Samantha Palmer has been training for nearly 11 years in karate and is unquestionably leaving her mark on all-styles competition. Her love for the fighting arts began with a fascination in her dad's and siblings' involvement in martial arts when they were younger, but her interest in karate really developed once she started competing. "My karate began to improve heaps more with the direct feedback in the form of refereeing and judging from experienced and unbiased judges," she says of her excursion into NAS. "I realised that I had been cruising and stepped-up my training and commitment to karate even more."
Palmer had a busy year in 2008, competing in all GKR and NAS tournaments. And she was successful in every one, placing in every fighting event she entered last year, both point-sparring and continuous in GKR and NAS. "One of my other goals was to win the GKR nationals for women's black-belt open kumite (point-sparring) and I did," she says.
Palmer's hectic year culminated with the NAS Championships. "Going into the actual tournament and my events, I was confident and very excited as I believed I had prepared well for it in both my mental and physical training," she declares.
"After winning in 2007, I set myself another goal straight away: to win back-to-back. I knew it would be more difficult — hotter weather, different opponents — and also that everyone would be looking to take me out of contention early in the tournament," Palmer reveals.
The martial artist juggled an intense training regimen throughout the year and placed a lot of emphasis on mental preparation. She employs a lot of positive self-talk and practises visualisation techniques in order to remain positive and focused in the days preceding the tournaments.
"I use every tournament as a lesson and a stepping stone to help me get closer to my goal of back-to-back [wins]. To achieve my goals, I did two-to-three classes of karate per week, as well as three-to-four aerobics classes per week, with a bit of swimming too.
"With karate, I did lots of footwork drills to help with my speed and also utilised my local gym's mirrored aerobics room to assist me in improving my kata. My aerobics classes included BodyStep and BodyAttack, which are both good for endurance, and BodyPump to help with my strength training," Palmer reveals.
She has developed into a more technical and strategic competitor over the past year and it showed at NAS. The determined karateka competed in seven events over the course of the weekend. "The level of competition had definitely stepped up this year in terms of calibre of opponents and the number of them," Palmer says.
The first event was kata and without ever previously winning or even placing in forms at NAS, the GKR fighter was thrilled to come second to multiple-time winner Pania Casey-Williams. Palmer also competed in a team for synchronised forms and point-fighting, placing first in the former and third in the latter.
Palmer faced some fierce competition in the open-weight and heavyweight divisions but came out the victor in both. In the open-weight finals she battled it out with NAS stalwart Lyndal Ricketts; it was a close fight with both fighters sharing the same strong style. In the heavyweight finals, Palmer faced another GKR finals regular, Claudine Chicheportiche, in what was to be a nail-biting battle that came down to a sudden-death score.
"I thought that these two fights were, for me, probably the most intense of the tournament, as they were against strong, fast and decisive opponents with similar fighting styles to myself," Palmer reveals.
Feeling the exhaustion of just having finished both the heavyweight and open-weight divisions, Palmer had to dig deep and really push herself for the continuous-sparring event. She battled the very strong Jodie Whitley in the finals and took second place.
Next was the moment of truth: Champion of Champions. The karateka's desire to win NAS goes back to 2002 when she attended her first NAS Championships in Sydney. "I had it set in my mind that I would be a national champion one day," she remembers.
She had done it once, but could she win it back-to-back?
Palmer's ability to work out her opponents' moves and anticipate and counter them placed her in good stead to take the title. This, coupled with beautiful technique, sheer determination and strong mental focus, made Palmer a formidable contender.
The only thing in Palmer's way was Pania Casey-Williams. "I had never fought her before, which always makes for an interesting fight. I watched some of her fights throughout the two days, as I had a feeling that I would have to fight her some time during the tournament. She is a good offensive fighter, but I knew that if I stayed with my plan of attacking first with a combination, that I would be able to overcome her," Palmer reveals.
Her strategy paid off, and the Champion of Champions title belt belonged to the elated Palmer once again. "It was a fantastic feeling! Winning it this time around was even more rewarding, as my husband was there to see me win, and coach me through every fight. I had a better lead-up to the finals too, with my successes in the previous events," she explains.
Palmer draws inspiration from many sources. Three of her mentors are her three coaches: Senseis Karl Palmer (her husband), Jason Knight and Mark Farello. "They all have their own strengths in their coaching ability: Sensei Jason in his kumite drills and strategy, Sensei Mark in his kata understanding and technicality, and Karl for his mental preparation and breaking down of fights to help determine strategy," she says.
The 2nd Dan Black-belt also draws inspiration from her veteran team-mate Nick Spanu. "He always stays positive and looks to the future, not the past, as the past is something you cannot change. I appreciate this quality in him and I strive to remember this each and every time I compete," Palmer says.
Previous multiple Champion of Champions winner Erin Forrest is another source of motivation for Palmer: "She had great techniques and fantastic attitude. I try to remember her attitude and manner when training and in competition, as she is definitely someone to be remembered and respected."
As the back-to-back Champion of Champions, Palmer's advice to aspiring martial artists is simply: "train hard. Don't let the opinions of others and [their] mindsets change who you are and what you do. It is hard work winning the nationals, but if it was easy, everyone would do it."
Palmer gained a lot from the competition and left feeling proud and delighted. "I took away some new experiences from my fights and learnt things about my opponents' fighting styles and favourite techniques that I didn't know before. I have found that my mental and physical training definitely paid off," says the champion martial artist.
"I have learnt that there are always things to improve on and that if I stay where I am now in my martial arts, I will be quickly overtaken by those who might work harder than I do. So, I must always strive to be one step ahead of my opponents if I want to continue to win."
The next challenge for Samantha Palmer is the GKR World Championships, to be held in Melbourne in August this year. "I'm very excited as I have never competed at a world level before," she says. "Then I would love to attempt a hat-trick at Champion of Champions! And, I will continue to grow as a martial artist and I will also set a longer-term goal of 3rd Dan in GKR, hopefully in the next two years."
With experience and motivation on their side, Palmer and Carr might just make it back-to-back-to-back in NAS 2009.