The U.S. Open is always a showpiece event for the NASKA circuit. People from all over the world travel to the Coranado Spring’s Resort on Disney grounds to compete with the very best. It’s a huge, sprawling, and high-octane event that brings out everyone’s very best, and this year was no different. Martial Artists from all over the world arrived with one goal, victory.

In the past, the U.S. Open has struggled with timing and continuity. This year, however, there were some noticeable changes in the organization and general running of the event that eliminated many of the delays that had plagued it in earlier years. When there are as many competitors and divisions as there are at the U.S. Open, there will be an inevitable amount of confusion and delay, but this year the judges, ringside personnel and staff seemed to be putting an extra focus on keeping things moving.

Friday and Saturday eliminations ran quickly and with great energy and passion. Divisions seemed to be a little smaller than in years past. But the level of competition was as fierce as ever and competitors of all ages brought their very best onto the mats. On Friday night the under belt and single A black belt winners of the daytime divisions earned a space in the Night of Victory. This was a great show full of support, encouragement and a look at some great, younger competitors who are on their way to truly great things.

Over the last several years there has been an investment by the NASKA community into under belt and single A competitors. It’s understood that not everyone wants to compete at the AA level, but everyone does want to push themselves to their personal best. Events such as the Night of Victory provide younger and less experienced competitors a chance to be in the spotlight, and a wonderful opportunity to showcase their skills. The Warrior Cup, Battle of Atlanta, New England Open, Capitol Classics and a handful of other major events all have under belt championships. What better way to promote the sport to new families, and to help the next generation of competitors along?

As wonderful and supportive as the Night of Victory was, the Saturday Night of Champions were a foray into the epic. Two days of intense competition and eliminations had pared down all the competitors and all of the divisions into a few handfuls of elite individuals. And, with ESPN in the house, they were ready to put on a show.

Becca Ross started off the night dominating Women’s Traditional Form and setting a high bar for the rest of the night. And, true to style, everyone stepped up. The first few divisions went fast, with Mason Stowell taking the grands in both 14-17 Traditional Challenge and Boys CMX while Caio DaSilva won 13 and Under Traditional Challenge and Elizabeth Rouillard confidently took the win in 14-17 Girls Point Sparring.

Part of the U.S. Open is the wide spread of martial artists and martial arts that it attracts. Next up was the ITF Continuous Rounds to decide the world champion between Italy and Jamaica. It was a tight two rounds, with Jamaica showing a lot of aggression and push, and Italy taking a more laid-back stance and being a little more surgical in the end, Timothy Bos of Italy was able to walk away with the title.

The Finals were brought back to forms with the 18-29 Men’s Traditional with a great match up between Derek Meegan, Joey Castro, and Ariel Torres. The kata were all spectacular, but it was Ariel Torres who took the night and walked away with the grands.

Next up was Women’s Open Weight Point Sparring between two members of Team Impex, Verona Soliman and Morgan Plowden. Morgan suffered a knee injury over a year ago, and this was her first performance at a NASKA event since. However, Soliman’s family, complete with new baby, was cheering Mom on. The fight between the two was fierce, and Solman edged the points over Plowden, winning the Women’s Open Weight Grands.

Last year’s Demo Team division created a bit of drama with Team Freestyle beating out Team Infinity. This year the same players were back on stage along with Team Competitive Edge. All three teams gave it their all, but Team Infinity gave a clinic with a phenomenal demo showcasing some fantastic choreography sprinkled with lighthearted touches and high-flying skills definitively reclaiming their title as ISKA World Champions.

Three-man Team Fights were up next with Team Impex facing off against Team All Star. Impex quickly took the lead with decisive, and focused, defense and finished the three rounds, with a 13-5 lead, and the grands.

14-17 Year Old Boys CMX Weapons ran into issues. Each competitor had an amazing form, but only one was actually able to hold on to their weapon for the duration. Jake Presley walked away with the grands, and we’re sure a sigh of relief. 14-17 Girls CMX and Forms were dominated by Haley Glass while in Women’s CMX Weapons Mackensi Emory decisively beat out Sammy Smith.

Teams Competitive Edge, Infinity, and Paul Mitchell all showcased truly impressive skills in Team Weapons Synchro, but Competitive Edge had an unfortunate drop, eliminating them from the running while Paul Mitchell and Team Infinity both put on amazing performances, but there can only be one winner. Team Paul Mitchell won the night by a tiny margin.

Avery Plowden took the stage, and the title, with authority in Men’s Heavy Weight Grands. Morgan Plowden owned the ring with similar panache in Women’s Grands making this the first U.S. Open in which both Morgan and Avery Plowden have won the grands on the same night. A great night for the Plowden family and Team Impex to be sure.

The Adult Men’s Weapons division was the final entry in the Night of Champions and it showcased some of the best in the world pushing for their title. Cole Presley had an unfortunate drop, and there was a slight bobble in Shahin Jahanvash’s trademarked sword form. But Jackson Rudolph stepped onto the stage with a fury and wowed the crowd with his bo form, winning the evening.

The U.S. Open is a tournament that brings attention to the superstars of the Sport Karate Community but also puts focus on the sheer breadth of that very community. Representatives, teams, and groups from Jamaica, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Australia, South Africa and many other countries spent the weekend at the Coranado Springs Resort pushing their skills, endurance, and competitive spirit to the max. Every single individual striving to promote their art, school, and passion to the rest of the world. That community of competitors, and the supporters, families, and friends that come with them, are what makes every karate tournament special. But when it’s magnified and promoted to a level such as the U.S. Open, it becomes something very different.

The U.S. Open is a martial arts tournament, and one of the best around. But it’s also a platform for individuals all over the world to celebrate their passions at one of the highest levels, to share with other cultures and communities. This years U.S. Open showcased great skills and phenomenal competition but also promoted a sense of community and support that transcended borders and language. It was a magic all its own and one that bodes well for the future of our sport.

Corey Holzman