Eight members of JKA Maine Academy will represent Team USA at the Funakoshi Gichin Karate World Cup in Limerick, Ireland August 17-20. Left to right are Sensei Khim Torres, Michael Umayam, Rosh Torres, Ariana Tourchette, Mika Torres, Ben Farris, Yuki Torres and Sensei Ferdie Torres.
GREENE — A year ago, students at JKA Maine Karate Academy were breaking down barriers — literally.
They’re about to the same thing in the figurative sense, when six students and one sensei compete at the 14th Funakoshi Gichin Cup, which is the world championships for JKA-style karate.
JKA Maine only opened a year ago, with students helping create the dojo by knocking holes in drywall using karate techniques to increase the size of the training space in their small building.
In just a year’s time, the academy is sending a half-dozen students and Sensei Khim Torres to Limerick, Ireland, to compete at the world championships as part of Team USA. Sensei Ferdie Torres, whose vision created JKA Maine, will be a coach for the team.
“I am very excited for them. I think they should be going there,” Sensei Ferdie said. “They worked hard, they did whatever we told them to do, and I think we are ready. I am very proud of them for what they’ve accomplished.”
Rosh Torres, son of Sensei Khim and nephew of Sensei Ferdie, called all that’s happened at JKA Maine in its first year “a fun journey.”
The journey has been even longer for Sensei Ferdie, who came to the U.S. from his native Philippines in 1992.
“To go to Ireland, the world championships, that’s always been my dream, to produce somebody in Maine to represent the United States in class like this, for the karate world championships,” Sensei Ferdie said.
Sensei Ferdie learned karate from his uncle, Khim’s father, who told Sensei Ferdie to not stop practicing karate when he moved to the United States. He never stopped, and eventually joined Rich Pelletier of Pelletier’s Academy in Lewiston and trained under Pelletier.
Pelletier’s death in 2013 eventually led to Sensei Ferdie making JKA Maine a reality.
“I know in Maine we have a lot of talent, but sometimes they never get a chance to do it,” Sensei Ferdie said.
The contingent of brothers Rosh and Yuki Torres, cousin Mika Torres, as well as Michael Umayam, Ben Farris and Ariana Touchette — the most athletes from one dojo on Team USA to make the world championships — helps prove that talent.
“It’s not just invited to the world cup,” Sensei Ferdie said. “First I have them try out — like Sensei Khim, they have been to tryouts for the U.S. team. You have to be on the team to represent who’s going to be on the U.S. team.”
The students had to show their mettle at regional, national and international tournaments, and then get a recommended to a tryout.
“They cleaned house,” Sensei Ferdie said. “Easily, no doubt, that they deserve to be on the U.S. team.”
“It’s been kind of cool going to the (tournaments) before and seeing how much we’ve progressed,” Farris said. “You kind of test your skills and see how much you need to improve, what you need to improve on, and use that for worlds.”
A big boon for Sensei Ferdie and his fledgling dojo was getting Sensei Khim to uproot from San Francisco and join him in Maine.
Sensei Ferdie said it took a long talk and some time to convince Sensei Khim to make the move.
“I think it’s the passion that brought me here,” Sensei Khim said.
“He’s like a brother to me,” he said of his cousin. “Of course I can’t say no to him.”
Sensei Khim will be competing in his fourth world championships. He said “it was a lot of work” to make it every time.
A lot of work has been put in by both sensei and the students to prepare for the world championships. A normal training week is 90 minutes a day, four times a week. That is increased to five or six days before most tournaments.
But for the world championships, a commitment of two hours a day, seven days a week was a must.
Umayam admitted it’s “a lot” of commitment, and he said he’s questioned his commitment. But getting the chance to compete at the world championships and traveling to Ireland has made it worth it.
“It was very hard at the beginning,” Touchette added, “but once we got used to the toughness of the training, it got easier and easier, as it went through our muscles and we remembered it.”
Senseis Ferdie and Khim also join in the training, which includes working on conditioning and plyometrics at Bates College every Sunday.
“As their coach, as their leader, I train with them,” Sensei Ferdie said.
Sensei Khim said the students and sensei push each other, admitting that he has to hide soreness some days, and is amazed when his students do the same.
“It’s kind of cool to see that not just the students that are the ones competing, but also the adults have to do the training too,” Yuki Torres said. “If we’re in pain, (they’re) in pain.”
The training has brought the group closer together. Sensei Khim said this dojo is more tight-knit than the one he was a part of in San Francisco.
“One thing that I really love about the dojo is we move as one unit,” Sensei Khim said. “We’re like a team.”
Niece Mika Torres took the togetherness one step further, calling the group a family.
“We basically go everywhere with each other,” Mika said.
The half-dozen students and sensei duo will now be going across the Atlantic Ocean together for the world championships, which take place August 17-20.
“That’s going to be a whole new level of different people that you have to compete against,” Yuki Torres said.
“We’re competing not just for our dojo, but for our whole country,” Touchette said, admitting some added pressure.
“The only problem that I’m looking (at) right now is if they get nervous because it’s their first time there,” Sensei Khim said. “But I think with the mental preparation, and the physical preparation, they will overcome that.”
Sensei Ferdie said he thinks his students have a good chance to do well. He said “everybody is beatable,” and his students have to want it.
“Our goal is to get to the podium and have first place, but as long as we do our best and strive for at least the top, we’ll be golden,” Farris said.