TOKYO – When Banff’s Mya Firlotte was six years old, she had to make a choice to either join the Girl Guides or karate.
In the big decision process, it’s safe to say which one her father leaned toward when he made his daughter watch the martial arts movie Ong-Bak, with the ageless plot of a villager beating up a bunch of thieves and saving the day.
“Ever since then I’ve been like ‘I’m going to be a ninja,’” said Firlotte, 16, who’s a green belt at her home club Banff Kyokushin Karate (BKK).
Call it destiny because 10 years later the Canuck is ready to beat the maple syrup out of international competition for the first time at the 2023 International Friendship Elite Karate Championships (IFEKC) on Nov. 17 in Tokyo, Japan.
Firlotte is the youngest of three athletes from the Banff club competing. She said it’s the only thing she’s been talking about since booking the trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
“I’m excited to fight different people and go to Japan,” Firlotte said. “I have no expectations, really, but just have fun and enjoy it.”
The single elimination style bracket tournament is fought under the Kyokushinkaikan style, which emphasizes realistic movement and fighting. IFEKC is one of the largest martial arts gatherings in the world with men, women, youth and teens all stepping on the mat to square off.
“It is a high-pressure scenario to perform in a very short amount of time,” said Daymon Miller, head instructor at BKK and a third degree black belt.
“The rules are a little bit more open [in Japan] … it’s full contact, head contact, knockout contact, sweeping, tripping and throwing. We’ve been working on those things to prepare her and us for those rules.”
For the Banff trio – Miller and Francois Pace will be competing in two different men’s masters class categories, and Firlotte fights in the girls 15-17 category.
Each fighter has one guaranteed bout, with Pace challenging Japan’s Tadateru Sano and Miller facing off against Hungary’s Sandor Vanko.
Firlotte will take on Russia’s Angela Bulgareva.
The bouts are full contact with five judges watching combatants fight in one two-minute main bout with two additional two-minute extension rounds. Victories can be obtained by outpointing or by retiring opponents. The winning fighter advances in the tournament.
It’s Miller and Pace’s second time competing in Japan in a large karate tournament. Their first time in 2019 was more for experience because Japan is a martial arts mecca, but this time, “we want to win." In preparation, they have been training with other people in different dojos in hopes it makes a difference come fight day.
“The body is sore but it’s almost done and I’m pretty excited about it. I feel good for 51 [years old],” said Pace, a brown belt.
Upcoming Banff tournament
The 2023 Banff Kyokushin Karate Championship Dec. 2 at the Banff Elementary School gymnasium. It’s the first local tourney since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The local grassroots tournament features knockdown, kata and non-contact, with athletes competing from across western Canada.