Matt Emig won multiple titles at the 2012 US Open Karate Championships and in the Night of Champions
For many competitors and spectators, the U.S. Open Martial Arts Championships started with a ride from the Orlando airport on Disney’s Magical Express to the tournament hotel and ended with a return on the same bus. However, each of the thousands who participated in the event had a different experience, held July 13-14, 2012 at Disney’s Coronado Springs resort in Florida.
For many, the US Open was a trip of a lifetime and it became a family vacation. The weather was dazzling for most days with a smattering of rain on some afternoons to cool down the 80 degree average temperature. Special ticket pricing to Disney theme parks allowed event participants to spend some of their days exploring the Magic Kingdom or traveling to Epcot. The tournament drew over 2500 competitors from more than 50 countries – so just sitting in the tournament arena gave many a close-up opportunity to experience different languages and new people from around the world.
The US Open was an opportunity for some to show off new affiliations like 14-15 youth competitor Jackson Rudolph who was sporting a brand new Team Paul Mitchell uniform after getting the call to join the longest-running sponsored team in sport karate. We remember Rudolph from years ago at the US Open, just placing as a finalist in his divisions as he began his career. He’s now one of the top youth weapons and forms competitors on the circuit. Despite all his success so far, when he received the call to join his new team and achieve a dream, he was so overcome with emotion that he cried.
Old friends always show up at the US Open and 2012 was no exception. While video taping at the event, a young man appeared and said “hi”. After a brief moment of startle, we realized it was none other than Ryan Redfoot. Redfoot was a great youth competitor from K.I.C.K. Team who was a fantastic traditional youth performer in both forms and weapons. He wasn’t too bad in creative weapons with flying kamas as well. Redfoot has gone on to become an Army Ranger and has been on active duty in Afghanistan a number of times already. He’s using his martial arts values and skills to protect our country (and he also said he had our backs if anyone gave us the evil eye at the event!)
Opportunities to train with some of the best competitors on the circuit were available at the US Open with pre-tournament camps. Raymond Daniels was scheduled to teach a sparring camp on Thursday prior to the event but a painful achilles tendon tear put him under the surgery knife a month ago and also in a wheelchair at the US Open. Daniels still taught from his wheely throne but other members of his Team All Stars stepped in to provide additional instruction. Parents were thrilled as their children were able to receive instruction from Robbie Lavoie, Jack Felton, Carlos Tearney, Regina Thompson and Chris Walker. In another room, NASKA’s legendary Mike Chat worked with campers to perfect their performance skills and extreme techniques with help from top competitors like Micah Karns.
The structure of the divisions at the US Open offered opportunities for new and local competitors as well as the traveling, NASKA-rated competitors with a two-tiered structure for many of the kids divisions. A new division, called Clash sparring, provided a hybrid between the rough and tumble continuous sparring divisions and the low-contact point sparring divisions. Clash sparring participation consisted of about a third of the point sparring participant levels which was a good start for a brand new division.
The US Open is almost two tournaments in one with all of the eliminations and grand championships for all divisions, including black belt divisions, being held during the day on Friday and Saturday with the Saturday evening Night of Champions being pre-staged and competitors pre-selected. During the day time eliminations, the huge motivator for the NASKA divisions was the opportunity for a forms or weapons wild card spot in the NIght of Champions. This pushed a lot of people to try new things and take big risks in their performances.
The US Open is clearly an event that pushes for exposure for forms and weapons competitors with point, clash and continuous fighting receiving far-less spotlight. However, the fighters that come to the event provide great exposure and competition. Men’s team sparring drew nine teams with Team Full Circle and Team All Stars each sporting two separate teams. Full Circle had a disappointing event with both of their teams being eliminated by the two All Stars teams. The final match was between Team All Stars and Team Paul Mitchell. WIth Raymond Daniels wheelchair bound, it was up to All Stars’ Jack Felton, Carlos Tearney and Robbie Lavoie to lead the team. Paul Mitchell’s Greg Betlach, Elias Lemon and DeAndre Walker were the opponents.
The All Stars and Paul Mitchell rivalry is legendary. Despite anchor Raymond Daniels on the sidelines, All Stars showed that all of its members are to be reckoned with. In the first match, Betlach and Lavoie ended with a tie, increasing the crowd excitement level. Carlos Tearney and the much lighter DeAndre Walker battled it out with Tearney giving his team a lead. In the final fight, Jack Felton was able to hold off Elias Lemon to secure an All Stars victory.
The Night of Champions offered an opportunity for the final men’s point sparring grand championship fight to take place on the stage in front of the crowd. In the women’s competition, Canada’s Claire Cocozza assured everyone that her Quebec Open win was not location-related. She upended top competitors like Regina Thompson, Chelsey Nash and Nicole Pelland to take the title.
In men’s sparring, despite a lot of the distinctive bright green of Team All Stars and gold of Team Full Circle, the final two competitors heading to the