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Karate tournament returns to Whistler

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Tournament features fighters from dojos in Japan, U.S.

WHAT: Spirit Whistler 2003 International Karate Championships

WHERE: Whistler Secondary gymnasium

WHEN: Saturday, June 28, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Back for a second round, the Spirit Whistler 2003 International Karate Championships have a confirmed field of 34 fighters, and counting, for this weekend.

Sanctioned by the Full Contact Karate Association, the event will separate the men into different weight classes. There is a larger women’s field this year, as well as a full children’s division.

Full contact karate, which is seen as the pure form of the sport, can get pretty rough.

"Martial arts is not just talk, it’s about doing it," says Joe Rankin, the Sensai for the Shinseikai Whistler and Shinseikai Squamish Dojo’s. Rankin used to compete and win while he was living and training in Japan.

"To get a good idea of what it’s like (to fight), the tournament is really the ultimate. At the Dojo you fight the same people all the time and maybe hold back a bit. The tournament is the real test, because you’re fighting strangers and nobody takes it easy. There’s a lot more at stake there. It’s the real test," he says.

Kicks to the groin and punches to the head are just about the only body shots that are not allowed, and there is no grabbing or grappling.

The competitors get in close, working the body, arms and legs of their opponents with punches and kicks, while looking for openings to land harder shots, like kicks to the head punches and kicks to sensitive areas. Most of the fights last year went the distance – three rounds, or six minutes. The first round is three minutes, the second round is tow minutes and the third round is over in a minute. A knockdown can end fight and competitors that are doubled over get three seconds to convince the referee that they can still fight.

After the three rounds are up, the two judges pick a winner by raising a flag. If the two judges pick different fighters, the ref casts the third vote.

The refs count punches and kicks landed, but are also looking for aggressiveness, strong technique, and the quality hits.

A pair of Whistler fighters who competed last year will be back once again. Catherine Bachelor, who is originally from New Zealand, won the women’s competition last year against a fighter from Washington. Bachelor is 23, a black belt, and is used to sparring with guys at the Whistler Dojo. She is tough, aggressive, and hits hard.

Eric Hould was third in the lightweight division last year after besting his competition from the Enshinkai Dojo in Victoria with a couple of hard punches and kicks to the upper body and head. His knuckles were raw and swollen after the event, but he said you don’t really feel anything during the fights but adrenaline.

"Eric and I went to San Diego for a tournament this winter, and he did really well there…And at the Spirit of Vancouver Tournament, he did spectacular."

Although Rankin is hoping for a good audience this year, he says the tournament is about the students, and supporting other Dojo’s.

It was also important to make it an open tournament, he says – there’s been some bad blood between local martial arts groups in the past. He held an open tournament a few weeks ago that was open to any and all groups, but none of them came.

The event also has a cultural angle. A sushi lunch will be available to competitors and audience members, and Vancouver’s Tokidoki Daiko taiko drummers will be putting on a demonstration.

In addition, Rankin himself will be putting on a karate demonstration by kicking and breaking a bundle of four baseball bats of the uncorked variety.

Five dojos, including Whistler and Squamish will participate in the tournament, which will be held in the Whistler Secondary gymnasium, with matches starting after the opening ceremony from 10:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

The cost is $10 in advance or $5 for kids in advance, and $15 and $10 at the door. Kids under five are free.

For more information, visit www.fullcontactkarate.com.

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