Los Angeles, California is home to one of the largest events in North America – the Compete International Martial Arts Championships, a North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) 6A Rated World Level event. Held February 21-23, 2014 at the Ontario California Convention Center, the event drew thousands of competitors of all ages and belt levels for fun, exciting competition. The fun was overshadowed by the recent passing of former competitor Richard Branden who recently succumbed to cancer. Branden was superstar performer during his days on the NASKA circuit and a great supporter of the Compete tournament. The Compete tournament offered a memorial for the fallen hero and some of Mr. Branden’s students and his children competed at the event in honor of their beloved instructor and father.
Being held earlier in the year gives the Competes a distinct advantage – the debut of many new competitors and routines. 2014 was the year of the kids as a number of new adults made it to the stage as well as earned the top honors.
The weekend started out fantastically for Tyler Weaver, competing as an adult for the first time. He immediately won the men’s extreme weapons division and followed it up with a win in men’s creative weapons to guarantee himself a spot in the finals. Jacob Ellis practiced away any errors in his unique extreme routine to take his first adult win in men’s extreme forms. And in only his second major tournament and first year as an adult, Reid Presley’s double box garnered him a win. Top adult competitor Sen Gao was shut out of the hard style division but made his way to stage by winning the Chinese style forms and weapons competition.
For the women, Caitlin Dechelle braved the Los Angeles traffic to compete on Friday evening and win in both weapons and forms. She would be joined on stage by Stephannie Figueroa and Jennifer Espina for weapons. In forms, Dayna Huor made it to stage in her first year as an adult for her win in creative forms. Lia Jundt, representing the late Richard Branden’s Shaolin schools was on stage for forms and weapons with her soft style routines.
One little kid who took the stage by storm during the finals was Aidan Kennedy. Kennedy was on stage at the AKA Grand Nationals in January with a traditional routine but at Competes, he was able to amaze the crowd with his extreme performance and win the grand championship title for 13 & under forms along with the Compete Silver Medallion.
When Jack Felton strode into the tournament, it was fairly clear he wasn’t there for recreation – he was there to win. Felton led his Team All Star comrades to a number of titles at the event. In men’s team sparring, Felton, Robbie Lavoie and Jamal Albini won the title after defeating team Fighters Syndicate despite a strong showing from the Syndicate’s Alex Armstrong, Ahmad Rice and Anthony Yadao with the Syndicate fighters only losing by one point.
After the men’s team fighting win, Team All Stars set out for the individual sparring grand championship. Robbie Lavoie cleaned up and won the lightweight berth to the finals while Jamal Albini took the middleweight honors. Jack Felton overcame his biggest challenge in the welterweight arena, Ryan George, to take the third spot. Team Gallio’s Bryan Young was the heavyweight winner to become the only non-All Star in the men’s finals.
For the women, Robyn LeBuffe plowed through her challengers to earn her way to the stage. In the other bracket, a familiar, yet long-lost face fought her way to the other spot. It was Ashlee Grant, now an adult and back in the fighting arena.
The stage was set for the finals and the finals brought some pleasing surprises. Local team Red Dragon Diamond Bar overcame Team Chozen to take the all belts demo team title. Jacob Ellis was already going to stage for his form routine but he had another appearance with his Team USA Freestyle demo team. The innovative and energetic routine led by Ellis and featuring some dynamic youth had the crowd cheering.
It was Aidan Kennedy with the win in 13 & Under forms and he was flanked by some newer faces such as Jessica Moyher and Rohan van Heyningen on stage. Haley Glass was also representing for the girls in both the 13 & Under forms and weapons competition. Glass won two run offs during the day time eliminations in weapons as did her opponent in weapons, Jake Presley. Presley, hot off a grand champion win and a Warrior Cup win at the recent AKA Grand Nationals, was unstoppable on stage. Glass lost a kama but kept going. Presley was up next and didn’t tame his performance at all as he won his second title of the year.
In the 14-17 competition, Justin Chang, in his first year as a black belt, was on stage in both forms and weapons after winning 5 first places during the Friday and Saturday eliminations. However, it was Jackson Rudolph’s crazy bo routine that would win the weapons competition and Silver Medallion this evening despite a strong showing by Sammy Smith and Mackensi Emory. In forms, Jacob Pinto is back in rare form this year with a strong extreme form in the final. Adryanne Angat and her traditional routine was just barely edged out by Mackensi Emory’s extreme routine for the 14-17 forms title.
With three All Stars on stage for men’s fighting, the All Stars had some pretty good odds for bringing home the grand championship. Robbie Lavoie out-kicked Bryan Young to advance to the final round while Jack Felton eliminated teammate Jamal Albini. In the championship match, Felton didn’t seem to mind that he was beating on his teammate as he edged out Lavoie with a 10 point spread to win the title. For the women, Ashlee Grant soon discovered that her hands had the power against LeBuffe. Grant punched her way to a win with a 10-point spread in the second round of the fight to end the match early and award Grant her first grand championship of the year.
Women’s weapons and forms were a showcase of some of the top female competitors. Caitlin Dechelle, Stephannie Figueroa, Jennifer Espina and newcomer Lia Jundt faced off for weapons. In forms, Caitlin Dechelle, Lia Jundt and Dayna Huor – in her first adult appearance on stage – were the competitors. Dechelle held strong and was awarded the title in both divisions to continue on with her winning ways and dominance in the women’s divisions.
Stephen Grasz opened up the men’s forms competition with his traditional routine. His performance set the stage and Vincent Scarduzio, Jacob Ellis and Sen Gao all stepped it up to compete. Ellis’ unique fusion of dance and martial arts had the crowd roaring and was the favorite of the judges this evening as Ellis won his first men’s title.
The men’s weapons competition closed out the evening and had everyone on their feet. The caliber of the competition was high. Kyle Montagna opened the competition with his new routine that incorporated some incredibly tough bo moves. Sen Gao and Tyler Weaver followed. Both look amazing but both dropped their weapons to take them out of the running. Shahin Jahanvash and his traditional double sword looked like it might be the top performance but there was still Reid Presley in the wings with his double bo routine. Presley stepped it up and was rewarded for his effort with the grand championship title – his second of the year.
Jacob Ellis, Tyler Weaver, Reid Presley, Dayna Huor, Ashlee Grant – all names you should probably start getting used to hearing. They are young but as they demonstrated at the 2014 Competes, they are already making their mark for 2014.