2014 Champion - Kahlia Smith

kahlia-smith-2014

It’s a story often told by retired athletes: the camaraderie of a team and the excitement of competing before a roaring crowd make the lure of competition hard to fight. As a result, we often see great athletes come out of retirement with varied levels of success but often as shadows of their former selves. Kahlia Smith is a rare exception, having returned to competition after a six-year hiatus to produce a series of stellar performances, culminating in her capture of the 2014 National All Styles Champion of Champions title. Blitz spoke to Kahlia about her return to competition and what’s next for the comeback queen.

kahlia-smith-2014How did you get started in martial arts?

I was born and raised into Shukokai Karate. By the time I was born, my father and brother had started, and my mother started about six months after I was born. So, I kind of grew up on the sidelines and started doing classes when I was about three or four years old. 

How would you describe your own personal style of fighting? What are your main strengths?

I guess I’m more of a reactionary fighter. I definitely wait for the person to attack so that I can pick my point and try and sneak something in. The main strength I get comments on is my hand speed. A lot of the refs throughout last year came up and said, “You are really quick and you have good hand speed.” So that was a nice thing to hear.

We hear you took several years off from competitive karate — is that right? 

Yeah, I took about six years off and still did some light training, but last year was my first year back into it. I kind of made the decision around November of 2013 that I’d go back, so it was a bit hell-for-leather to get into the first competitions of 2014.  

What made you want to get back into it?

I like to challenge myself. It was more about just knowing that I can still do what I used to do when I was 18 and competing. I also missed the feeling of walking out onto the ring. There is a particular feeling you get when you are out there and it’s something most people miss if they ever let it go, so I wanted to get back to that.

Can you outline your weekly training schedule leading up to the competition? 

I have a pretty full-on schedule, because I work a full-time job and I fit in training morning and evenings. Generally I’ll do two-to-three hours of training a day, which includes my classes as well as my cardio and strength training — it’s usually a pretty full-on week.

Talk us through the tournament finals. Who were the toughest opponents and were there any particular moments that stood out?

There were quite a few; even in my normal weight division, there were a few people I hadn’t seen before from different states. It’s always interesting when you meet those people, but I suppose coming up against last year’s Champion of Champions and another ex-Champion of Champions as well — in the Champion of Champions fight — was interesting. Both the girls being from Queensland, I’ve had an opportunity to work with them throughout the year at the normal rounds. Pania Casey-Williams was my last [opponent] and it was good. We’ve all fought each other before, so it was about making sure I didn’t make a wrong move, because I knew what they were both capable of.    

What was your mental approach to facing Pania Casey-Williams, a past winner, in the final?

It was a challenge, particularly because it was my first year back and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I hadn’t really expected to go that far throughout the year and to get to that point, so there is a lot of mental pressure.

I just tried to remind myself throughout the whole year, and particularly on the day, that whatever happens, I’m there to learn and see where my skills are. It’s good to come up against someone who’s at such a high level, because you can learn where you are lacking and what is working. You want to win, but it was always more about learning what I needed to work on at the end of the day.

There is a bit of a height difference between you and Pania; what do you have to be careful of when taking on smaller opponents like her?

It’s always difficult. I think she’s a lightweight and I’m in the heavyweight division, so apart from height there is a big weight difference too. I was more worried about actually making contact and hurting her, so you think about that when you are out there too, just making sure an accident doesn’t happen—you don’t want to hurt your opponent.

She’s definitely got fast legs and she can get them up to head height, so it was just about making sure I had enough distance on her and thankfully I did have a bit of height and reach on her.  

You trained hard for a whole year — how did it feel to have that dedication pay off with the Champion of Champions win?

I was always hopeful that I could go that far, but it was a big surprise that I got there in the end. It makes it all worth it, and kind of makes it worth it for everyone in my support team who had to deal with me throughout the year. With it being a big emotional and physical challenge to get to that point, it’s nice to have it pay off so well. 

What tips would you give for new competitors coming into the NAS circuit?

It’s not so much about winning; you don’t have to put that sort of pressure on yourself, particularly if you are new to the event, or if you are coming back after a while out. 

I wouldn’t put the pressure on yourself that a lot of people do. Go out there and aim to learn from the people that are there, because a lot of them have been there for ages and they are well experienced. Look at it as more of a learning experience instead of going out there for the win — if [a win] happens, then it’s a nice side effect.

kahlia-smith-trophy-2014What do you hope to achieve in martial arts in the future?

Obviously I’m going to try and defend the title and see if I can go two years in a row. I’m definitely looking at bigger and better for 2015, so it’s already back to the drawing board to work on the few things I know need to be worked on and see what I can come up with this year.  

Is there anyone you’d like to thank for helping you achieve this victory?

Yes, I’d like to thank my support team — my family, my partner and everyone at the dojo — for putting up with me throughout the year when I’m having emotional and physical stresses. You definitely need a good support team and they have been there for me, and I’m sure they will be there for me for 2015. 

 

The Fighter’s Tips

Kahlia Smith on the best way to avoid injury in karate:

Just be mindful of what you are doing when it comes to training and being out on the competition floor. You’ve got to be able to read your body and if you’ve got a slight twinge somewhere, then take it seriously. It might seem like nothing to start with, but as you keep pushing and pushing, your body is eventually going to fall out on itself — I definitely take things like that seriously.

On how to prepare mentally on the day or night of competition:

I try and keep things as normal as possible, so the night before I have a normal dinner, go to bed at the normal time and when I’m there it’s just trying to relax. I’m the head coach for our team as well, so I spend a fair bit of the day running around, but when I can I’ll sit down, put some music on to try and empty my mind and zone out for a little bit, so that I can destress before my division.