Tournaments in New England are unique because the area is a blend of old school karate and new innovation. The 2012 Ocean State Grand Nationals offered this unique combination at its 32nd Annual event held April 13-15, 2012 in Warwick, Rhode Island hosted by promoters Don and Christine Rodrigues. With 2012 being the Chinese Year of the Dragon, the theme at the event was all about dragons with celebrity guests Don “the Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia “Dragon Lady” Rothrock and Shannon Lee, the daughter of Bruce Lee, the ultimate martial arts dragon.
The New England area is a hotbed of traditionalists and there was an air of appreciation for the martial arts celebrities and masters at the event evidenced by the standing ovations at the finals when names were announced that many of the attendees under 25 probably did not recognize. The vendors tables were also a picture of old and new with some tables selling traditional items while others were offering the most modern and extreme gear such at the Hyper booth with tricking videos and t-shirts. The martial arts community in the area and the local KRANE league assured that the event was run efficiently, started on time and ended promptly as well. With the celebrity backdrop and the usual unpredictability of sport karate, it was a good platform for this North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) world rated event.
The first thing noticed were some team changes. Ross Levine, disclosed that he left Team Full Circle to be team-less, at least at the national level. Now representing his instructor Jadi Tention, Levine did not participate in team sparring after years of playing a key role on all teams he has participated in. In addition Nicole Pelland, another former Full Circle player, displayed her new Team Paul Mitchell uniform and joined teammate Chelsey Nash in women’s team sparring at the event. Pelland and Nash would face Full Circle in the finals for women’s teams.
The women’s sparring divisions were the best seen in awhile with local New England talent and Canadians joining the USA mix. Local competitor Katy Casey of GTS won the super light division with some hard hits that may have left marks on her opponents. Verona Soliman of Canada defeated Nicole Pelland by one point to advance in the middleweight competition and Chelsey Nash was the lightweight winner. When the dust settled, Nash and Soliman headed to the stage for the grand championship match. In that grand championship match, it was a shock to Nash as time was called and Soliman was up 3-2 after she scored a 2 point side kick. Soliman brought home the win to her team from Quebec and her fiance, Jason Grenier of Team Full Circle.
In the women’s team sparring match-up between Full Circle and Paul Mitchell in the finals, Melanie Ortiz of Full Circle coaxed Pelland in and used the proximity to score with her hands to get a 9-5 lead for Full Circle after the first round of fighting. Nash had a chance for a rematch against Soliman after her loss in the grand championships but this time Nash was starting with a 4 point deficit. Like a woman possessed, Nash was focused and determined to end the match with a win. She used her speed and patience to break Soliman down and get past Soliman’s dominant left leg to tie up the score and then begin a scoring drive that would give her team the lead and the win with a final 15-11 score.
Men’s teams were a wild house. There were six teams with two teams sporting two different line-ups; Team Full Circle and Team Next Level. Without Levine, Full Circle’s main line-up (Black) consisted of Hamed Firouzi, Jason Grenier and Cass Sigmon with their second team (Gold) consisting of Justin Ortiz, Dylan Suarez, Samuel Gagnon and Tico Vilda. Full Circle Black eliminated Team Straight Up in an early round and Team Full Circle Gold eliminated the first group of Next Level fighters.
Full Circle’s coach Mike Conroy is known for verbally sparring for every last point for his players and he did not disappoint tonight. In the match between Cass Sigmon and Lawrence Wray (Full Circle Black versus Next Level), there was a dispute as to whether the scorekeepers had the correct score. After fifteen minutes of arguing, Conroy managed to have one point shaved off Wray’s score and the match ended 8-4. The next dispute ended in fisticuffs as Hamed Firouzi faced the anchor of Next Level, veteran Jessie Wray. Wray kept the score even initially and then Firouzi’s speed allowed him to pull ahead in points. In the final exchange, it appeared that Wray slipped and Firouzi threw a punch that landed to the head of Wray and may have appeared to be intentional. The result – bench clearing and disputes. In the end, Full Circle advanced and only Team Paul Mitchell stood in the way of both Full Circle teams making it to the final round. Full Circle Gold did their coaches proud in an exciting fight against Team Paul Mitchell. The final fight between Tico Vilda of Full Circle and Alex Lane of Paul Mitchell was memorable with both landing great kicks and hand techniques. In the end, Full Circle Gold slipped by with a 2 point lead to advance to the finals where Full Circle Black was declared the winner by default.
