The North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) world tour closed out their in-person series of events for this year with the Pan American Internationals in Miami, Florida, promoted by renowned Kenpo grandmaster Manny Reyes. A number of divisions had world championships on the line as competitors tried to accumulate as many points as possible to win a NASKA title. We also saw a reunion of one of the sport's most respected teams in recent memory. Keep reading to find out how it all went down.
Photo Courtesy: Brayan Rodriguez via Instagram
The team fighting division saw the return of Tom Kelly's Team Full Circle. The team was one of the best in sport karate in the late 2000's and early 2010's, with a roster that featured the likes of Ross Levine, Becca Ross, Cass Sigmon, Justin Ortiz, Drew Derrick-Bisbee, and more. Coach Mike Conroy brought back Kevin Walker, Damian Rodriguez, Sam Gagnon, and John Curatolo to compete in team fighting, where they would face the formidable Team Next Level in the finals. Damian Rodriguez turned back the clock against James Pore and fought a great round despite suffering a broken nose on an inadvertent elbow. The next round saw Curatolo taking on the rising star Tyson Wray, as Curatolo used his active lead leg to set up scoring opportunities with his hands. It would all come down to the final round between Darren "Dee Stacks" Payne and Kevin Walker, where Walker won the match in a thriller and brought glory to Team Full Circle once again.
In the men's point fighting divisions, Tyson Wray earned an impressive win in the open weight category while his teammate James Pore won the lightweight grand championship and Team Proper's Brayan Rodriguez (pictured above) secured the heavyweight grand championship. Pore and Rodriguez would then battle it out for the Virtual Fight Tour Last Man Standing title. Rodriguez used an effective combination of fakes and footwork to neutralize the speed of James Pore and held on to win despite a miraculous late comeback effort by Pore.
On the women's side, Conell Loveless and his Team Revolution had an incredible showing. The dynamic duo of Alexa Fleshman and Jimena Janeiro took down Tony Homsani's Team Legend to secure the team fighting title. Janeiro also won the open weight championship earlier in the weekend and proceeded to defeat Peyton Fender on stage to win the overall grand championship. It was the second time this season that Janeiro has won both such titles in the same tournament, the first being at the AmeriKick Internationals, which cements her spot as one of the top five female fighters on the planet according to the Black Belt Magazine Rankings.
As for the senior division, Yoskar Gamez of Team Legend continued his reign over all point fighters beyond the age of 30. Just this year, Gamez has now won grand championships at the Pan American Internationals, Diamond Nationals, WKC World Championships, U.S. Open, and Battle of Atlanta, giving him a résumé befitting of Black Belt Magazine's top-ranked senior point fighter in the world.
Adult Forms and Weapons
Photo Courtesy: Century Martial Arts
The adult forms and weapons categories featured several dominant performances. Gabrielle Dunn of Team AKA won all of her elimination divisions and was the sole competitor in the finals for the women's forms grand championship, so she was awarded the trophy after a demonstration. Connor Chasteen of Team Infinity had a similar result, as he won all three of the men's creative/musical/extreme (CMX) forms divisions and performed a demo to claim his overall grand championship as well. In the weapons divisions, Rashad "The Black Mamba" Eugene won both the traditional and CMX men's weapons titles. He sported a red hakama during an explosive traditional bo routine that defeated the powerful kama form of Samuel Diaz III, who also performed on stage as the winner of the senior forms grand championship. The CMX division was a one-on-one showdown with Connor Chasteen who suffered an uncharacteristic drop, so Eugene made the smart play and ran a conservative double bo routine to secure the victory.
In addition to Samuel Diaz's aforementioned senior forms grand championship, Edgar Cordova of Team Revolution won the weapons title with his flying kama form and Melanie Strauss took home the women's titles to round out the 30 and over grands.
In the women's weapons division, Kaelyn Kowalski of Team Revolution won her first career overall grand championship on the NASKA circuit with a clean traditional bo form. Kowalski first made her presence known in the adult division at the U.S. Open, where she made it all the way to the finals with the same traditional bo routine, and has been a consistent force in that division ever since.
That leaves the men's traditional forms grand championship, where Joey Castro of Team KTOC continued his winning ways with his Japanese kata against the Korean poomsae of Team AKA's Michael Brumme and an exemplary Kenpo performance by Larry Gonzalez of Team DKS. Gonzalez was able to break through and steal two 9.99's from the judges, but Castro got the other five votes and left Miami with another victory under his belt.
Team Synchronized Forms/Weapons
The team synchronized divisions saw familiar faces in the winner's circle. In forms, Diego Rodriguez Florez and Connor Chasteen of Team Infinity continued their domination of that event with their traditional routine choreographed to music. In weapons, Team Macho's Kodi and Michael Molina took gold with a solid traditional bo form.
Junior Forms and Weapons
Photo Courtesy: Maddy Kennaway via Facebook
Moving down the age bracket to the junior (14-17) divisions, Dawson Holt appeared on stage in both the forms and weapons grands with his extreme form and traditional sword routine, both events that he is the defending ISKA world champion in from the U.S. Open. However, Matthew Gruitia would get the better end of a 4-3 split amongst the judges and took home grand championship for Top Ten Team USA. As for weapons, Phillip Brumme of Team Gipsy nailed an electric kama form that earned him his first career NASKA overall grand championship. Brumme's win in the CMX weapons runoff to make it to the finals is yet another example of how incredibly deep that division is right now.
For the girls, Maddy Kennaway of Team KTOC was yet again the only competitor on stage for the forms division. She won both the traditional and CMX runoffs using her beautiful kata, which is choreographed to music for the CMX division, continuing a truly remarkable run that began when she won the same grand championship at the Battle of Atlanta. Then, in weapons, Team Next Level's Katelyn McMillan kept up her hot streak from winning the Diamond Nationals and won another overall grand championship with her traditional bo form.
Youth Forms and Weapons
Last, but certainly not least, the future of our sport was on display in the youth (13 years old and under) grand championships. The girls division featured several consistent champions who are not strangers to the stage. In weapons, the extreme nunchaku routine of Team AKA's Isabella Nicoli won an excellent battle with the traditional bo form of Team Macho's ever-intense Kodi Molina. Isabella was also on stage for the forms division, but the graceful traditional kata of Team Infinity's Sofia Rodriguez Florez was able to edge out the win in another evenly-matched division. You can watch Sofia's winning form above courtesy of The Champion's Channel on Facebook.
As for the boys, Dante Rodriguez of Team All Out made coach Alex Mancillas proud by winning the overall grand championship with his extreme form. Later on, Dax Howland of Team Competitive Edge took the stage for weapons and landed his unbelievably difficult creative bo form to earn a unanimous decision win. The CMX weapons runoff that Howland won to qualify for the finals was just as impressive, with a stacked division that included the likes of Team Macho's Michael Molina, Team Premier's Jackson Hensely, Team Straight Up's Harold Lerner, Team AmeriKick's Zeke Gomez, and Team KC's Thinura Ginige in his first-ever NASKA runoff.
The NASKA world tour still has the virtual promotion of the Toronto International Tournament of Martial Arts Champions by Mike Palitti before the season officially comes to a close. With the world championships for the year already settled, that will be a great opportunity for competitors to get some additional reps in preparation for the new season that will begin in January with the AKA Warrior Cup. Stay tuned to Black Belt Magazine on social medial for news and updates during NASKA's offseason and the rest of the sport karate world.
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