Four years of fighting the good fight, of enduring well-placed hits, of finding weak spots in just a second’s passing, and the moment has come. Finally emerging in the frontlines with an overall championship title to their name, the XU Karate-do women topped the 2015 University Games on October 24-30 at Bacolod City.

“We’ve been aiming since we saw the cup for championship last 2011 because that’s the first time na gi-apil ang karate-do sa Unigames. Since we saw the cup, we’ve been aiming for it for four years now, and finally because of my teammates [we won],” enthuses Cori Liwan, XU Karate-do Women Team Captain.

Baby steps

While it may only have 4 members in its team (Cori Liwan, Ruvie Jane Cugay, Joan Jane Edulsa, and Jyssa Mayes Cozo) the Karate-do Women Team packs a full punch. All players of the team have been practicing karate under the supervision of Coach Jessica Hojas Esparrago since grade school. Liwan, for example, has been practicing karate for nearly 10 years now.

“I grew up with Ma’am Jessica, not just training me in karate-do but also guiding me,” says Liwan. Eventually, things became serious as Liwan began representing the University in different competitions. “I’m not just playing for myself or for karate but [I’m] also bringing the name of the school in different places,” she shares.

Esparrago shares that she has no difficulty training the members, especially when she already knows their highs and lows. Her relationship with the members can be likened to one of a family, enough for them to call her their “mama bear.” With a five-day training schedule during weekdays, the team can effectively communicate with each other during matches with simple hand gestures from Esparrago.

“Dili na ko kailangan mangasaba kay they know it because of respect. Ako naman ilang nadak-an,” Esparrago explains. She went on to say that the students’ obedience is not out of fear of her, but out of love and respect.

Catching the big hits

The trend of training young members has stopped. Currently, the grade school, high school, and college karate-do teams each have a separate coach to focus entirely on just one team. Previously, Esparrago handled the karate-do teams of all year levels, which she admits can greatly improve the teams’ performance in the long run. While she prefers to pick her roster of potential members while they’re still young, she says she’s lucky that the curriculum’s Physical Education 3 and the XU Japan Karate Association (XUJKA) are of big help to her when it comes to finding new members.

Skill, although important, is not the sole deciding factor for Esparrago. Team members have to be of good character.

Rolling with the punches

Though slowly gaining recognition in the national level after winning against 40 schools in this year’s Unigames, the team remains to have a low profile in the University. Liwan personally thinks that the school lacks the initiative to publish game schedules and wins. The team usually participates in competitions held at Limketkai Mall. However, not many students go to support them.

“In terms of advertisement diri sa school na mag-watch ug mag-support sa among games, wala kaayo gyud. Also, we receive enough support from the University Athletics Office but coming from the students of Xavier na we represent the school, not so much,” she says.

In terms of practices, Liwan also says the team is not the top priority when it comes to the usage of the gym. Without Esparrago’s initiative, the team will not be holding its practices at the PE Hall.

Esparrago also wishes the school would celebrate the team’s wins in a clearer manner, even going as far as saying she’s willing to shoulder the expenses, if given the chance. While there is a tarp celebrating the team’s recent victory in the Unigames, it really is nothing compared to the weight of the victory.

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After years of fidgeting in the sidelines, the team has finally kicked its way towards the center spot.  As these fearless women continue to shine in the karate-do scene, all that’s left to do is wait for the University to bask in their glow.