63rd and final karate competition held at Occidental

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Photo by Johnny Franks

Occidental hosted its 63rd annual karate competition Oct. 1 in Rush Gym. Five students from the Occidental karate class and instructor Victor Chico competed, and each placed in their respective divisions. The competition was for students of Takayuki Kubota, a highly respected figure in the karate community who has been Grand Master at Occidental since the ’80s. According to Chico — an Occidental karate instructor since 1990 — this was the last time Kubota’s karate competition will be held at Occidental, due to Kubota’s feeling too old.

Kubota is the founder and president of the International Karate Association (IKA) and the inventor of Gosoku-ryū, a distinct form of karate. He has trained the CIA and FBI and appeared in blockbusters such as “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “Pearl Harbor.” At 83, Kubota continues to teach. Aside from his involvement at Occidental, he teaches at the IKA headquarters in Glendale and around the world. His attendance drew a large group of around 350 of competitors to Rush Gym.

According to karate instructor Beatrice Gonzales, the competition was spl

it into around 50 divisions by age, gender and belt color. Gonzales said there were age groups for younger children, older children, adults and participants over 45.

The competition was also grouped into four karate forms, according to Giselle Kaneda (junior). One was kata (‘form’), which Chico described as a solo, choreographed discipline that emphasizes focus, stance and total concentration. There were also competitions in kumite (‘free-sparring’), weapons sparring and Kubota’s own style of kata, Gosoku-ryū.

“In kata, everyone goes once,” Kaneda said. “In fighting, it’s like tennis, you go in rounds. If you lose, you’re done.”

The Rush Gym set up included six 22 square foot rings. The competition began with the youngest age group’s lowest-ranked belts at 9:45 a.m. The five Occidental students competed in the adult age group, which started around 2 p.m. With the exception of Annalise Schulman (sophomore) and Carol Beckett (sophomore), the Occidental students competed in separate divisions.

Kaneda, a member of the U.S. National Karate Team, placed first in her kata and kumite divisions, beating a competitor from Poland in the kumite final. When asked by another student in the class if she plans to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, where karate will be an Olympic sport for the first time, she gave no definitive answer.

Chico’s son Christian Chico (senior) placed first in his Gosoku-ryū division, and Niko Romer (sophomore) placed second in his two competitions. Beckett and Schulman, both competing in their first karate competitions, placed second and third, respectively, in their kata divisions.

Schulman said that her first competition was a nerve-racking, but rewarding experience.

“In the competition they make you wait four-plus hours and you don’t know when you’re gonna go, and so all that time you have to get super nervous,” Schulman said. “You go up, you bow, you’re super nervous still and your kata lasts all of maybe one minute.”

Aside from being enrolled in the karate class, the students are also part of the karate club, of which Christian Chico is currently president.

“We do mainly social gatherings, eat, and we watch movies. Movies that pertain to martial arts,” Chico said.

Kaneda said the club is hoping to expand over the next few years by diversifying its activities and holding more meetings.

Daviona Moore (first year) is a black belt in karate but was unable to enroll in the class this semester because it overlapped with another class. She volunteered at the competition, registering participants and filtering traffic at the door. She was impressed by the geographic diversity of the competitors.

“People travel from across the world,” Moore said. “People from Brazil, people from Korea, people from Beijing, all over the place.”

According to Victor Chico, there were also attendees from Alaska, Peru, Poland, Armenia, Serbia and Mexico.

Moore said that it made her happy to return to the community environment of karate, and she especially appreciated seeing the young girls compete.

“It’s a strong sport, and it’s a very disciplined sport, so it makes me really happy when I see young girls do it as well because they sound so strong,” Moore said. “There was an eight-year-old girl performing with her kamas [a Japanese farm tool used in weapons-based karate].”

Moore said she hopes more people find out about Occidental’s karate offerings.