Marc Canonizado catches Marc Canonizado in action at the finals of the 2011 US Open

The crew covered the US Open Karate Championships the weekend of July 1-2, 2011 at the Coronado Springs Resort in Disneyworld in Florida.  The event always draws a highly international crowd and offers huge divisions surrounded by sunshine and entertainment.

It was just 5:00 pm Friday evening and a myriad of competitors were EXITING the Coronado Springs convention center. Normally, NASKA Friday night events are just beginning at this time and everyone is arriving, but US Open promoters Mike McCoy and Mike Sawyer took a different route for the Friday events. Competition began at 10:00 a.m and was completed by the early evening. Conveniently, competitors were given time to create a vacation out of the weekend after Friday events.  Even with the nice break, competitors were still serious about the competition at the event and it was early to bed on Friday to be well-rested for the Saturday competition.

The big fighting event of Friday night was men’s team sparring. The great thing about the US Open is that it draws competitors from all over the world which offered variety in the division. Team Germany ended up fighting Full Circle 1 in the semifinals with Full Circle advancing after winning with a 6 point team lead. The second set of fights was Team Paul Mitchell against Full Circle 2. Paul Mitchell took the win by 8 points to advance to face Full Circle 1 for the title. When Full Circle 1 took on Paul Mitchell it was close and an all-out war.  In round one, Hamed Firouzi beat Deandre Walker by 1 point.  Jason Grenier fought next and faced a returned Alex Lane.  Lane has been out with injuries for awhile.  Grenier defeanted Lane by 4 points.  In the last match, anchor Ross Levine faced anchor Greg Betlach with Levine ending with a 3 point lead.  For those of you with bad arithmetic, Full Circle won by 8 points to take the title.

Ever since a dreadful and nearly career-ending injury in 2008, Matt Emig has been yearning to regain his level of expertise and go beyond it. When Emig discovered that he was ostracized from the ISKA Night of Champions forms competition at his 14th US Open, he mustered a level of anger that fueled his open hand performances. After taking men’s 18-29 extreme weapons, he proceeded to land himself at the top of men’s extreme and musical forms and decided to perform something that everyone would notice. The best way to describe his performances are “the nostalgia forms”. He brought back an old combination and, in musical, embellished it with a gainer. The musical form he exhibited at US Open is considered by many to be the best form he has done all year.

Emig was on a roll until Marc Canonizado stepped into creative forms. put up comparison videos between Emig and Canonizado from their creative forms performances at an earlier tournament and Emig was getting all the positive comments on Youtube.  Canonizado took second to Emig in extreme and musical forms, and he was determined to win creative forms and silence the critics. Canonizado beat Emig with two 9.99s and one 8. He made many necessary changes since Battle of Atlanta which really separated him from the rest of the division. It was a great way for Canonizado to end his day, among his two other wins.

Earlier in the day, Canonizado took home two firsts with his team form partner, Caitlin Dechelle. This year at the US Open, the team form divisions were divided into two divisions: weapons and non-weapons. In the non-weapons synchronized division, Austin Crain and Matt Emig were runners up. It was still an impressive placement because they performed second in a big crowd of competitors. The runners up for the weapons synchronized forms were Mike Welch and Samantha Suddeth. The two Wisconsin natives had a well-balanced combination of tricks and difficult bo maneuvers.

Saturday morning at the US Open began with the youth traditional divisions. As usual, Cole Eckert and Amanda Chen headed to grands with their Japanese performances. Audrey Donihoo won the 18-29 Women’s Japanese title in a division of over 10 women. Donihoo has been moving into the spotlight in her adult weapons and forms divisions. She has been more and more consistent in eliminations which has given her more opportunities in grand championships; she has had a great year.
Chris Walker ran his form in the 18-29 Japanese division and despite not having competed with his traditional form since Pan American Internationals last year, he won without a seed. Jarrett Leiker was consistent with his Korean form and took first  with all the judges agreeing. Leiker’s strong hands and superb intensity were crucial as he headed to grands against Walker.

