When I was younger and first started training, self-defense techniques and katas were strongly encouraged but not sparring.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started sparring and fell in love with it. Yet, the first couple of months were kind of rough as I started to apply everything I had learned and practiced into a full contact scenario.
Kenpo Girl sparring for her 3rd Brown belt.
For the longest time, when people saw my bruises from sparring, their expressions would go from concerned to shocked and slightly taken aback. They would ask,
“You let men hit you?”
“Only after I hit them first,” I would try to laugh it off but the humor was totally lost to them and I began to realize that not only sparring—but women sparring—was considered so taboo.
I keep telling people, but no one seems to believe me.
Little do they realize that sparring is equally crucial in Martial Arts as practicing katas and techniques.
When I attended a large tournament this summer, I was super excited to meet other martial artists who were equally as passionate about sparring as I am. One of these competitors is fellow Kenpo sister, Heather Flessing.
Heather Flessing, 2nd Degree Black belt in Kenpo and 1st Place winner for
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I grew up in a highly competitive family.
Family game night was banned with the fear that a simple card game could easily become a reenactment of an old western saloon bar brawl.
The competitiveness of my family destroyed me on competing.
When I went to watch my first tournament, The Long Beach International Martial Con, my intentions were to photograph the event and socialize with the participants and at absolutely no point compete.
The Dojo I train at primarily focuses on self-defense and Eskrima rather than point sparring and tournament katas. I was excited to attend due to the significance behind it. The Long Beach International Martial Con was originally the Long Beach International Karate Championships and was founded by Grand Master Ed Parker Sr.
For Martial Artists living under a rock, Ed Parker was the founder of the American Kenpo System. He created the Long Beach Internationals in 1964. Many famous Martial Artists such as Chuck Norris, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez and “Superfoot” Bill Wallace have established their reputations as world class fighters at the Long Beach Internationals.
It became an annual event and in 1967 Bruce Lee was introduced for the first time to the Martial Arts community and demonstrated his one-inch punch and two finger push-ups
Bruce Lee demonstration at Long Beach Internationals.
It has been many years since the birth of the Long Beach Internationals and is now known as the Long Beach International Martial Con and run by Steve Cooper. Yet I still expected to see finely tuned techniques, katas and good sparring. The first day was black belts, and when I looked at the schedule and saw 12 and under black belts, I will admit I was skeptical.
In my Lineage we have an age requirement of 16 to be a black belt. I’ve always agreed with this because I have always felt being a black belt is more than just skill. There’s a maturity and intellectual aspect I have always associated with being a black belt.
Maturity and Intellectual are not the first adjectives that come to my mind when talking about 12 year olds…
I spoke first to Trinity Harnden, 11 years old and black belt, who had started training when she was 5 years old. She started first competing when she was 6 years old. She had won 3rd in the Self-Defense Techniques that day. Her advice to student’s thinking of competing was,
“They need to follow their heart. Breathe in and out (during competition) and you’ll be fine.”
Trinity Harnden executing her self defense technique.
Pretty mature and intellectual for an 11 year old.
Another 11 year old Black Belt I spoke with was Briannah McGee. She won 1st in Weapons in the 12 and under age group. She started training with the Bo Staff around age 5 or 6 and has been competing from a young age,
“You need to just pretend its practice and breathe.”
Winners of the American Kenpo Self Defense 12 & Under Black belt.
(left) Second Place Mikaela Mata Morose, (center) First Place Briannah McGee, (right) Third Place Trinity Harnden.
I watched many competitors shine in their victory I also saw many drowning in their loss. It was in the moment of water bottles flying and fists colliding with tables and doors, that I realized competitors were forgetting the true benefits and unconscious purpose of tournaments.
Tournaments aren’t just about winning trophies or plaques. Everyone has trophies, especially from tournaments that have been around as long as the Long Beach Internationals. My friend Skye Byerly a 15 year old Black belt in Shotokan and Taekwondo was competing at the Long Beach Internationals for the first time and said,
“It’s my first time here (Long Beach Internationals) but I’m making friends from all over and networking.”
Skye Byerly competing with her Bo Staffs
It’s about the experience.
I had the privilege of not just meeting these young black belts but getting to meet Bob White, 9th Degree Black belt, historical Tournament Champion and Hall of Famer.
Kenpo Girl with Bob & Barbara White
Everyone student who shows up and gets on the mat at these tournaments is already winners.
“Don’t be afraid of people who have been competing for a while.”
We have to remember our ultimate goal is to be better than we were the day before.
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Jesalyn Mae Harper
Hello my name is Jesalyn. I'm a divorced single mom and a karate addict...
I am currently a 1st Brown belt in American Kenpo and a Junior Instructor at Double Dragon Kenpo Karate under JR Diaz, I am part of the Parker/Planas Lineage and study Karbaroan Eskrima with JR Diaz, under Guro Ed Planas
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