Elisa Au-Fonseca

I want to show my children that it is good to dream big, work hard and be kind to those who support you.

Elisa Au-Fonseca

Elisa Au holds a number of firsts in her competitive career. She was the first American woman to win an individual kumite world title. She was also the first person, male or female to win two individual world titles at the same championships (a feat repeated by the great Rafael Aghayev in 2008). A kumite specialist, she is known for her speed and exceptional timing.

Au was born on 29 May 1981 in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. When she was five years old she brought a flyer home from school, advertising a Shito-ryu Karate school. Encouraged by her parents she started taking lessons.

The school was run by Chuzo Kotaka, who was All-Japan Champion in 1962. His Shito-ryu school was established in 1966 as part of the International Karate Federation, for which he was the founder and president. Au recalled that he emphasized the development of strong fundamentals. He also stressed the importance of being prepared and pushing your limits during training.

1990 saw Au take part in her first major tournament. At the United States National Karate championships, organized by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), she won gold, silver and bronze medals in age group division for 9-year olds. Her gold medal came in the kumite event. The following year she earned her first Dan. Even though she was still very young, she was given the responsibility of teaching. Her 78-year-old grandfather started taking Karate lessons.

Until the age of 18, Au continued to compete in various age-related events. She much of her inspiration from Barbara Maile Chinen, another of Kotaka’s students. Chinen was Au’s teammate and was a tough competitor. As a junior competitor, Au took part at the WKO and WKC World Championships. At 18 years old Au was selected to become a member of the USA National Karate Team.

2002 was a breakthrough year, internationally, for Au. At the WKF Women’s Karate World Cup she represented the US in the Open Weight event. She also competed at her first Pan-American Championships. However, it was at the World Championships where she really made her mark. In the +60-kg event, she became world champion, defeating Zsuzsanna Klima of Hungary in the final. In winning the title she became the first American woman to win an individual title at the World Championships. Compatriot George Kotaka made it a golden double won he the –65-kg kumite event. He was Chuzo Kotaka’s son.

Au graduated from the University of Hawaii in 2003, where she had been taking a degree in Civil Engineering. She had chosen to study at the university so that she could continue her Karate training with Chuzo Kotaka.

Success continued for Au in 2004 at the World Championships held in Monterrey, Mexico. She made history by becoming the first person to win two individual world titles at the same championships. She first won the Open Kumite title, defeating Nadine Ziemer in the final. The next day she defeated Vanesca Nortan of Holland to win the +60-kg title. On route to the final, she defeated Lawrence Fischer of  Germany, who would win the title in 2006.

At the 2006 World Championships held in Tampere, Finland, Au finished seventh in the +60-kg kumite event. Being the defending champion her desire to win was high. However, she over-trained for the tournament which led to a lacklustre performance. Despite this, her 6-DVD set, “SECRETS of Championship Karate” was released by Rising Sun Productions. This continues to be a popular DVD series.

In February 2008, Au married John Fonseca, who was also a Karate competitor. Fonseca is one of the most decorated male Karate competitors for the USA. A team captain, he has won numerous national titles and has also won medals at the Pan American and World Championships. The couple started dating in 2006. Following their marriage, Au moved to Chicago from her native Hawaii.

Au-Fonseca had considered retiring as a competitor, following her disappointment at the 2006 World Championships. However, she was selected to represent the US at the 2008 World Championships held in Tokyo, Japan. This time she reached the final against the eventual winner, Tiffany Fanjat of France. Her teammate George Kotaka won his second individual world title in the –65-kg kumite event.

In 2010 Au-Fonseca won the USA Open kumite title. Just over a month later, she competed at the Pan-American Championships in Quito, Ecuador, where she finished third in the -61-kg kumite event. Later that year she went to the World Championships held in Belgrade, Serbia. This time she could only finish in fifth place. This was her last major international tournament. After a successful tournament career, Au-Fonseca retired from the tournament scene 2010.

Au-Fonseca’s major tournament successes include:

  • World Championships, Individual Kumite(+60-kg) – 1st Place (2002, 2004)
  • World Championships, Individual Kumite(Open) – 1st Place (2004)
  • World Championships, Individual Kumite(+60-kg) – 2nd Place (2008)
  • World Games, Individual Kumite(+60-kg) – 2nd Place (2005)
  • Pan-American Championships, Individual Kumite(-61-kg) – 3rd Place (2009, 2010)
  • US Open, Individual Kumite(-60-kg) – 1st Place (2010)
  • US Open, Individual Kumite(Open) – 1st Place (2008)

Au-Fonseca, together with her husband, a Shotokan practitioner, set up Fonseca Martial Arts. They run a number of martial arts schools in the Chicago area. She is still a member of the International Karate Federation and continues to train with her sensei, Chuzo Kotaka.

In 2011 they established the Fonseca Cup. Being former elite competitors, they wanted a tournament that would bring in top competitors from around the world. Elisa Au-Fonseca also conducts kumite masterclasses and seminars around the world.

In 2020 Karate was scheduled to make its appearance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. However, due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the games were cancelled. At the age of 39, Au-Fonseca qualified for the US team at the USA Team Trials, held in January 2020. She was due to take part in an Olympic Qualification Tournament to be held in Paris, France. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled due to the pandemic.

The Fonseca’s currently have two children. It should come as no surprise that they have already started training in Karate.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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