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Sim-ply excellent Jesse named Karate South Africa Superstar

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Karate means “empty hand” in Japanese, but South African national team karateka Jesse Sim has gone anything but empty-handed in his more than 15 years in the sport.

He recently added the 2023 Karate South Africa Superstar of the Year trophy, from Karate South Africa, to his numerous karate trophies in his Goju Kai dojo in Germiston.

This sought-after national award was given to him because in the past 12 months, he was placed first in the Senior Team Kata Male category at the 2022 Commonwealth Karate Club Championships in Birmingham and won silver in the same category at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Sim also won the individual kata category at the Africa Region Championships in May this year against countries in the bottom half of Africa. “Myself and two other members of my team won the team event as well,” he says.

His team was subsequently selected to compete for South Africa at the 2023 African Beach Games in Hammamet, Tunisia. They were placed third, making them the third-best karate team on the continent, while Algeria won, and Morocco came second. Sim also won his individual bronze medal match against Nigeria. Leading up to the tournament, he practised karate on volleyball courts to get used to competing on sand as karate tournaments are normally held indoors on a matted smooth surface.

“I have official Protea colours, so I when went to the Beach Games, I competed with SASCOC [South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee] Olympic rings on my chest,” Sim says proudly.

Sim says the trip to the Games was fully government funded, “which is a first for me because as an athlete, especially in this sport, we have to self-fund consistently”.

He has won every national competition this year, competing against thousands of karateka in the process. “You compete against everyone in your district and the top four from each district compete against each other at the provincial championships. Then you have to come in the top four to qualify for the national championships. If you win at the nationals, you earn ranking points, which put you in a position to be selected for the national team.”

Sim is ranked second in Africa, and is about 40th in the world.

To be eligible for the Superstar of the Year award, a karateka has to be part of the national team and attend tournaments throughout the year. “The top two in the country are then selected for Protea colours and you have to go and compete overseas, which I do consistently.”

Sim, who is studying finance through the University of South Africa, trains two hours every day, mixing karate training with gym work. “I’ve got my own personal trainer, but train by myself as well. I teach and train group classes at my dojo as well. My father, Russell Sim, and I run about seven different karate schools for people aged 5 to 100. My father is my instructor. He has been a Protea, and now referees the best athletes in the world. So, karate is a family thing. My father was teaching and when I was five, he eventually caved in to teach me because I kept nagging him.”

Sim received his black belt at the age of 11 before getting his 2nd Dan at 18, and his 3rd Dan last year. The latter gives him the title of sensei.

Sim likes the physicality of karate, and says the sport is good for your physical and mental health. “I love the competition as well. Competition has always been a big part of my life. I started competing when I was 10 and won my first national title when I was 11. I also love travelling and have got to see the world through karate.”

He says his favourite tours were the African Beach Games in Tunisa, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and the 2018 Karate World Championships in Spain.

Sim, who matriculated from Reddam House Bedfordview, swam and played the piano at school. “Everything else revolved around karate,” he says.

“For karate, there are four major styles around the world. My style is Goju Kai, but I compete in all the styles.” In April, Sim won gold for kata and team kata at the Karate South Africa All-Styles National Championships.

Sim hopes to compete at the African Games in Ghana next year, and says his ultimate goal is the Olympics Games. “Karate was in the 2020 Olympics but was then taken out. I’m hoping it’s back for the 2028 Olympics in America.”

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