Junior Louis Ridgway dives to the left, dodging an oncoming blow. He bounces on his toes, hands flashing, and strikes, smacking the side of his opponent’s helmet. Ridgway and his opponent back off and bump fists to signify the end of one round, and the start of another.
Ridgway and a mix of trainers and instructors rotate through, taking chances to fight each other on the red foam floor. There is an underlying scent of rubber surrounding the bags and weaponry amongst which Ridgway maneuvers, his black belt tied loosely around his hips.
This practice is the usual for juniors Louis Ridgway and Jason Pugh who both train at Amerikick, a national martial arts association. They jog several times across the room, stretch, work on their core muscles, and most of all, fight. At these practices, Ridgway trains in tae kwon do, karate, and goju-ryu. Pugh trains in karate and tae kwan do. All three categories are under the heading of martial arts, however, they differ in their origin and the technique used. Goju-ryu consists of more open-handed techniques such as chopping and that is also where weapons such as the bo staff come in. The bo staff, which Pugh trains with, is a wooden stick about the same height as Pugh. In a routine, Pugh spins and moves the bo staff in strict motions around his body.
“Tae Kwon do is centered around punching and low kicks whereas karate is more high kicks and stuff like that,” Ridgway said.
There is another practice that both boys go to, which is geared towards preparing for tournaments. This is where Ridgway and Pugh branch out and focus on their specialties; Ridgway’s is fighting, Pugh’s weapons.
In martial arts tournaments, each age group is broken up into divisions such as traditional forms, creative weapons, and a variety of others. Ridgway’s favorite and the one he trains for most is fighting. In point-fighting, the type Ridgway competes in, competitors can earn points if two of the three judges agree they landed a hit: one point for punches, two points for kicks. To protect himself, Ridgway wears foam gloves, shin pads, foot pads and head gear with a mask. Each round is two minutes long and at the end the person with the most points wins.
“If I won I’m happy and glad it’s over because it’s hard work,” Ridgway said. “But if I lose then I’m mad and I think of where I could have been better and what things I need to work on.”
Martial arts tournament are typically held in gyms or hotels where there are large spaces available. They are broken up into rooms with foam mats on the ground.
Before entering into a match at a tournament, Ridgway waits outside the room. He goes over his form several times: to the left first, punch hard and breath out, then to the right and forward with three punches. Ridgway stretches to the beats of Eminem to get him in the zone and to keep his body warm and ready to fight. Right before entering, Ridgway paces back and forth, mentally preparing himself for the competition.
“I think about the forms and poses I need to remember,” Ridgway said. “I never watch whoever’s going before me so that I can stay focused. Just before they’re done I wait outside the rink and get ready to go.”
This method seems to work for Ridgway. In most local tournaments he wins the fighting division out of about five or ten people. His biggest success has been at the AKA Grand Nationals which were held in Chicago this year. This national tournament has around 1000 people competing in it. Ridgway placed second in fighting out of 20 competitors in his age group.
Another division that Ridgway competes in besides fighting is traditional forms. In traditional forms, Ridgway performs a routine of moves that has been passed down through the style over the years. These moves could be anything from a simple step to the right, then forward three punches to the much more complicated combinations of blocks, slower moves, and kicks.
When competing in traditional forms, Ridgway is judged on a number of things including how deep his stances are, how clean his strikes are, and how loud he is.
“Being loud basically means that with certain moves where you’re breathing out and striking, you yell to show power,” Ridgway said.
Although Ridgway competes in and enjoys traditional forms, his forte is fighting.
As far as national rankings go, Ridgway does not compete in enough tournaments to be nationally recognized.
“I’m not especially serious about it,” Ridgeway said. “It’s more just for fun and I enjoy it.”
On the opposite end is Pugh who wants to step up the amount of competitions he takes part in. Pugh’s specialty is weapons, which is a combination of karate and tae kwon do. In this division, he performs a one minute routine, which is a pattern of movements and form with the weapon of his choice: the bo staff. When Pugh first started karate, his instructor used the bo staff and Pugh always wanted to learn it. With the bo staff, he performs moves such as a palm spin, which is when Pugh spins the bo staff on his palm above his head.
The biggest tournament Pugh has been to was an international competition in Scotland. To go to this tournament, Pugh traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to try out for the U.S. national team. In the weeks leading up to tryouts, Pugh trained after school for several hours with his instructor Jarrett Leiker and a fellow student, Jackson Finlay, a junior at Rockhurst high school.
“I had to practice a lot leading up to it and then the tryout was basically just a tournament,” Pugh said.
Out of the ten people that tried out, Pugh was one of the three that made the team in his division and age group. There were 80 people on the team as a whole, ranging from 7-year-old kids to adults. To prepare for the Scotland tournament, Pugh trained with Leiker and Finlay the usual amount, plus extra hours before school.
The team traveled to Scotland for a week but Pugh only had to compete on two of those days. Each day Pugh would spend much of his time watching fellow team mates and friends from the German team compete. He also had free time to walk around Edinburgh and to get lunch and dinner with friends.
One of the main differences Pugh noticed was that he was competing against people who didn’t even speak English.
“Competition-wise it didn’t make a difference,” Pugh said, “but it was just interesting not being able to talk to the kid you’re going against.”
At this international tournament, Pugh earned a bronze medal, helping the U.S. to finish in the top three countries who competed.
Besides helping his team to earn a medal, Pugh gained friends in Scotland. His instructor is good friends with some members of the German team so Pugh was with them a lot.
“On the last day, it’s sort of tradition at this tournament to trade your team gear with people from other countries,” Pugh said, “So I traded my U.S. warm-ups with someone from the German team and I traded a U.S. shirt for a Wales shirt.”
Pugh and Ridgway have had different experiences through martial arts, but both come away with a feeling of accomplishment. For Pugh, that sense comes after a big win at a tournament where all the hard work comes together with success. For Ridgway, martial arts has helped build his character.
“Martial arts has helped me to be confident in what I do and to make sure that I am disciplined and work hard to achieve something,” Ridgway said. “It has taught me how to be confident in what I’m presenting and putting out there for people and also it’s taught me to be competitive and strive after what I achieve.”