CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Feb. 7, 2014) -- "Swoosh!"

The air at the Sagamihara Suzuki martial arts dojo is split by a quick succession of kicks and punches being thrown by a female fighter whose height barely cracks 5 feet and who weighs in at a mere 121 pounds. And yet her strikes are powerful enough to cause her practice partner -- nearly twice her size -- to wince as he absorbs each blow.

The art of karate has been at the center of Risa Sudo's life for 14 years, having begun when she was 6 years old. Now 20, Sudo continues to train while also working as a master labor contract employee assigned to the 403rd Army Field Support Battalion-Northeast Asia at Sagami General Depot.

Sudo both teaches and practices karate between four and six times per week at the Sagamihara Suzuki dojo near her house. Her training paid off when she won first place in her weight class at the 27th European Karate Kyokushin Championships held in November 2013 in Legnica, Poland.

"It was my goal to be a champion, so I stayed focused and kept to my routine as much as possible," said Sudo, "especially since I was overwhelmed from being away from home and dealing with traveling time, language barriers, and a different environment and food."

The tournament was an eye-opening and enjoyable opportunity for her not only because she won, but also for all the new experiences it afforded her, Sudo said.

"[It was great] to have Japanese rivals as teammates at an international tournament and to know that those opponents wanted to be friends after the tournament," said Sudo, "and to see the audience praise [our abilities] no matter what nationality the competitors were."

Constant training obviously has its benefits when it comes to excelling in tournaments, Sudo said -- she echoes the oft-repeated sentiment, "Practice makes perfect" -- but physical prowess is not the only key.

"Mental strength is what gets you through [a competition] rather than skill when it gets down to the last 10 to 20 seconds of a three-minute match," Sudo said.

Sudo's job with the 403rd AFS Bn. involves her taking inventory of and categorizing parts for military vehicles with her team. Sudo is described by her co-workers as a consummate professional who while performing her duties, completely embodies the values taught in karate.

"What I can tell is that karate definitely reflects on her demeanor when I see how she treats others with respect, especially elders," said Atsushi Ohnuki, Sudo's supervisor.

Sudo met with Kanagawa Prefectural Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa Jan. 9 in Yokohama and Minoru Okamoto, head of the Sagamihara Board of Education, Jan. 20 in Sagamihara, during which she received honorable recognition from the two for her accomplishments.

The discipline and focus karate emphasizes helped Sudo successfully navigate school life when she was growing up, she said. And having karate in her life has given her a solid sense of self-confidence.

"Karate is for anyone who is trying to overcome weakness," said Tatsuya Suzuki, Sudo's master.

Back at Sagamihara Suzuki, Sudo concludes her practice session by offering a traditional bow of respect to both her students and the dojo.