After the forms divisions finished it was time for the fighters to gear up. Raymond Daniels was first matched against Jason Grenier of Full Circle in the men’s light heavyweight division. Grenier is usually paired with Daniels in team sparring because Grenier has been successful in defeating Daniels in the past.  This time, however, Daniels took the match after blitzing frequently and throwing many defensive sidekicks. Subsequently, Daniels was paired with a local who blitzed right into Ray’s sidekick. Daniels was forced to sit with has back turned as his opponent practically was convulsing on the mats, but he really just turned out to be panicking. Daniels final match was against Greg Betlach. Betlach was down a few points and then built his score back up. His last point was a body punch but Daniels argues it was to the groin-check the video and decide for yourselves.  Daniels would be eliminated from competition.  Betlach was also eliminated as he met up with Ross Levine for the heavyweight grands and Levine prevailed.

We cannot write about this event without highlighting the one and only, Kyle Richards. Richards allegedly broke his hand on a reverse punch in the lightweight division. He then proceeded to fight with his hand behind his back. A few other things of note from the fighting divisions.  Further into lightweight grands, Robbie Lavoie did an ariel onto Hamed Firouzi’s head. Although it was exciting, it wasn’t enough to take the match and Firouzi won the division and the lightweight grands.  His next challenge was fighting his teammate, Ross Levine in the fighting grand championships. Just as the match tied up at 1 to 1, Levine landed a punch on Firouzi’s eye which rendered him incapable of finishing the match.  Levine was crowned the winner.

The Finals

Unlike other NASKA events, the US Open does not hold regular grand championships in the finals.  Instead, the finals are the ISKA Night of Champions and are televised on ESPN.  Everyone wants a chance on the stage and performances really hit their peak.

The 13 and under forms competition started the night time finals. Carson Crawford kicked things off with his musical form. Carson had a surprise win earlier in grands and made it to stage after he was featured as a 1-2 Watch from the Gator Nationals (see the video on Youtube). Lady Jade Miles came to the stage next as the only traditionalist and showed her power and intensity. Sammy Smith stepped up next with her extreme form. Smith brought back her 1080 into a raiz and cork to split combination. Danny Etkin blasted his hip-hop song by Stephen Renney as he walked in to do his extreme form. Etkin began with a huge gainer to split that ensured the crowd’s attention for the rest of the performance. It was close, but Danny Etkin was declared the winner.

Cole Eckert decided to run his extreme form without music when he was up first in the 14-17 grands. Eckert threw a difficult combo and busted the famous AKA jesus flip in the middle of the form; it was a nice change of pace. Mackensi Emory was up next with a musical form. Emory showed that she has been stepping it up with tricks.  She threw a cartwheel full instead of a flash kick to give the judges more to consider.  Dayna Huor approached the stage next and, although she doesn’t have as difficult of tricks, she showed her clean technique and precise synchronicity with her music. Micah Karns was the final competitor of the division. Karns looked clean and executed his tricks perfectly as always. To no one’s surprise, Karns won the division.

Danny Etkin returned to the stage to kick off the 13 and under weapons competition. Etkin brought a new song and performed a flawless chuck form. Amanda Chen gave everyone a nice change of pace with her traditional bo form. Chen did well without music because she showed her intensity and speed with smooth transitions. Sammy Smith returned with nunchucks as well. She did a 720 release with her chuck, which is impressive because nunchuck performers rarely let the chuck out of their hand, unless they’re dropping. Jackson Rudolph got the best draw as he came up last. The crowd definitely recognized his walk-in music which made his performance more riveting to watch. He finished flawlessly and dramatically held his arm up to the ceiling as his final move. Rudolph took the win.

Connor Griffith came out first for the 14-17 weapons championship. Griffith astounded the entire tournament earlier in the grand run offs with his performance. On stage, he nailed every trick with his bo and performed another great form. Stephannie Figueroa stood up next for her extreme sword form. The crowd wowed at her first round-off flash kick to start her form. She also showcased her basics with a sidekick and polished striking abilities. Vincent Scarduzio brought his bo out to do some work on the stage. Scarducio showed off his acrobatics rather than his bo tricks, which balanced the scale well after Griffith went up first. Micayla Johnson added kamas to the mix for the last performance as the defending champion. After her dynamic combination of tricks and kama releases, the judges had a tough decision. After Johnson and Griffith each received some 10s, it turned out that Johnson was the favorite.