By far the most exciting forms and weapons competitors at the event were under four feet tall. The 13 and under boys and girls were out of control. Dallas Liu got a hat trick with three grand championship wins during the day time eliminations but it wasn’t easy as his competition was outstanding. Danny Etkin, Jake Presley, Carson Crawford and Aidan Considine were also on the stage through most of these challenges and it was like a SportMartialArts.com 1-2 Watch showcase with each one trying to top the others. It was in the 13 & under boys creative/musical/extreme forms grand championship that Liu was unable to close the door as Considine tied with Etkin and Considine was declared the winner after the tie breaker.
For the girls, Lady Jade Miles has gone from being good to great in competition and was the winner for nearly all of the 13 & under girls grand championships. It was Considine, however, who took his opportunity all the way to the finish line with an overall win on stage in the finals for his first overall NASKA world forms grand championship. Liu’s three grand championships during the day did not go unrewarded as he was the 13 and under weapons overall grand championship during the finals.
Austin Crain is ready to move into the adult divisions and it is just that pesky thing called a birth year that is preventing it. He was strong in the 14-17 forms grand championships on stage but another pesky thing – this time in the form of Samantha Smith prevented him from getting the title as the clean landings and strong hands of Smith propelled her into the winner’s circle. In the 14-17 overall weapons competition, Shahin Jahan-vash was declared the definite winner with his traditional double sword routine.
After a few years of excitement hiatus, the boys 16-17 point sparring divisions are heating up again with some talent coming up in the ranks. The competitors nearly took out the scorekeepers’ table in the semi-finals rounds which is always a good sign if you are looking for excitement. Shahin Jahan-vash and Chris Gargiulo ended up facing each other in the final round after Gargiulo smashed a prior opponent with some sweet side kicks and round kicks. In this round, the two hit like men and put on a show and it was Gargiulo who came out the winner.
Not having a team didn’t seem to make a difference to Ross Levine as he ran through his heavyweight division, first taking out Greg Betlach of Team Paul Mitchell and then defeating former teammate Jason Grenier for the heavyweight grand championship. In the next ring over, Alex Lane was doing the same in middleweight competition, ending with the middleweight grand championship title. In the 30 and over division, Jason Bourelly of Team All Stars tore through all competition to make it to the stage and in the lightweights, Hamed Firouzi of Team Full Circle was the lightweight grand champion winner. This set up a finals with four men from four different teams.
Levine and Lane were first in the semi-finals on stage with Levine catching a side kick from Lane but still winning the match with a 4-2 score. The Bourelly and Firouzi match was all speed, legs and bounce as the two worked to measure the other’s timing and techniques. The two exchanged points back and forth and ended with Firouzi up 4-3 at the buzzer setting up a Firouzi versus Levine final round.
In the championship match, the smaller Firouzi was measured and paced as he tried to figure out the best way to attack Levine. Levine was on the board first with a point and Firouzi later tied up the match with a reverse punch. Levine scored a back fist and a quick defensive side kick to pull ahead 4-1 when time was called to give Levine the title for the evening.
Adult weapons and forms was all Team Paul Mitchell in the night show with some smatterings of others. Caitlin Dechelle was dominate for the women with two grand championships and went undefeated the whole weekend. In men’s forms and weapons, the real combat began. Matt Emig and teammate Austin Jorgenson tied in the weapons grand championship. Marc Canonizado did an awesome extreme routine but he was disqualified because he was limited to only a creative performance with no tricks. In the end it was Emig’s extreme nunchuck routine that would defeat Jorgenson’s drunken sword routine. In men’s forms, Emig and Canonizado were back but they faced tough competition from Jarrett Leiker’s traditional routine which garnered two 10s from the judges. Calculators were clicking as the scorekeepers added and re-added to determine who would be declared the victor. In the end, it was Emig again with a second grand championship title.
Although the finals were complete, more competition was scheduled at Ocean State Grand Nationals for Sunday with the under belt competition. The Chinese dragon is said to bring protection, a fitting trait for a sport based on self-defense and an event like the Ocean State Grand Nationals where the promoters work hard to protect the tradition of the sport but are open and welcoming to the new aspects.