University of Louisiana at Lafayette professor Holly Damico said “sayonara” to the U.S. this week and headed off to Japan to show off her skills in the karate equivalent of the Olympic Games.

Damico will have the chance to spar against some of the best black belts the world has to offer as an alternate on a five-member sparring team in the 2014 Japan Karate Association’s Shoto Cup held in Tokyo Oct. 17-19.

“I’m very excited,” Damico said before leaving for the island country. “It’s been a little bit of being scattered mentally trying to do what I do here: teaching and getting ready to be gone for about 12 days.”

The third-degree black belt will serve as an alternate for the other four martial artists on her team, filling in in case they get sick or injured.

“This will be my first world-level competition,” she said. “I’ve done our regional and national competitions for a number of years, and I have also been to a tournament in Las Vegas that is an international competition called the Ozawa Cup.”

Damico qualified for the team in New Orleans in February, sparring in a tournament-style competition to decide the five best female fighters in the U.S.

Damico said she’s been practicing karate since fall 2001, her first semester working at UL-Lafayette.

“I had a colleague here at the time who had been training karate herself for a number of years,” Damico recalled. “She heard me say that I was bored with aerobics and a little too undisciplined to make myself go run every day and that what I really needed was to be in a big room with a lot of people and someone telling me what to do.”

That was when her colleague told her she needed to get into karate, and it was love at first fight.

“I’ve always enjoyed sports and athletics,” she said. “This was something different that I had never tried before — a martial art. I was hooked immediately because of the physical aspect of it but also because of the competition option.”

What attracts Damico to the sport is that there’s always room to improve.

“No matter how long you’ve been doing it and no matter what degree belt you are, there’s always a mental aspect because there’s something to be focusing on to improve,” she said. “Most of the time, it’s very basic things. It really takes some focus to go out every day and train and think about getting better at those basic things.”

She’s also the faculty adviser for UL-Lafayette’s Karate Club. Along with club founder and Aphasia Center Director Rose Shuff, the club racked up many awards, including four All-South Championships in four years of existence.

“We got the best representative from UL-Lafayette, Lafayette and the Southern region in Dr. Damico,” Shuff said.

Originally from Soda Springs, Idaho, Damico received her doctoral degree from UL-Lafayette in speech-language pathology in 2012 and teaches classes in the communicative disorders department.

“She’s the best competitor that we could send to represent the U.S.,” Shuff said. “I hope she does well.”