Imagine if she never left the Philippines. She would have been the country’s 20th Olympian in the Summer Olympic Games, a “Philippine” karateka halfway around the world headed to the greatest show on earth.
Her name is Andrea Anacan, who will be representing New Zealand in the Olympics.
Andrea left the Philippines with her family and moved to New Zealand when she was just 12.
But her love for the Japanese martial art of karate began in the Philippines when she was only four. It flourished when she joined the Association for the Advancement of Karate-do, an organization that unified the various dojos in the country.
“When she (Andrea) was training with us at AAK, she was very hardworking na talaga,” revealed Sensei Chino Veguillas, a senior AAK instructor and sport/karatedo coach at La Salle Santiago Zobel and St. Paul and a many-time national karate team member.
“She was one of the smallest in the group, but that didn’t stop her from competing and winning. And she was always at training and very passionate and I can say very intense for a karateka of her age,” added Veguillas in recalling the little bundle of energy that was Andrea.
“If I’m not mistaken she was here until she was 12. I’m not sure with the dates. Pero I think it was in the ‘90s. I was a Sensei na during that time. Sometime she would train with me. But most of the time she trained with another co-AAK blackbelt and also a SEA Games gold medalist Brandy Mariano.”
The foundation that Andrea built in the Philippines, she carried over to New Zealand, where she became its first ever karate representative to the Olympics.
Karate, one of four sports making their debuts at the Tokyo Olympics, is composed of two disciplines – Kumite, where karatekas fight each other, and Kata, where karatekas are judged on how they perform particular patterns of movement.
Andrea always shared how she started in the sport because it was very endearing.
“My mom (Mary Ann) and dad (Illya) wanted me to do a co-curricular activity which was different from academics. So my mom gave me a choice between ballet or karate,” said Andrea, repeating her interesting story a countless times.
“My family is really high on security – I had to memorize my phone number and memorize my address, no talking to strangers, don’t accept anything from strange people. So when she asked me, would you like to do ballet or karate, I said karate, because if I ever get kidnapped, what am I going to do?,” she says with a laugh in an online interview.
So Andrea linked up with Sensei Johnny Ling, who further cultivated her karate skills, elevating it to Olympic levels. Ling advised Andrea to give up the contact version of the sport, and instead focus on Kata, the non-contact one.
“Sensei told me when I was 14, ‘if you don’t grow any taller in a year, you’ll stop competing in kumite and do kata’. Because he told me that I can’t reach my opponents when I’m fighting and they’re so much taller than me and with a longer reach. I didn’t grow any taller, I’m still 4’11” but it’s actually really beneficial for kata because my center of gravity is lower.”
Andrea placed seventh at the 2018 Karate World Championships and has been working towards the New Zealand Olympic team since then. On July 6, the 30-year-old Andrea received the news that would change her life forever – she was finally headed to the Olympics.
“I didn’t ever dream of going to the Olympics when I started this sport, it’s been a bit of a surprise to be honest. There’s been a lot of hard work, I can’t quantify the hours that me and my sensei have put in, we never could have imagined this but I couldn’t be more excited,” she said.
Miles away from New Zealand in the Philippines, her friends and peers are equally excited.
“We’re are proud of her even if she is representing New Zealand. Her blood and roots will always be Filipino,” said Veguillas.
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