While I knew that Jihone Du was a badass at our CrossFit gym, I’ve come to learn that he is also an amazing karate athlete and championship fighter.
He has been a dedicated practitioner of this martial art since childhood and still continues to improve and learn everyday.
In our interview, we discuss his experience competing in Mexico, training in Germany and how pizza figures into his programming.
MMG: Jihone, thanks for taking the time today to talk with us. To help provide people with some context, can you first share when and how you started practicing karate?
DU: I started practicing karate around 6 years old. Out of all the other activities my parents put me in (soccer, t-ball, piano), it was the only one that stuck.
MMG: Years later, why are you still practicing and competing in karate? What continues to attract you to the sport?
DU: I think what keeps me competing today is the feeling that I haven’t reached my limit yet. I’ve been able to change my game and improve so much over the last two years that I still feel like there is a lot more I can do.
Also, karate has given me the opportunity to travel to so many different places that I would otherwise not be able to see.
MMG: This summer, you won the silver medal for the US team at the 2014 International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF) Pan American Championships. Tell me about that experience.
DU: I made the U.S. team in November of 2013 at the U.S. National which was a goal that was over two years in the making. 2012 was my first year back competing after a four year hiatus so I was super excited to earn a spot on the team in 2013.
The team trainings in Mexico during the days before the tournament were rough for me. We had two trainings a day and most of that was spent sparring rounds.
While the rounds were supposed to be light, I think the adrenaline of being in a new environment resulted in everyone going harder than they probably should have.
Somewhere during these trainings I picked up a wrist injury in my left hand.
I was only selected to compete in the team event, where each country has a team of five fighters, and the team with the winning record after five fights moves onto the next round.
We only needed to beat Argentina to make the final. I fought first in the lineup against a guy who was a pretty good kicker.
I came out pretty aggressive, and got the first point with a punch that put him on his back. In the next exchange, I took a pretty hard kick to the head, but the referee didn’t think it was good enough to score.
I was able to close out the fight using a de-ai technique, where basically you throw a punch into the other person right as their coming in. It’s risky because you’re essentially trying to slam into the other person before you even know what they’re going to throw.
The next day we fought Mexico in the finals. I actually fought the champion of the individual category.
We were tied for most of the fight. Somewhere in the last 30 seconds, he blasted me in the face with a straight right. I didn’t see it coming at all.
MMG: You went up against Mexico in the finals. How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically the day of for such a big match?
DU: I don’t really have a set ritual. Physically my warm-up goal is to always be sweating by the time I get on the mat.
There is nothing worse than stepping out onto the mat feeling cold. Mentally I prepare by going through a mental checklist of things I want to make sure that I do while I’m in the ring.
MMG: When you return home after such an intense competition, what’s the immediate reaction? Do you totally just veg out for a few days or are you right back to training?
DU: I will take around five to eight days off. Any more than that and I start to feel sluggish.
MMG: Over the course of your career competing, what has been the biggest highlight?
DU: In 2008, a close friend of mine got me in to train with the German national team at their camp in Hanover.
The training there was brutal. We’d basically just spar non-stop, with no gloves, for two hours at a time.
Not surprisingly, there were a lot of injuries. One guy broke his sternum! By some miracle, I was lucky enough to walk away with only a few minor cuts and bruises. I consider the fact that I kept showing up a victory in itself.
I accepted an invitation from their coach to fight in a goodwill match at the end of the camp. I was completely terrified.
I felt like I had barely survived the trainings, so the ideal of a full match was pretty daunting. Despite how scared I was, I won my fight decisively.
Winning that fight is one of my biggest highlights because it taught me that it is possible to work through your own fear.
MMG: Similarly, in thinking about your wins and losses over the years, what’s one of your biggest mistakes? And what did you learn from it?
DU: For a long time I underestimated the value of strength and conditioning. I put almost all of my effort into becoming the best technical fighter.
I now understand how big a role strength and conditioning play in the success of an athlete.
MMG: Who has been influential in your athletic career? Any coaches or other athletes that you look up towards?
DU: In karate, Hideo Yamamoto of Japan has been a hero of mine since I was a kid. I used to sit and watch VHS tapes of him fighting for hours on end.
Personally, Tim McClellan, who has coached me in both karate and strength and conditioning, has been a huge influence both on and off the mat.
He’s trained so many famous athletes, from Gary Hall Jr. to Donovan McNabb, yet he’ll still call me to ask how my diet is going and what I’m doing to prepare for my next tournament.
MMG: One of the philosophies of karate is that the main purpose of training is all about improving ourselves. Do you take this outlook on your training?
DU: Absolutely. I think no matter what your ability is, you can always make improvements. I have experienced this first hand.
I lost in the first round of almost every competition I entered between the age of 9 and 18. But I kept training and putting my time in because I saw small improvements, and those kept me going.
MMG: So what does a regular week of karate training consist of for you?
DU: Depends on how close I am to an event. At the height of preparation, I’m training karate three to four times a week for two hours at a time.
Training consists of a warm up, and then equal time spent on technical drills, conditioning, and sparring.
MMG: You also do CrossFit. How does that figure into your routine? Why do you incorporate CrossFit classes into your overall training?
DU: My CrossFit routine is between three to four times a week. It has been a great tool to build general athleticism and strength.
MMG: What’s your favorite CrossFit workout?
DU: Fran. I did this for the first time about a year ago and it absolutely destroyed me.
MMG: I know that you are pretty much in love with pizza. How does diet and nutrition figure into your overall training?
DU: I’m not the best dieter but I’ve been trying to improve. Five to six weeks before a competition I will consume more carbs because it gives me the energy to do additional workouts.
Then I’ll cut it back two to three weeks out to “lean out” so that I feel lighter as I get closer to competition.
MMG: As is custom for me to end all my interviews, I have to ask what’s your goat?
DU: Muscle ups. I’d love to be able to do more than four of them without losing feeling in my arms.