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USA Karate’s ‘highest level of competition’: The Podium hosts sport’s championships through the weekend

June 29, 2022 Updated Thu., June 30, 2022 at 10:02 p.m.

Brian Irr, front, walks with fellow athletes during the parade of champions, in front of the Podium on Thursday. In 2019, Irr won a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Brian Irr, front, walks with fellow athletes during the parade of champions, in front of the Podium on Thursday. In 2019, Irr won a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
By Julien A. Luebbers The Spokesman-Review

The USA National Karate Championships and Team Trials kicked off on Thursday at the Podium in downtown Spokane.

Teams from all across the United States, including athletes from Hawaii and Alaska, will be gathering all weekend for the competition.

“This will be the highest level of competition domestically for most of the athletes here” said Brody Burns, tournament director .

Competitions run through Sunday to determine the national champions across a range of age divisions, including athletes 5 to 34, and in karate’s two events: kata and kumite.

“Kata is individual performance,” Burns explained. “It is what most people would think about, like when they’re watching Karate Kid and he’s doing his work on the beach where they’re perfecting form and the performance of the karate.”

Athletes are judged in their performance by a panel of judges.

By contrast, Burns said, “kumite is the actual combat, that is the fighting part of the sport.” Two athletes face each other and compete for points granted for different types of hits.

It has been an important couple of years for karate, with the sport making its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. According to Burns, karate’s inclusion benefits coaches of the sport everywhere, lending it more weight and value. Burns is also the head kumite coach for Team USA.

There is a lot on the line for the athletes this weekend. In addition to being crowned national champion in their division, many are competing for a spot on the United States National Junior Team, and a spot in the Cadet, Junior & U21 Pan American Championships in Mexico City later this summer. The top position out of the juniors also will go to the Junior World Championships in Turkey.

Tom Scott, U.S. Olympian and 15-time national champion, was present at the event but not competing because of the upcoming World Games in Birmingham, Alabama. “I love it every year,” he said of the national championships.

“It’s the culmination of a great deal of work for pretty much everybody here,” said Anish Dave, a competitor from Texas. “It’s the last big event of the year. It allows us to show what we’ve done or qualify for our U.S. national team. It’s just a big opportunity.”

The Podium offers plenty of space and seating for the competition, which consists of eight mats, or tatami, operating simultaneously. At any given time, these mats might all be occupied by competitors from various divisions, meaning there is always something to watch.

“Karate is new to Spokane,” said Dana Haynes of Spokane Sports. “We’ve never hosted an event for them before and we couldn’t be more thrilled with how the first day has gone, how this event shaped up, and how the community has been welcoming to all of the athletes and spectators.”

Thursday evening, the event held a rally to honor the athletes of Team USA. “It’s to celebrate our U.S. team for such a great year they’ve had so far. We just won overall at the Pan-American championships in Curacao (last month),” Burns said.

The athletes are going to Birmingham, Alabama for the World Games next week. Burns encouraged those present to wish them luck and tune in to support the team.

The U.S. karate team walked up the long ramp to the rear deck of the Podium, as fans and athletes eagerly awaited them from the railing, waving flags and cheering. The athletes walked through the crowds and then mingled among them, posing for photos, taking selfies and conversing.

As they paraded through the Karate crowd, they greeted coaches and athletes with fist bumps or high fives, often asking how they were.

“It’s neat to kind of see the familiar faces and ask them how they’re doing,” Scott said . “It’s a close, smaller-knit community.”

The competition is ongoing, and will continue through Sunday’s elite championships. Tickets and more information are available through the Podium’s website at thepodiumusa.com/events.

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