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Mixed Martial Arts is pretty unique in how diverse the journeys of its players are. Whether the trajectory is skyward, horizontal, backward, or downward, the qualitative natures of the respective journeys can be very different. If one were to chart on a graph any single fighter or group of them in terms of anything like quantifiable factors (wins, losses, knockouts, finishes, etc.), there would almost be no two paths alike – or even all that similar. They would vary even more depending on the number of those factors considered, e.g. fighting in different weight classes, for different promotions, number of rounds fought, etc.

Stats are a strange thing to tabulate in a sport where knocking someone unconscious is what garage ping-pong players might call a skunk. Incidentally, real players prefer to call that other sweet science Table Tennis and there are no skunks in real Table Tennis. Your serve is probably illegal too if you care. Tapping to a submission is something very unique in MMA - it cannot be called a forfeit or quitting, it is more akin to resigning in chess. Abstract things like this make it near impossible to measure in a meaningful way who might be where on any sort of MMA success map. Rankings don't seem to help either. One day rankings are considered pointless and the product of fools, the next they are touted as the reason (or excuse) for a title fight.

If you follow the sport and its athletes, it can be hard to know where they are on their journey. Thankfully, the 'money fight' talk as well as the Conor McGregor impersonations are subsiding of late mitigating gold-plated success. There is a broader discussion to be had when it comes to rankings, cross-promoting, monopolies, and such, but that is less the point here. The complexion of MMA changes very rapidly and there is a bit of a cost to being a fan relating to that flux. One has to care about the fighters and pay attention to their given place on MMA's map. Whether they are long-term veterans simmering down and approaching the twilight of a career which can have a very small window of opportunity – that is unless your name is Jim Miller – or they are growing brighter and hotter to the point of someone like Welterweight champion Kumaru Usman or even his recent opponent Jorge Masvidal, it takes commitment to follow. Far from detrimental, this actually makes the sport fascinating.

On the spectrum of MMA success, in addition to the slow boil to the top or the low, steady simmer, there can be any given number of rapidly skyrocketing and/or plummeting careers as well. One thing that can hurt if you are a fan is to see fighters give so much and often-times gain so little. There may indeed be times when there is much pain and little to no gain. It is no wonder the UFC product The Thrill and the Agony has such high viewership. There is so much at stake in this cruel sport and the theater is compelling to say the least. A very high high can be a championship. A very low low can be a life-altering injury. Those extremes can be paralleled in the actual fighter's whole careers just as with any given fight.

We have holidays to appreciate important people like mothers or historical figures. No such thing for fighters. There is no retirement watches or parties for guys like Paul Kelly or Stefan Struve who recently announced retirements. Or guys like Cole Miller or Tyson Griffin who gave so much and are just no longer on the radar. Hats off to them, wherever they may be on their journeys. Fans would do well to purposefully stay in tune with their bearing. They deserve that.

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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 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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