Karate action kicks into gear

Mount Gambier became the state circle for karate over the June long weekend as the SA Open Championships came to town.

The event – which is a key part of the path to the national championships – is usually held annually, but made a long-awaited return after a three-year COVID-19 enforced absence and Grant High School was the place to be.

Karate fighters from both corners of the South Australian and Victorian border flooded into the gym throughout Sunday, eyeing state success across 19 grades and two Tatamis.

The atmosphere inside the Grant High School gym was electric with parents and coaches screaming at full voice every time their respective karate kid landed a blow on their opponent.

Each fighter had to perform at maximum physical and mental strength, with the last one standing awarded the gold medal after many rapid and intense fights.

Results were not available at the time of print, but many managed to steal the limelight including Mount Gambier girl Ruby Black, while around five other locals also fought for medals.

The contest for the Boys 14 and 15 years Kumite was fierce with James Simone and Justin Robins going toe-to-toe.

Eventually the referees ruled Shindo’s Robins as the victor after a tight finale 1-0.

The big event drew to a close following the 12 and 13 Boys Kumite, where South Australia’s Liam Johnson managed to overcome Victoria’s Jason Pogkas despite being almost half of his opponents size.

Cheering on from the sidelines in almost every duel was one of the South Australia’s greatest karate exports in Michelle Wilson, who was on hand coaching the kids and organising the event.

Development coordinator Wilson said there were so many positives to draw from the big weekend.

Just the chance to fight was golden for the participants while it was welcome boost for GoJu Ryu Karate-Do Shingokan, which hosted the event after some tough and quiet times due to COVID-19.

The standard of the championships was risen dramatically by the arrival of Victorian competitors from the other side of the border.

With the nationals taking place in Rockhampton and the sport still shaking off COVID-19, only 13 athletes will represent South Australia on the big stage compared to around 150 for Victoria.

“We have quite a lot of the state South Australian and Victorian teams here and it is a great opportunity for them to perform under pressure with nationals coming up in August,” Wilson said.

“To have the quality of the interstate people is important because we have quite a small contingent in South Australia and we have had a really strong contingent come from Victoria in the cadet and junior divisions.

“It has been great, especially for our juniors after having two years off due to COVID and it has given us a bit of an insight into what to expect at nationals.

“We have had quite a few Mount Gambier kids compete and some of them travel up to Adelaide, so it is good for them to see what kind of sport karate is and get a bit of a taste and hopefully they might be included into the state team over time.”

Not only did the SA Open Championships entertain on Sunday, a training camp took place on Saturday to fine tune the skills of the participants and Wilson said it was a tremendous experience for all, with some of the finest exponents of the martial art in town sharing their knowledge.

“We had some of the national coaches and national team members come from the Oceania Championships and take over some of the sessions,” she said.

“So for the junior athletes to get a bit of a taste of what senior level karate is like is great.

“It is pretty cool weekend and its all about giving them experience, so when they have to go to Melbourne or Adelaide for a competition, they know what it is all about.

“But its mainly focused on making sure the kids are having a good experience and getting them to come back.”

The locals were also lucky to hear the thoughts of Wilson, whose career includes multiple Oceania, junior and senior world championships and countless medals.

She only needed four years to be picked in her first state team after starting the sport at the age of 8, while she earned her first national call up in 1995 and has not looked back since.

Despite juggling work commitments and raising a young family over the years, Wilson’s career took her all over the world and even in her 40’s she almost reached the first ever Australian karate Olympic team.

However, all good things must come to an end and after more than a quarter of a century, she revealed the gloves will be hung up soon, but she will still stay involved in the sport she loves.

“I probably went to my last world championships in November, but I have been competing for a long time and been representing Australia for over 25 years,” Wilson said.

“So it is a bit sad, but I also feel super contempt with where I am at.

“Everyone wants to leave the sport in a better place than when they found it and I will still be involved coaching and helping out at events like this.

“For me it is about being someone to look up to for everyone, but particularly young females.

“I also like to be someone that helps coach and develop kids because the opportunity to give back to the sport which has given me so much awesome.”

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