The Smiling Warrior
A smile appears on the face of Donatas Imbras as soon as he steps on to the tatami to start a fight. It does not disappear from the face of the 28-year-old, with his impressive physique, even when he receives a powerful punch from his rival.
This technique, applied by one of the world’s strongest kyokushin karate 1st dan experts, drives his opponents to despair. The world gold medal, however, which more than once has seemed to be within his reach, is still his dream.
Fighting with one hand
A five-time Lithuanian and three-time European champion, Imbras has twice come close to winning the world championship title. Both times, in the 2005 and 2007 finals, Takayuki Tsukagoshi from Japan took it from under his nose.
Only Imbras and his coach understand the real situation in the fight for the world gold last year. When he stepped on to the tatami in the Tokyo arena for the final round after six fights, he had a lot of injuries: a cracked bone in his leg, a ruptured blood vessel in the other leg, and a dislocated right-hand thumb. During the fight, Imbras, still with a smile on his face, had to replace his dislocated thumb more than ten times, and fought till the end. The champion’s title, however, went to the Japanese fighter for the second time.
“I lost in Japan because I had taken too many hits during the first six fights, and reached the finals badly battered. When you go there you have to get used to the thought that the hosts will give the advantage to their own fighter. And this is what happened. You can imagine the advantage a 125-kilogram athlete has over a rival who is fifty kilos lighter.”
Now all his thoughts are concentrated on the 2009 world championships in St Petersburg, and his revenge on his opponent.
“We’re good friends. We correspond on the Internet. And the road to the finals will be hard.”
Because of this, he intends to miss the European championships in Bulgaria this year, as he is already a three-time European champion. The hardship he would have to experience during the preparations, and the unavoidable strain of the fights, have made him think about taking some time off.
“My objective is the world championship. I’d like to concentrate on that, as the preparations for a contest take about six months, then about a month to treat injuries, and another month to restore your strength completely.”
He can count his losses over almost 20 years of fighting on the fingers of one hand. He considers his defeat by Tsukagoshi at the 2005 world championship finals his worst. That time, the victory went to the local athlete, as the referees did not recognise three of Imbras’ knockdowns, and the victory by points went to his rival.
“According to the rules, a fight is judged by five referees. A point is recognised when three out of the five referees raise their flags. That time three were local judges,” says Imbras with a smile.
A decisive encounter
Born in the small town of Akmenė, Imbras originally started on a career in music. He learned to play the saxophone. He had taken part in two song festivals before his love for sport won. Even then, he could have put on a basketball jersey, but he turned to the martial arts. He started with boxing, and finally changed to karate.
“The most important thing which influenced my decision was my coach, Vladimir Silvaško. If he had been a football coach, I’m sure I would now be kicking a ball around on a football pitch.”
Silvaško, the coach of the country’s kyokushin karate team, and a 4th dan holder, has been training Imbras since the very beginning of his fighting career. He recalls how the athlete made no impression on him during the first meeting.
“At the beginning, the ten-year-old boy was no different to other boys. He was just another child with no special prospects,” recalls the coach. “But, little by little, he managed to prove, with his determination and hard work, that he can achieve much.
“Donatas stands out from other athletes by his determination to achieve his goal. He devotes all his free time to improving his fighting technique and his physique. It’s easy to work with him, as he does everything unconditionally, and is eager to try all new fighting methods.”
Imbras believes that you cannot pursue several aims at the same time, as one of them will suffer.
“A man can choose a thousand ways. But if I went for just three, I would be able to devote only thirty-three per cent of my time and energy to each. I’m happy that I’ve chosen karate, and don’t want to do anything else.”
The athlete, who has clear goals, is sure that he can realise them only in an individual sport.
“In team sports you can feign some illness for a day, and not work at full throttle, relying on your friends. That’s not for me. In karate, everything is different. You answer for yourself, performing before thousands of viewers. And if you lose, you know that it’s entirely your fault.”
About meditation and brick breaking
Imbras does not like noisy parties. He spends his free time reading or walking. Sometimes he meets friends or goes to visit his parents, who live in a small town in Žemaitija. The quiet in his parents’ house is like meditation before a tournament.
He makes no secret of the fact that in the past he has been too impetuous and sure of himself. Recalling an incident in a bar with a drunk, he admits that nowadays he would never demonstrate his knowledge of the martial arts.
“You shouldn’t stare at someone who is looking at you angrily, as in doing so you just provoke trouble. A real fighter must know how to avoid getting into a brawl, and withdraw.”
He keeps to the rule that you should never deliver a blow to the head. Because of this principle, he refuses to participate in commercial fights without rules.
“I don’t like it when you can throw punches which might cause injuries to the head. In my childhood I took boxing lessons, but even then I kept to the rule that you mustn’t hit the head.”
Some renowned practitioners of the martial arts like to demonstrate their ability to break planks and breeze blocks. Some can walk barefoot over pieces of glass or live coals. The country’s most famous fighter admits that he has also tried these tricks.
“I have nothing against it. I support these people, as it’s not so easy to do it. But you can understand it only if you have tried it. One successful attempt doesn’t mean anything. You have to prove that you can do it a few hundred times. I have no time for shows. My goal is different, and I devote myself wholly to that.”
He is not worried that athletes in his sport retire before they reach the age of 35. He hopes to be one of the world’s best for about four years, and to get to the top during this time. On retiring, he will devote all his time to his martial arts school and club in Vilnius.
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