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Whistler karate tournament goes full contact

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Meadow Park arena to host region’s top fighters

Kicking in the groin is against the rules. So is grabbing or grappling with your opponent. Pretty much anything else goes.

Competitors may choose to wear mouth guards and shin protectors, but otherwise it’s bare hands, bare feet and one fighter against another on June 15 when Shinseikai Karate hosts Whistler Cup 2002, the first open full contact karate championships in Western Canada.

"This is the real full contact karate, with none of the fancy gear and pads. Competitors really just wear a cup and that’s it," says Joe Rankin, the tournament director and owner and operator of Whistler-Squamish Shinseikai Karate.

Between 25 and 30 martial arts students and instructors will participate in the championships, including competitors from Japan and the U.S. Rather than squaring off by their level of experience, fighters will compete in weight classes, moving through the ranks over several matches. Rankin will try to keep the contests equal at the beginning, but if a junior wins "then eventually they’re going to have to face a more senior competitor."

Fights go three rounds or less. The first round is three minutes, the second two minutes and the third just one minute.

A knockdown ends a fight, and a competitor that is doubled over gets three seconds to convince the referee they’re still good to go. Some fights will be over quickly, but some will go the distance.

After three rounds the judges, including an experienced master from Japan, will pick a winner in the same way they would in boxing – counting hits and factoring in aggressiveness and technique. If it’s still a tie, the win goes to the lightest boxer based on the principle that the heavier fighter has the advantage.

"A smart fighter will do the best they can to stay in the running for the three rounds and win by weight, but it’s pretty hard to hold off a heavier guy for that long," says Rankin.

Rankin himself won’t be competing, although he has had his fair share of full contact experience, when he lived in Japan.

"I’m 40 now, which is a little old for full contact," he says.

However, four of his Whistler students, plus one of his students from Japan, will be representing Shinseikai.

Whistler’s Clyde Bersky, Mark Alexander and Eric Hould are in the tournament. Catherine Bachelor will fight if there are enough women from other dojos at the tournament. The student from Japan, Koji Okada, is the team’s best chance as the only Shinseikai representative with some competitions under his belt.

"For the Whistler crew, this is their first tournament, and they’re going to be pretty nervous about it I think," says Rankin, who has been taking them through tournament training for the last few weeks.

"It’s been hard, they’re all hurting a little right now. Nothing serious though. I lose more students to snowboarding and mountain biking than I do in full contact. If you’re in shape, and in training, then nobody really gets hurt."

Full contact is really what makes Shinseikai Karate unique. From day one, students spar with other students and with Rankin, punching, kicking and blocking without the use of padding. According to Rankin, they also focus on glove fighting techniques like kick-boxing, and grappling.

Only a handful of dojos in Western Canada use this technique; Kyokushin in Seattle and Dawson Creek, Yoshukai in Victoria, Enshinkai in Victoria, and Shinsekai in Whistler and Japan. Representatives from all of the full contact karate organizations will be at the Whistler championships.

If he has to pick a favourite, Rankin believes Yoshukai Karate has the edge.

"They’re very good, they have a very good technique," Rankin says. "Our full time dojo has only been in operation for about a year, but next year we hope to have a team in the top three."

Rankin is hoping to make the Whistler Cup an annual event, and wants to add another event in Squamish or Vancouver to give his students more opportunities to compete in this style of competition.

At the Whistler Cup, there will be a half time show from Vancouver’s Tokidoki Taiko drumming group. There will also be a K1-style glove fighting competition and a grappling demonstration.

Rankin will also use the opportunity to teach spectators something about Japanese culture, especially in light of the fact that Whistler is already promoting cultural exchanges with its sister city of Karuizawa, Japan.

"Half of the reason I’m organizing this event and opened up the dojo in Whistler is to promote the Japanese culture within the community. That’s also part of the reason why my rates are really cheap. It’s run more as a community service than a for-profit dojo. All of my classes are conducted in Japanese, so students have to learn a little of the language and philosophy as they go, in addition to the full contact karate," says Rankin.

The event is being held in the Meadow Park Arena while the ice is out, starting at 1 p.m. on June 15. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. Rankin is counting on having a lot of spectators.

"People are going to see something they’ve never seen before," he says. "It’s fast, the contact is real, the skills are real, and the people fighting are fighting to win."

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