An athlete and a scholar, Liesel Munar prepares for competition at the Canada Winter Games where she took a silver medal. She is a graduate from Toronto’s De La Salle College. Photo courtesy Team Ontario

Way of the Christian warrior

By  Sheila Nonato, Catholic Register Special
  • August 24, 2023

As both a student and an elite athlete, Liesel Munar says prayer is central to her life.

“In times of trouble and in times of triumph, I went to the (school) chapel,” said Munar, a member of Canada’s national karate team, adding, “I’ve also learned that I use karate to give glory to God.”

Munar, 18, is a recent graduate of De La Salle College, a private Catholic school run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Toronto, where she graduated as Salutatorian this year and won the Social Science Award. She will begin humanities studies at the University of Toronto this fall.

During her time at De La Salle, Munar prayed before, in-between or after classes before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel.

“Let’s say I need an extra conversation with God, need to look to Him, I say, ‘Hey listen, exams are coming up, and I have these tournaments coming up, so I’m a little nervous and I just need some guidance: Please help me out. Please let me know if there is anything I need to do. Do I need to take a break from something? Please give me some sort of sign,’ ” she explained.

Karate debuted as an Olympic sport at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games (though it won’t be included in next summer’s Olympics in Paris. It is scheduled to return in 2028). It is a martial art that originated from Japan. Although it can be lethal, karate senseis (teachers) and practitioners have emphasized restraint and avoidance of confrontation, leading to its peaceful principle of “no first strike.”

Karate’s three pillars are: kihon, kata and kumite. Kihon is the fundamentals of martial arts moves while kumite involves a non-lethal sparring match against a partner or opponent. Kata is a Japanese word for “form.” It is a detailed, choreographed pattern of martial arts forms and postures including kicks, blocks, punches, footwork and breathing techniques usually practiced alone. 

Munar has been on the Ontario provincial karate kata team since 2017 and on the Canadian national team since 2019.

In July 2022, Munar won the silver medal at the Karate Canada National Junior Championships which qualified her for the Junior Pan American Games in Mexico City in August 2022 where she placed ninth overall. This past July, she won the bronze medal in the U21 Elite Girls Kata at the Karate Canada national championships in Laval, Que.

Munar’s parents, Lea and Jerome, recall when their daughter started karate at the age of seven. She started competing at age 10. Both of Liesel’s grandfathers studied karate in the Philippines.

“Karate brought me a certain type of confidence. It taught me self-respect and respect for others,” Liesel said.

She works as a karate instructor at the YWCA and a kumon instructor, all while she maintained a rigorous karate training and academic schedule at De La Salle.

“As a YWCA karate instructor, it’s really nice to give back,” Munar said. 

Munar said the keys to her success have been time management, self-discipline and balance.

Her parents recall the sacrifice and dedication required of the whole family to be involved in competitive sports. Weeknights, weekends and family trips are adjusted to the karate schedule, they said in an email. And a large portion of the family budget takes into account karate expenses, including training and tournament costs. 

“Some elite athletes even do GoFundMe accounts just to be able to represent Canada internationally,” Munar’s parents said.

Munar affectionately calls her Mom, Lea, her “Momager” who keeps her academic and training schedule on track.

“My husband and I also make sure to remind her that her only competition is herself and that she just has to give her all … at the tatami,” Lea said. 

Munar calls her father her “number one fan.”

Jerome said he is proud of his daughter, and not only for her athletic and academic accomplishments.

“She has been exposed to not just a good education but a good awareness of serving underprivileged people as well. One striking example that I remember was when she volunteered at a food bank and she told me that she was crying and just had to say ‘Thank you’ to all the volunteers present at that time who made sure people had something to eat that week,” he recalled. “Liesel has such a good heart.”

During the pandemic, Munar was featured as one of 10 elite North American youth athletes in the fourth season (2021) of the award-winning TVO program All-Round Champion hosted by former world champion hurdler Perdita Felicien.

“COVID was a challenging time for all of us but it definitely made me a better athlete,” Munar said. “It gave me a chance to step back. I worked on my mental health a lot.”

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