Sandra Sanchez
As I get ready to board a plane for the Amerikick Internationals I admit I am both nervous and excited to be going to a large tournament for the first time in almost two years. The nervousness comes from not only the new strains of Covid-19 and being around large groups of people, but also the fact that I haven't been able to judge at as many events over the last two years as normal. Fighters refer to it as ring rust, but its not just the competitors that have to shake it off but the officials too.

Just because I have decades of experience at martial arts tournaments doesn't mean that I don't need to brush up on current rules and requirements for the divisions I will be judging. Most of the time those rules are put in place to keep one person from gaining to much of a competitive advantage over the group or it was put in place because the violation was deemed against the ethics or tradition of the division. Since I am headed to the Amerikick Internationals I will share one of the rules from the National Black Belt League (NBL) that I know the origin. Years ago, the NBL had a rule for traditional kata that said no jewelry allowed in the division. Bob Leiker, who is one of the promoters of Amerikick, was getting ready to compete and a fellow competitor tried to get him thrown out of the division for wearing his wedding ring. Bob's response was that the ring was put there by his wife Jill and it wasn't coming off. Eventually this led to a rule change that wedding bands could be covered by tape and not be considered for disqualification.

Leikers

While many divisions have rules in place for a good reason, I feel that many leagues get so hyper focused on those said rules that they forget the basic rule for any division, technique over almost anything else. Technique in both fighting and forms should be the overriding factor in any division for the basis of any win or loss. I was once asked what I was looking for in a kata when judging. The simplest answer for me is do you look dangerous. Do you make me believe that you are in a fight and that I really wouldn't want to be standing in front of your techniques? Now that is an over simplified answer to the question because you must have many other things such as proper balance, timing, focus but even if you had all of those things the overall bottom line is do I believe you could hurt someone with your techniques. The same exact thing goes for point fighting. While the techniques for point fighting is controlled the goal is still the same in that the competitor needs to demonstrate a technique that is capable of inflicting damage were it not for the control. One of these techniques that is different between the leagues that I judge in is a backfist to the body. NASKA does not score this technique as it is deemed to not have focused control. WAKO, on the other hand, consistently allows this and it is hard for many North American fighters to get used to using it when they travel overseas. My personal feeling is that a focused jab to the body should be allowed to count for a point but a backfist should probably not, but I follow the rules laid out in front of me.

Wako Judges

My point with all of this is that we as officials have differing opinions on what we look for in both forms and fighting based on our backgrounds and experiences. What shouldn't change is someone starting to look for every single little nuance in the rules to deduct for or enforce over what should be the overriding factor of technique. I once had a very heated argument with the head of a prominent league here in the USA. We had a meeting every morning going over rules for the traditional divisions that focused solely of the rules violations that we needed to look for and never on technique that we should be looking for. I got so frustrated that I told him in front of 30 of the other judges that he seemed to be much more concerned with how many patches someone had on their uniform than if they actually had a proper stance. Needless to say, it didn't get things changed that day but eventually the promoter heard from enough of the other judges that felt the same way that he started having discussions on not just the violations but also what proper technique should look like.

Competitors will always look for any competitive advantage that they can get. It is our job as officials to make sure that not only the rules are followed, but to also make sure we interpret the rules correctly to allow fairness for all of the competitors and make sure that the divisions are not always being decided on every technicality that someone can find in a rule book.

David Clifton has refereed over 1,500 MMA, Kickboxing, and Boxing matches. He has also been the center official and training official for WAKO USA, NBL Super Grands, World Sport Karate Federation, World Karate Commission (WKC), and many Naska national events.

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Judo
Saddleburn

Two-Time Black Belt Hall of Famer Hayward Nishioka has been campaigning for judo in the United States to harvest more shodans (1st degree black belts) Shodan literally means student. It's analogous to being a freshman in college. It's not the end but the beginning according to Jigoro Kano, the Founder of Judo.

A very dear friend and sensei of mine the late Allen Johnson, may he rest in peace made a home at Emerald City Judo. In Redmond, Washington.

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Competitive Edge Karate
Photo Courtesy: Jackson Rudolph

Team Competitive Edge, coached by Jackson Rudolph, Reid Presley, and Cole Presley, has become one of the premier teams in the sport in recent years. The team consistently takes home individual overall grand championships and they are the reigning U.S. Open ISKA Team Demonstration World Champions. Moving into the 2022 tournament season, they have made a huge move to deepen their roster and add seven junior competitors to the team. The new additions range from proven champions bringing their talents to the squad, some skilled workhorses who have previously joined the team for the Team Demo division, and some promising young stars who will be making their debut in the black belt division this year. Keep reading to learn more about each of the new additions (ordered alphabetically).

