Now that he's already reached the top of the world virtual kata rankings, Filipino karateka James De Los Santos is now setting a new goal: Staying there for a long as he can.
It wasn't easy for De Los Santos to make it to the number 1 spot as it took him 7 months and countless online competitions.
This is why, he said, he is striving to challenge himself and improve each of his performances.
"In those 7 months I really put a lot of effort and hard work into this, together with those really behind me all the way in this journey," said the 2-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist.
"I'm still not complacent with just being the world number 1. I want to continue maintaining my spot and continue to train harder so that my performances will get better in the next tournaments to come."
Months before he started competing in online tournaments, De Los Santos said he didn't foresee himself participating in such contest.
He was planning to finish his studies in De La Salle University, but the pandemic broke out.
During the government imposed lockdown, he did what most athletes do: train in isolation. De Los Santos said he later found out about a friend in the US who competed and won in an online tournament.
"One my my teammates, sent me an invitation to Palestine International Karate Cup. I won gold there. That's what made me curious," he said.
"I saw other ranked events that were organized. I decided to go all out to join these tournaments."
After 34 tournaments, he won a total of 19 gold medals.
But there were challenges of course and these were besides the opponents he had to compete against.
Virtual kata in very similar to the actual kata competitions, except that each participants with have to submit a video of themselves performing the karate form.
"In the actual kata competition, you perform once and the judge will evaluate you right after your performance," said De Los Santos.
"In virtual kata, the athlete is given the opportunity to do as many take as he wants but the judges are also given the opportunity to scrutinize your performance. They can rewind your performance until they can find the most mistakes they can see. There's no real advantage there."
Aside from perfecting his performance, De Los Santos also has to worry about the video he submitting to the judges and also the internet connection.
"In every kata performance you have to bow before and after you perform," he explained. "By dad accidentally cut out the part of the video that showed the last bow and that was a huge foul. that's one mistake I had to take in and make sure all my videos are all good before I make my submission."
During the latest competition he joined, De Los Santos also encountered issues with the internet.
"I usually upload my competition videos through my DSLR camera. I don't know what went wrong with my internet.. My internet was slow that time. I only had 10 minutes to submit my competition video. Luckily I took video on my phone just as a back up, I submitted that one instead even though the angle was not that good. It's so surprising I won my 18th gold using that video," he said.
De Los Santos is grateful for the success he is having considering the order he went through last year.
He has had problems with the Philippine Karatedo Association (PKA) before the 2019 Southeast Asian Games as he was not included in those funded to go to Japan for a training camp.
Through the help of sponsors and by shelling out some of his personal savings, he finally got to train in Japan for 50 days. But he was excluded from the final lineup.
De Los Santos said he has moved on from it. He is now the top male virtual kata player in the world.
"What happened to me last year was very unfortunate," said De Los Santos. "But I always say to myself that in every painful experience you go through there's always a gift that's left behind. I say that's door closed and this new door opens."
These days, he said, he is not just competing against other male karatekas.
"I'm competing with my biggest competitor which is myself... I always tell myself 'you know what I can do better than this,'" said De Los Santos.
It seemed to be working as he became the first e-kata player to achieve an astonishing 26.1 score during the recent Katana InterContinental Karate League e-Tournament.
"Who knows maybe I'll aim for 27 next time?" he said.