After about an entire oak tree of plaques were awarded on stage as appreciation awards, the finals competition continued. Up next was the Paul Mitchell Synchronized Weapons forms. Mike Welch and Sammy Suddeth from Middleton, Wisconsin took the stage to represent Team Infinity. They had some of the most unique synchronized variations seen with the bo staffs. Marc Canonizado and Caitlin Dechelle took the stage next to try and top the bo form. Canonizado and Dechelle brought innovation to the game by using a sword and a pair of kamas. Their synchronization was emphasized more on subtleties, head movements, body positions, etc. It worked and Canonizado and Dechelle were the winners.

To kick off the women’s forms competition it was Audrey Donihoo and her Japanese form. She started off very powerfully but had one slip out of a 360 spin. She covered it well by hitting her next move immediately but the damage was done. Becca Ross, from Team Amerikick, followed Donihoo with her musical form. Ross hit all of her tricks and had strong hands throughout the whole form. She really made the third challenger (and defending champion) Caitlin Dechelle work. Dechelle definitely threw one of her best forms of the weekend. The crowd was impressed by her skip front kick to a webster and her other tricks. It was a close one (1/100th of a point) between Dechelle and Ross, but after receiving a few 9’s and a 10, Dechelle took the win.

Jonathan Rivera, from Puerto Rico, was up next to start off the ISKA men’s forms competition. Rivera performed using a drunken fist technique along with some acrobatics. He had the judges’ consideration for the win until one slip at the end. Matt Emig pushed the envelope even further when he came out and added a second gainer to

Matt Emig in the finals at the 2011 US Open Karate Tournament

Matt Emig in the finals of the 2011 US Open Karate Tournament

his already difficult combination. Emig killed it. Mickey Lee came through the curtains next to bring everyone some Tai Chi. Unfortunately Lee’s music skipped. It had an effect on his performance because Lee is synchronized throughout the entire rendition. Jarrett Leiker was off to a fantastic start until his music also underwent some technical difficulties. After the distraction, Leiker had to regain his focus and finish his form. Marc Canonizado brought an insane form to the stage. He received the biggest crowd response but the judges didn’t seem to feel the same. The close score was between Matt Emig and Mickey Lee. Emig took the win by 2/100ths of a point.

Team KIXX, led by Tyler Powell (who is also on Team 100 Percent), performed first in team demo. They were on point with all their moves and did a lot of individual showcasing. Next up was Team 100 Percent – the defending champions. It’s worth it to make note that Tyler Powell had about 5 seconds to change his uniform and he performed in BOTH demos!  The entire Team 100% demo was well synchronized without any mistakes. The judges unanimously gave the win to 100 Percent for yet another notch in their win-belt.
Vincent Scarduzio and Jessica Goldman of Team 100% kicked off the Paul Mitchell Team Synchronized Forms competition. Performing with great synchronicity and the implementation of swing dancing techniques, 100% set the bar rather high. Caitlin Dechelle and Marc Canonizado returned to the stage. They, as in their weapons form, enhanced their creativity and synchronized different moves with each other. Matt Emig and Austin Crain were the final synchronized form of the night. They threw a long trick combination that pretty much took them in a circle; one of the most difficult combinations seen in synchronized forms on NASKA, ever. However, the judges seemed to have a proclivity for creativity rather than difficulty. Caitlin and Marc took the win.

Minnesota’s Olivia Wicker started the women’s weapons grand championships. She hit her traditional bo form and set the bar for the next up, Audrey Donihoo. Donihoo exhibited clean cuts, highly difficult sword releases, and lots of intensity. Donihoo put a lot of pressure on Becca Ross who was next with her bo form. Ross definitely rose to the occasion by catching her bo behind her back and sticking a voodoo child to top off the whole performance. Caitlin Dechelle was the last up and started it off with pulling her sword out of her sheath during a front flip. It was close, but Audrey Donihoo took the win.

The final event of the Night of Champions began with Steven Grass’ traditional sword form. Grass had great intensity and looked as if a vein were to pop in his neck. Marc Canonizado came out once again and impressed the crowd with his sword. Matt Emig gave the crowd a new genre of music with his chuck form. He showcased a new trick for the end of his flawless routine-definitely a crowd favorite. Kalman Csoka definitely matched Matt in the innovation department. Csoka through some new releases in his double sword form that gave him the win for another year.

With the end of the Night of Champions, competitors, spectators and families were now free to explore the fun of Florida.  Watch for the televised US Open competition on ESPN!