Jacob Pichhadze is all of 13 years old and he’s already been to Ireland and New Orleans to test himself against top international competitors.
That’s what happens when you’re one of the top karate practitioners in your age group in Canada.
In his most recent foray abroad, at the National Karate Championships in New Orleans, Pichhadze earned two silver medals in the Kumite and Kata disciplines. They match up nicely with the two silver medals he won at the Canadian championships in the same two disciplines only a few months before.
A student at Bialik High School in Montreal, Pichhadze is kicking himself over his silver medal in New Orleans. He believes it could just as easily have been a gold, if not for his brief lapse in concentration during the championship match.
Pichhadze was competing in the Kata discipline, in which the karateka goes through dance-like patterns, demonstrating his command of the movements associated with karate. (Kumite karate refers to sparring with an opponent, without delivering devastating blows.)
“I would want to improve areas like my focus,” Pichhadze said in an interview with The CJN. “I want to be more focused when I compete. In New Orleans, the thing that cost me the gold medal was that I made a little mistake from a lack of focus. I lost my balance. It wasn’t that bad that they’d give me third place. I continued as if nothing happened.”
Looking ahead, Pichhadze added that, “For the next (Canadian) nationals, I don’t want any more mistakes like that last one.”
Something of a perfectionist, and certainly a hard worker, Pichhadze puts in long hours training and honing his craft. A student of sensei Stacy Ungar at Shotokan Karate CSL, Pichhadze is at the dojo training four times a week.
On off days, he helps out by training white and yellow belts, including his five-year-old sister, Hannah, Jacob’s father, Aviv Pichhadze, said.
Jacob Pichhadze approaches karate like it’s an art, his father continued. “He’s very mature about it. He approaches the training seriously. When he started adding the competitive aspect, he realized it would create demands on his schedule. He saw it as an opportunity to improve his multitasking approach.”
Pichhadze loves the competitive aspect of karate – especially when it leads to medals. In the beginning, he found the sport lots of fun and it helped him build confidence, because he could defend himself, if need be.
‘Of course I want to win.’
He took his enjoyment of the sport to another level when he started competing and doing well.
“Of course I want to win,” he said. “I want to see what level I’m at in my age group. Ever since I started competing, I was happy with myself. After I kept getting medals, I was happy. I was surprised by the amount of medals, but I am proud of myself.”
In Pichhadze, Ungar sees a talented young athlete for whom the sky is the limit.
“He has great potential,” Ungar said. “He’s young and getting his feet wet.”
Ungar credits the support Pichhadze gets from his family and believes he’s making rapid progress.
As a youngster, Pichhadze trained in Toronto and when the family moved to Montreal, he already had a brown belt. He continued to train at Ungar’s dojo, earned a black belt and then competed in the Canadian nationals. He won two silver medals there and, last August, travelled to Limerick, Ireland, for the 14th Funakoshi International JKA Championship. Although he won his first match, Pichhadze didn’t medal in the competition, Ungar said.
Though he wasn’t with him in Ireland, Ungar watched video of his protege’s performance. “He handled himself very well. I’m very proud of him,” he said.
For Pichhadze, the trip to Ireland and the experience in New Orleans are hopefully a taste of things to come. He already has his eyes set on the Maccabiah Games in Israel and after that, who knows?
“I’d like to be able to represent Canada at the Olympics, when I’m old enough,” he said.