Gavin Bodiford

Gavin Bodiford

Photo Courtesy: Kellie Austin Bodiford via Facebook

Bodiford is twelve years old and hails from Lebanon, Tennessee, a product of Premier Martial Arts Lebanon (formerly known as Success Martial Arts Center), where the Competitive Edge coaches have all earned black belts. He has five years of martial arts experience and was the 2020-2021 ProMAC Southern Region Champion in four divisions. He also finished the 2021 NASKA season in the top ten for creative, musical, and extreme forms and weapons. Bodiford is one of the competitors who has stepped up for Competitive Edge in the past, joining the demonstration team to help them secure the 2021 U.S. Open ISKA World Championship.

Riley Claire Carlisle

RC Carlisle

Photo Courtesy: Mallory Parker Carlisle

Carlisle (pictured with coach Sammy Smith) is a 10-year-old rising star from Starkville, Mississippi who has been training for four years. In the underbelt division, she has won grand championships at the Battle of Atlanta and numerous regional events. She holds multiple divisional and grand championship titles from the ProMAC circuit, and has amassed over ninety divisional wins in recent years. She is moving into the black belt division in 2022 and looks to continue her winning ways.

Kodi Molina

Kodi Molina

Photo Courtesy: Priscilla Molina via Facebook

Molina is a 13-year-old world champion from San Antonio, Texas with 10 years of martial arts training under her belt. She has won many grand championship titles on the NASKA circuit, and has claimed world championships from NASKA, ISKA, ATA, and WKC. At the 2021 U.S. Open, she became the reigning ISKA world champion in 13 and under girls creative/musical/extreme weapons. She is a versatile competitor who can win with extreme bo or kama routines, performs beautiful traditional forms, and is a solid point fighter as well. She is an active member of her community and participates in a variety of leadership programs, making her a great role model for younger members of the team.

Michael Molina

Michael Molina

Photo Courtesy: Michael Molina via Instagram

"Super Bomb" is the 9-year-old brother of Kodi, who is a world champion in his own right. In his seven years of experience, he has already won a variety of titles across multiple leagues, including NASKA overall grand championships at the 2021 Battle of Atlanta and AmeriKick Internationals. Since he began training at the age of two, his regimen has included strength, speed, agility, and conditioning training at "Rojo Dojo", where a number of world champions and national contenders gather to train. He is known for his incredible performance ability, always putting on a show when he graces the stage.

Gavin Richmond

Gavin Richmond

Photo Courtesy: Bobby Benavides

Richmond is yet another world champion being added to the Competitive Edge roster. The 13-year-old from San Antonio has been training for five years and has accumulated several grand championship titles, including wins at prestigious events like the Diamond Nationals and U.S. Open. The young star is a well-rounded athlete, not only because he competes in a variety of divisions at sport karate tournaments, but he also finished in 7th place in the pentathlon at the 2021 AAU Junior Olympics which included the high jump, long jump, 100m hurdles, 1500m run, and shot put, resulting in him being named an All-American. He is currently recovering from a knee injury, but his high-flying routines will be back on the mat soon.

Madalynn Wiersma

Madalynn Wiersma

Photo Courtesy: Gabrielle Dunn

Wiersma (pictured with coach Gabrielle Dunn) is another rising star moving up from the underbelt division who is expected to make waves in the black belt division. She first moved up into the black belt ring at the WKC world championships, where she won her first world title. The 9-year-old Georgia native was the 2021 Underbelt Competitor of the Year for ProMAC and she secured underbelt grand championships at the Battle of Atlanta and U.S. Open this past year.

Elijah Williams

Williams is a 16 year old from Lebanon, Tennessee who trains at Premier Martial Arts Lebanon. His eight years of martial arts training has culminated in black belts in Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do. He is on an upward trend as a competitor as he has started breaking into the top four in his divisions, which are some of the most stacked on the NASKA circuit. Williams has been a great asset to Competitive Edge in the past, stepping up to fill in for team demonstration, such as in the world championship effort at the 2021 U.S. Open.

The Competitive Edge coaching staff told Black Belt that they are thrilled to take their roster to another level with these moves. They believe that these new players will create the perfect storm to win more overall grand championships now, strengthen the team demo, and build a great foundation for the future of the program.

Jose Also
cdn.vox-cdn.com Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
The seemingly ageless Jose Aldo won his third straight fight at bantamweight Saturday claiming unanimous decision over Rob Font in the main event of UFC on ESPN 31. Font started well against the former featherweight champion working behind a strong jab that kept Aldo on his back foot and allowed Font to consistently land sharp punches. But with 30 seconds left in the first round, Aldo threw a stiff left jab and immediately followed with a powerful straight right hand that dropped Font though time ran out before he could do more damage.
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