Karate is more than just breaking boards, as any student at Rising Sun Karate in Stevenson Ranch will tell you.
“I get that question every time,” said Kevin Stevens with a smile. “‘You do karate, right? Oh, so you break boards,’ and it’s like, ‘No.’”
Four students at Rising Sun, in particular, have dedicated an enormous amount of time and dedication to studying the ancient art, and in the process, earning a spot on the USA National Team, a feat that involved much more than just breaking boards.
Students Kevin Stevens, 17; Kieran Tamondong, 16; Rachel Lam, 12; and Aiden Lewis, 12, each qualified for the national team and a trip to the Pan American Games next month in Ecuador, after competing at the USA Team Trials in Chicago July 9-14.
“It’s really exciting,” said Randy Word, owner of Rising Sun and head sensei. “All four of them work really hard, so to see them accomplish a goal they’ve been working on all year is very fulfilling.”
It’ll be Stevens’ sixth trip to the Pan Ams, and he’s returning as a more determined athlete than ever. Last year, he won silver after losing to a Venezuelan athlete in the finals. He’ll most likely face the same opponent, and Stevens wants to be ready.
Now that he’s older, karate has taken on a new meaning in his life that goes beyond redemption in competition.
“It’s been more of a personal journey,” he said. “So I come here and I walk here, a lot, alone, at like 10 at night when no one is here, without my friends.”
Tamondong will be competing in the Pan Ams for the third time, and additionally qualified for the World Championships in Chile.
He has been studying karate for over 12 years and like Stevens, began to take the sport more seriously as he aged and matured.
“At a young age, I always wanted to aspire to be, like, a Power Ranger; but then it kind of morphed into wanting to better myself,” he said. “I also learned better life skills and all that. And going up the ranks of like, from green to red to brown belt, I just got better at my craft and thought maybe I could compete with this.”
Lam and Lewis will each travel to the Pan Ams for the first time. At 12 years old, the pair qualified in their first year of eligibility.
Lam is also the first female from Rising Sun to qualify for the USA National Team, and she remembers the moment she made the cut. She won by one flag in the semifinal round of the Kata variation of Karate to join the team.
“In Kata, they have three judges in the front and two judges in the back,” she said. “They do red or blue flags and I won 3-2 by one flag and, immediately, I ran after we bowed off, I ran off the mat and I just hugged my sensei, my other coaches and then my teammates were running already to the gate.”
Lewis, who will attend Rio Norte Junior High with Lam in the upcoming school year, is equally excited that he qualified for the National Team. He’s taking his training even more seriously in the weeks leading up to the Pan Ams.
“I have to get a lot better because this like, it’s the best of the best from every country,” he said. “So just trying to improve everything. So that’s kind of the approach. Improve as much as I can in the time I’m given.”
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There are two types of karate that the four students can compete in: Kata, pronounced KAH-tah, which is rooted in movement and patterns, and Kumite, pronounced KOO-mait, which involves sparring.
Tamondong qualified in both styles, while Stevens qualified in Kata, Lewis in Kumite and Rachel in Kata.
Although each student is different, and will compete in different styles, Word says that their sense of team and support for each other will be valuable in the Pan Ams, which are set to take place Aug. 26 to Sept. 2.
“They’re really close,” said Word, who is also a Team USA coach. “They train together, they’re in classes together, they’re there cheering each other on, so even though it is an individual sport, as much teamwork as they show is amazing.”