made the quarterfinals of the Karate 1 Premier League held in Dubai, UAE. 

These achievements propelled Tsukii to climb to the 9th spot in the world rankings of the women’s -50 kg kumite division. This is a huge accomplishment considering that a little over a year ago, she was ranked 226th in the world. She also missed joining 3 qualifying events which could have boosted her ranking points.

Then the cancelations happened – first, was the tournament in Rabat, Morocco, followed by the scrapping of qualifying events in Madrid, Spain, and Paris, France. 

All of a sudden, there were no more qualifying events on the horizon. Just like that, there were no more opportunities, albeit temporarily, for Tsukii to further improve her world standing.

“The goal is to be world champion. It does not change in any situation. I will keep working hard,” said the defiant and determined Tsukii. 

The 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games gold medalist has since pitched camp in Japan where she finds it easier to move and to train compared to Manila. 

She is in familiar territory in Japan, the place where she grew up. She would also be with her coach, her father. 

Tsukii started karate when she was 7 years old at her father’s own dojo. She eventually became the national champion of Japan and was selected for the country’s national team. But she elected instead to represent her birthplace, the Philippines, and moved to Manila in 2017. 

She has kept herself busy while in Japan, sharing: “I have continued to train to keep myself in shape. I also manage my diet. I eat a lot of dishes that use soybeans. Soybeans are high in protein and low in calories, so they help build muscle and lessen fat.”

Some sports have found creative ways to ensure athletes remain active. Karate is no exception. Tsukii will be involved in an upcoming international online karate tournament. It will be a kata competition called the JK Fan Cup Web1 Challenge which will be joined by over 88 karatekas from 4 countries. 

Tsukii will also be conducting online classes for children who are unable to go to school. Unknown to many, Tsukii is a licensed teacher who taught high school social studies in Japan. She also taught kindergarten at an international school in Manila.

She has her own Youtube channel where she will be offering free karate web seminars. “I may not be able to save lives like doctors do, but I do I hope I can help cheer up kids and athletes who are into karate and other sports,” said Tsukii.

“Being an athlete is only a fraction of my life. I want to use my career to help future athletes and give back to society.”

These perilous times have not prevented Tsukii from still spreading her wings in her desire to have a positive impact on the lives of other people. – 

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