Getting a kick out of playing Elvis
There’s an Elvis impersonator around who also happens to be a world karate champion.
Although an athlete most of his life, Orencio James “OJ” de los Santos occasionally gets to trade his white karate gi (uniform) for one of “The King’s” iconic black, slick leather costumes. It’s a tad unusual, but this is exactly when he blends right in his family of performers.
“Elvis is my favorite singer of all time,” says De los Santos, who, just a few days ago, performed in an “Elvis vs Beatles” event. “I do it sometimes when they ask me to. It’s a fun thing to do.”
It’s only recently that De los Santos embraced the musicality in him, even though the women in his family— mother Eva and sisters Monique and Ana—had drawn raves in nationwide TV talent shows.
“For the longest time, I was not confident with myself when it came to music,” he shares. “But two years ago, we had a family reunion and my mom ‘forced’ me to sing in front of the family, so that’s where it all started.”
Much like how he got forced into singing, the charming 27-year-old also didn’t get the best of starts in karate.
“To be honest, I didn’t like karate at the start,” De los Santos says. “I guess pretty much you can say I was forced into it. I was 13 years old then. Back in my elementary years, I was a victim of bullying. It was my uncle who suggested to my dad that I take karate.”
De los Santos’ father David, a Filipino-American entrepreneur, wanted his son to stand up for himself. So he signed him up with a black-belter friend for karate lessons. “Those were the weekends I wouldn’t look forward to because I just found karate tiresome,” he says. “My instructor back then was ‘old school,’ so there was a time I wanted to stop and quit karate.”
Had De los Santos quit, the Philippines wouldn’t have a two-time champion in the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF) World Shoto Cup. Some, though, had undervalued his first golden win in the men’s individual kata (form) as nothing more than a hometown decision as Cebu City hosted the quadrennial event in 2012. But De los Santos proved that it’s no fluke as he defended his title against 66 competitors last year in South Africa.
“For me, it was much tougher in South Africa,” the La Salle advertising management student says.
Budget constraints nearly spoiled De los Santos’ chance to defend his crown. “It was really my pride,” he says. “I really wanted back-to-back titles, even if I had to fund myself for that tournament. But the ISKF family, they really helped me build up my funds. They moved heaven and earth to get me in.”
The scintillating triumph easily puts De los Santos on the list of potential Filipino medal performers in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where karate will be one of five debuting sports. In reality, though, the 5-foot-7 karateka knows it won’t be as easy.
“I may have won the world title last year but I think I still have work to do because the Olympics, just the qualification, it’s quite tough,” he says. “Only 10 spots from around the world will be given in each category. But I just need to do my part, train hard and dedicate myself for the next three years. And I believe I can possibly have a spot there.”
But for now, De los Santos wants to focus on this year’s Southeast Asian Games, where karate is making a comeback. “The Olympics is three years away,” he says. “I’m taking it one step at a time, focusing on what’s happening now because eventually, all these small things will build up into bigger things. The Olympic Games, that’s really my ultimate goal.”
That could mean, though, that “Elvis” would be making less cameos as he gears up for his three-year gameplan. And there’s no one forcing De los Santos into anything this time. This Olympic journey, it’s all his.