Christophe Pinna : « I was one of the best. I am now a rookie »

Karate : He rediscovers competition 17 years after. Episode 2

Christophe Pinna : « Se faire mal pour savoir si… »

At 48 years old, Christophe Pinna wishes to dash into the Olympic adventure ! After the phase 1 of his project completed at the end of 2016, when intensive trainings and injuries cohabited, it’s time to rediscover competition.

17 years after his 4th World title, the Frenchman explores a new world. Who else could speak better of the Karate’s evolution than him ? He makes it in his own way, through his 1st experiences and his feelings. Amazing !...


By Ludovic Mauchien


In a time that Millenials didn’t know, Christophe Pinna was a star. He was one of these fighters you didn’t want to meet. He was a member of the French Dream Team, 3 times world champion in 1994, 1996 and 1998.

On October 14th 2000, in Munich, he finally became individual World champion when he dominated Italian Davide Benetello in the open weight division final. Until this year, that was his last fight.

But when it was announced, in August 2016, that Karate will be at the Tokyo Olympic Games, it has awakened old demons. To not live with eternal regrets, the Frenchman dashes into a crazy challenge at 48 years old : participate to the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. At present, time has come to be an apprentice again for the 4 times World champion, 6 times European one (1995, 96, 97 in Open weight division, 1993, 96, 97 by team) and 2 times winner of a World Cup (1993, 97).

Following a 4 months period of intensive training, punctuated by several injuries, Christophe Pinna participated to the district championship of the Alpes-Maritimes at the end of January (which he won). He then registered to two international Opens, Rotterdam in March and Dubai at the beginning of April (-84 kg).

In a 17 years time, Karate has changed a lot, technically and statutorily speaking. His body too, which has a hard time to make through the day. What are his feelings ? How was he welcome ? What did he learn ? How has he overcame his injuries ?… The champion answers.


« I am suffocating in this chest protector ! »


In 2000, you left a world that doesn’t exist anymore. What surprises you the most in today’s Karate compared to the one you knew ?

It’s tremendously puzzling ! Techniques have been modified, equipements have been changed, refereeing has been modified. Nothing is like before. Karate has changed so much ! Stands are different, speed is different, the fighting ranges are different. For example, way back then, we used our legs in long distance. Nowadays, that’s exactly the opposite. You use them a lot more in short distance, otherwise you would hit into the void, because bursts of speed are different. And, today, they also punch faster than we did, especially with Maite. Then, you do Ura to counter Maite which is totally different !


When you fought, there were no chest protector, no foot protections. It must be strange for you…

Everything bothers me ! The chest protector considerably hampers me ! In fact, I am suffocating in this chest protector ! The gloves, that looks like Boxing ones, bother me. And the feet… I worked for years and years in a surgical way my leg techniques, my movements, my foot stands. And, now, you feel like you fight with big slippers. It’s like playing violon with Boxing gloves (he smiles).

For me, it’s difficult. When I was kicking, I had a visual cue of my tiptoes. I don’t anymore ! So, I have to hog all of this, but it cannot be done by a magic wand ! I need time. It’s confusing, of course. But it remains a sport in which you can use both punchs and kicks, with an opponent facing you and with a strategy to be set up. I like it.


« In Dubai, it was better. I had the good jacket, the good belt… »


What have you learned from Rotterdam and Dubai ?

My idea for 2017 was only to be able to kick and punch again, to rediscover the environment, to be in contact with the actual situation, as I lived it in Rotterdam… You come, somebody tells you that you don’t have the good jacket, that your belt is too long, that yours protections should be homologated in a special way, that your kimono is too short or too long… All these hassles (he smiles).

I should also get used to the warm-up rooms, that I didn’t know, to the coaching, which is extremely important through the video replay… Experience is the best teacher. I needed to hit a brick wall. I did in Rotterdam. In Dubai, it was quite better. I had the good jacket, the good belt… And I was registered !


You were not in Rotterdam ?!

Thta was my 1st competition since depuis 17 years. I (re)discover… Now, Sport Data exists. I had a problem. I forgot to go to one table and I didn’t appear in the draw ! Finally, it’s like I didn’t fight in this competition, whereas I did ! It allowed me to learn that I shouldn’t forget to register to each table, the 1st one, the 2nd one and the 3rd one and, then go to the weigh-in !


« Today’s coachs were my opponents yesterday »


You lost twice at the 1st round. Has it dented your confidence ?

I was one of the best in the world but, today, I am a rookie. I must relearn everything. It’s like you leave karting for Formula 1 but, meanwhile, you couldn’t get used to the technical changes. The transition is quite tough but it’s not a matter. I was prepared for that.

I didn’t get prepared to perform this year, but for 2 things : first, to understand how it works ; secondly, to know the stadiums in which the ranking will start in 2018. I like to have my marks. So, these 2 defeats tought me a lot. I din’t waste my time.


It should have been strange for you to feel again the atmosphere of an international tournament ?

My comeback to competition wasn’t easy to manage because I am lost in a world that I don’t know anymore. Nevertheless, the past remains present. In Rotterdam and in Dubai, many people from different countries came to see me for autographs. During my warm-up, I had to take a picture every 10 seconds. Thus, I couldn’t warm up at the same place. It was complicated… There was a huge gap between who I was and the reason why I signed autographs, and who I am today, when I lose as soon as the 1st round, when I am nobody !


Today’s coachs were my opponents yesterday. They came and talked to me… Most of them haven’t seen me for more than 17 years ! It’s n,ot like if we had met at the last European Championships (he laughs).


« Against Tzanos, I was late every time »


In Dubai, you lost against the Greek Tzanos (the 2012 European champion, 3rd in 2016). What did you learn ?

Unfortunately, I was injured. I should even cancel. But I still went there to see, to try to block my opponent’s work without being offensive. I couldn’t attack anyway ! I couldn’t kick ! I was very limited in my action (he smiles). I could have fought anybody, it would have been the same thing. This time, I was opposed to Tzanos. He scored a Mawashi and I lost 3-0.

What was interesting is to see how I could bother him in his work without attacking him. I am quite happy. He is very fast on his Maite. I always do the same techniques to the head and it allowed me to see how it worked on his Maite.


And ?…

In fact, I was late every time. I could hang my head as they all do nowadays, which means that he didn’t get me but I never hit him in his Maite’s time, which means that I was late on his burst of speed.

This defeate allowed me to analyse his Maite on Internet and to understand why I was late. It’s a question of half a propulsion, half a traction. It disturbs me because those techniques didn’t exist at my time, at least not in the way he does it.

When he bears with his back leg, his arm is already stretched out, whereas we used to, when we bore with our back leg, to have our arm still flexed, ready to be stretched. So, nowadays, once again, that’s the opposite. At the start, it’s more a fencing move than a Karate one.



To be followed…


To also read :

Episode 1 : Christophe Pinna : « Hurt myself to know if… »