Yuki Torres won four first place medals at the 2018 Ozawa Cup International Karate Tournament in Las Vegas. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
GREENE — With every confident, deliberate step on the floor, members of JKA Maine Karate Academy have helped put Maine on the map in the sport of karate.
Some of the Greene academy’s members took a weekend trip to Las Vegas last weekend and came home champions.
The Academy’s athletes earned 16 total medals at the Ozawa Cup International Karate Tournament, including eight golds.
“I was very, very proud of what they accomplished,” Sensei Ferdie Torres said. “The competition out there, it’s really tough.”
Sensei Khim Torres said the Ozawa Cup is the second-biggest event the academy competes in, behind only the World Cup, which members attended last summer in Ireland. The Ozawa Cup had more than 600 competitors from a dozen countries, according to Sensei Khim.
“Going to tournaments is always, it’s kind of like a test for yourself,” Bruce Luong said. “You can see what areas you’re strong in, and which ones you’re weak in, and where you can improve, because you’re competing against people that you’re not used to.”
Luong grabbed one of two silvers for JKA Maine, with a runner-up in the 18-and-up male black belt division for Kumite.
The other silver came from Michael Umayam, who finished behind fellow academy competitor Yuki Torres in the 15-to-17-year-old male black belt Kumite.
“Practicing with Yuki, it like drives me to try to beat him,” Umayam said.
Torres called it a “friendly rivalry.”
The two performed together, along with Ben Farris, in the 17-and-under brown and black belt co-ed Team Kata. The trio, in only their second time performing together after forming a team less than two months ago, won gold.
“We knew we were going to win,” Torres said.
The team from JKA Maine was last to go, and Umayam said “everyone was quiet. Everyone just watched us.”
They felt like they had won as soon as they were done.
Torres was done, physically. He and Farris had taken part in the USA Open last weekend, as well (the Open was at the Paris Hotel, across the street from the Ozawa Cup at the Flamingo Hotel), and then most of his Ozawa Cup events were all bunched together.
That didn’t stop him from taking home four golds, which was the best for any youth competitor at the event.
“It felt pretty good because the last time I went to the Ozawa Cup, I got two bronze — one for Kata, one for Kumite — and so it was like kind of shocking. Four medals.”
Torres said participating in the USA Open was a good warm-up for Ozawa Cup. Farris, who made it into the second round of the fighting tournament, said “it kind of prepared me, get me ready to (compete)” at Ozawa Cup.
Farris finished fourth in both the Kata and Kubodo for male advanced 13-14 year olds. Umayam grabbed a gold of his own in the 15-to-17-year-old Kubodo.
Ariana Touchette-Ruiz was the lone female JKA Maine member to place, getting third in both the Kata and Kumite for the 10-to-12-year-old female black belt division.
“It felt good, because I know that I did well enough to place in my division, but next time I’m hoping to do even better.”
Academy members of all ages were part of the success. Rich Boucher and Tom Osgood both placed in the 18-and-over Kata for male brown belt, with Boucher winning gold and Osgood bronze.
“I just knew what I had to do, what the judges were looking for,” Boucher said. “I knew when I was done I had it. I felt good about it.”
“It felt good to place, but at the same it made me want to train harder for the next time,” Osgood said.
That means more training with Boucher.
“We work together a lot. We kind of push each other all the time,” Boucher said. “Some days he’s got it, and some days I got it.”
The competition is always friendly, however.
That’s how it is with all the members at JKA Maine.
“We have a good support system,” Luong said.
Those cheers from fellow members during the tournament led to a hefty haul of hardware. It also put the other competitors on notice.
“It feels pretty good because the last time we went to the Ozawa Cup people were asking where we were from. And we said ‘Maine,’ and they were like, ‘Where is that at? Is that in another country? Is that in Canada?'” Yuki Torres said. “So bringing Maine into the map of karate is pretty awesome. We had to carry that. Represent.”
“Think about JKA Maine as the one who sets the standard,” Sensei Ferdie said.
The academy’s success at Ozawa Cup garnered an invite to a tournament in Scotland in June. Before that, though, the academy will be hosting an international tournament of its own on May 19 at Lewiston High School.
Ariana Touchette performs a weapons routine at the JKA Maine Karate Academy in Greene. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
Ben Farris, Yuki Torres and Michael Umayam begin their Team Kata for which they won first place at the 2018 Ozawa Cup International Karate Tournament in Las Vegas. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
Yuki Torres leads warmups at karate class at JKA Maine Karate Academy in Greene recently. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
Sensei Ferdinand Torres practices some drills with student Michael Umayam at a recent practice at JKA Maine Karate Academy. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)