Twenty-six-year-old Samantha Palmer from Go-Kan-Ryu (GKR) karate managed to break all the NAS records and claimed herself a third straight Champion of Champions belt in 2009. Here, Sam tells us more about how she managed such a feat.
Was it good to be fighting from home?
It was. I haven't won a championship fight in Melbourne yet, because the other two were in Sydney and Queensland, so I was glad to have it at home.
What kind of pressure did you have going in?
Well, everyone was saying, 'Go for three! Go for three!' because no-one had really done that before at NAS. So everyone was a bit expectant in that way, which was interesting. It wasn't too bad. I think it helped to drive me a little more because I didn't want to let my team-mates down or anything. They were all cheering me, so it pushed me further than I could ever go on my own.
Did you train any differently this time around?
This year we had the World Championships for GKR as well, so I had been training really hard for that, so I just kept training as hard leading up to the NAS Nationals. I didn't really change my training this year, but I just pushed more for the Worlds.
How did you feel going in to it? Were you confident in your abilities?
I was. I was always get nervous on the day of the tournament, regardless. But I was confident, yet still very nervous as always. I felt ready and I felt really prepared. I knew that I wanted it really bad — when I want it bad I just work that much more to achieve it. I wanted it more this year because it was three in a row. There was a lot of good competition this year. Claudine (Chicheportiche) was in again this year and had beaten me at the GKR Nationals, so I knew it was my time to beat her. I had to get her back [laughs]. I knew I definitely wanted it more at NAS.
What did you think of the day and the NAS competition in general?
It was a really good competition. I didn't spar as many of my Victorian team-mates, so it was really good for a change. I usually get them in the first round, but I only sparred one in the finals of the heavyweights. It was great to fight some of the other guys from the other States.
Did you also have your own students competing there?
Yeah, I had quite a few students there and they did really well. A lot of them got first places. I try to focus on my students but at least half an hour before my match, I give myself the time before I compete to make sure I'm in the right headspace and everything.
There was a bit of confusion leading up to the finals fight – did that throw you at all?
It did to begin with, but my coaches — Mark and Karl (Palmer) and Jason — all told me to just focus on my fight and just make sure you win both of them; just focus on what you have to do and don't change your game plan. I knew it was my day and, not to take it away from the other girls, but I knew I could win it either way. I knew I could beat Nicki, because I'd beaten her earlier that day and I was confident going in to fight Jamie Palmer — I hadn't fought her before but I was pretty confident that I was faster than her. I was just going to keep on fighting.
Do you have a set plan going into a fight?
Usually, I'm very dominating with the hands and punch a lot more than I kick. But because that is a bit of a weakness of mine, I decided to implement kicks a bit more over the weekend. I did that and managed to get a number of kicks in, and several roundhouse kicks to the head. So that was good, it got me more confident in using my kicks.
Not letting the score get to me is one of my strengths. Because they score so closely, people often get anxious and worried about it. They just put themselves in a position where they are going to get hit because they forget their strategies and just try and win the next point. I used to do that a bit and I have learned to focus.
How does it feel to win three in a row?
It's just fantastic. We all went out for dinner that night with the team and it was just so energising to have everyone so pleased for me that I won. They were all saying it was just so great to be there and experience that three in a row, because no-one had ever done it before — in males either, and a lot of people were like, 'Wow!' The team had a lot of faith in me too, so it was great to deliver for them.
Most expected GKR's Lachlan Carr to go for his third-straight Championship belt also.
I said, "Look Lachy, you should be out there with me getting three in a row," and he goes, "I know". He injured himself at the GKR Worlds in August. He hurt his back badly and the chiro said, "No way". The minute he does something it goes back out again. But it was good seeing him there coaching his team-mates.
It must help as a karate teacher to be someone your students can look up to?
I have a lot more people coming to my dojo that want to do kumite with me and learn from me because they know what I have done is proven and what I teach is what I do. I'm also a high school teacher, and its good to be a Year Nine teacher in school because you have a lot more in common with them, because plenty of them do martial arts too. They find common ground. Sometimes I hear funny comments and they're a bit scared of me.
What are your plans for the next year?
I'm starting full-time with the army on 14 February — four years in as an officer in education and I'll be based in Puckapunyal. I will be developing computer-based technology and websites and CD ROMS and heaps of different things — a bit of a change.
What does that mean for your karate?
It's a nine-to-five job, so I'll still be able to fit in karate. You have to do a couple of hours of physical training with the army every day so that will get me even fitter. I hope to go to Japan for the Japanese World Cup next year, so that should be really exciting. I'll still be teaching at the same time. I think I'll give NAS a break next year. I think I've gotten all I can from NAS, unless there is going to be a World All Styles tournament — then I'd give that a shot for sure. I'm looking at the AKF (Australian Karate Federation) circuit next year and the Japan tournament in August.