Karate master kicks it with students

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Occidental students dominated in two divisions of the International Karate Association’s (IKA) 51st Kubota Annual All-Star Karate Championship Sunday at Rush Gymnasium. Competing with students from around the world in the Gosoku-Ryu style of karate, the Occidental men who participated took home 10 medals: two first-places, four second-places and four third-places.

Each year, the IKA tournament at Occidental attracts students of Gosoku-Ryu from around the world. This year, competitors came from countries including Poland, Italy, Armenia and India to demonstrate their skill, according to Nicholas Hung (junior).

“The black belts come to show off,” Hung said.

Christian Chico (sophomore) is the only black belt of the four, and often wins first in his division, according to Hung. At Sunday’s tournament, he placed second in Kata to a Polish opponent.

Brandon Richardson (junior), Kaung Htet (senior), Hung and Christian Chico study Gosoku-Ryu in Occidental’s advanced karate class. Sam Clendenning (sophomore) and Kevin Grundy (first year), who also competed, study at the beginner level.

Gosoku-Ryu is a fast-paced, hard-hitting style of karate created by Soke Takayuki Kubota, who also teaches the karate class at Occidental with Victor Chico. Kubota has been teaching at Occidental since 1985 and Chico since 1992.

The Occidental karate students said they have a lot of respect for their instructors. Victor Chico — who is also the postal operations supervisor at Occidental — teaches twice a week, and Kubota joins him once a week. As the founder and longest practitioner, Kubota has the highest rank in Gosoku-Ryu. Victor Chico, with 35 years of experience, has the rank of fifth dan, awarded on a combination of experience and demonstration of skill.

“The amount of knowledge about karate we have access to, we get priceless sparring advice,” Richardson said.

Richardson, who had practiced Tae Kwon Do before coming to Occidental, started taking the class at Chico’s urging. He had also never participated in a tournament before medaling as a first-year at the IKA Championshio and has since become an avid competitor.

The Occidental students participate in two kinds of competition: kata and kumite.

The beginners go first, demonstrating mastery of the basic moves of karate. Clendenning and Grundy participated in rounds with other beginners, but proved that they have learned a lot from Chico and Kubota. Clendenning took home third in both kata and kumite and Grundy took home second in both.

For their kata routines, each competitor gives a solo performance of the “forms” of karate, demonstrating skill in ability, sharpness, technique, uniform, yells, power and fluidity, according to Richardson. When all things are equal between two competitors’ kata routines, the decision of a winner can be made on tiny details. Richardson once lost a match to a woman whom he matched equally, but whose gi, or white uniform, was crisper and cleaner.

Htet, Richardson and Hung took home first, second and third respectively in their division in the kata round, leaving the other two competitors without medals.

After performing their kata, the competitors in each division face off in kumite, in which two opponents fight hand-to-hand and foot-to-foot with varied jabs and kicks. Each spar is over quickly, with points awarded for punches to the chest and kicks to the back and face. Standards of respect are upheld before and after each match, when the opponents bow to each other and shake hands.

Richardson won first in the kumite round and Htet won third.

Though Victor Chico retired from kumite when he was 50, he won two first-place medals in kata, setting an example for his students.

“He’s fast. His hands, it’s like wh-ch,” Richardson said, demonstrating with his own hands.

Bringing the Occidental karate students to tournaments is a rewarding experience, according to Victor Chico. Though they only practice two days a week, they compete well against students who practice four or five days a week. They also enjoy observing the skill that comes with years of experience, according to Hung, who pointed out one of his favorite senseis, Sensei Shawn Danaher, who gave a powerfully energetic kata performance at the tournament. Richardson affirmed Hung’s sentiment.

“You’re lucky if you just get to talk to the other senseis that are here,” Richardson said.