Franklin county man to compete for world title

STRONG – Milt Baston went to Mike Cook 23 years ago for an insurance policy and he got one all right.

Under sensei Cook’s tutelage, he has become one of the most skilled Shotokan Karate competitors in the country. And later this month, the 49-year-old Baston will see how his dexterity matches up with those from around the world at the eighth Shotokan Karate International Foundation’s World Championships.

“I am definitely going with the intentions to do my best,” says the Strong native. “Even if I don’t though, it’s still a wonderful experience.”

A logger and a registered Maine Guide, Baston spends his days working the woods and just when others are putting their feet up to watch the news, he heads to the Farmington dojo owned by Cook, a former insurance agent and now a real estate appraiser, to go through the paces that balance his mind and body.

Cook’s dojo, or training place, has been open since 1972, making it the longest continuing traditional karate school in the state. Nightly classes bring together students ages 6 to 61, working in harmony to tune their movement and build their characters.

Cook recommended the martial arts form to Baston 23 years ago and before the lumberjack even walked through the door, he knew karate was a pursuit that would captivate his body and tune his mind.

“Initially, it was the love of physical movement that attracted me to karate, but over the years, it’s become the union between the mental and physical that’s kept me coming in,” Baston, now a fourth degree black belt explains.

Unlike some forms of Eastern fighting, karate is an art, not a sport, Baston stresses. The intent is not to hurt an opponent, although it does happen as the Strong man can attest to, rubbing his jaw, which has been broken before.

The goal is to unify mind and body and as Master Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan says, “The ultimate aim of karate lies not in the victory or defeat but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”

The principals of the Shotokan dojo is to seek perfection of character, to be honest and sincere, to show strong spirit, to practice courtesy, and to control bad tempers.

At the world championships, which will be held in Durban, South Africa, Baston will be one of six competitors representing the United States against opponents from 66 other countries.

He will compete in the 45-50 age category in three categories: kata, a pre-arranged routine that shows off a person’s form and is judged like gymnastics; team kata, where Baston and a teammate will do a synchronized kata and single-elimination sparring, where he will match up against an opponent for one 2-minute round.

During that round, competitors will be awarded point for offensive techniques by a panel of five judges. The first to reach 1.5 points wins.

Often, matches go into overtime or even sudden death.

At 5 feet 6 inches tall, Baston doesn’t appear a tough fighter. But it’s not the first time Baston will face the best from around the world. He’s competed in international tournaments in Las Vegas before, and once was awarded second place in the 45-50 age group in a field of 54 competitors. At home in Strong, he’s got piles of trophies and ribbons, attesting to his 23 years of perseverance.

Cook, who nominated Baston to go to South Africa, is proud of his student. More importantly, he respects him.

“I think he’s got a hell of a chance. Milt is very disciplined and works like hell. He’s very sincere in what he’s doing. Milt’s not out to make a million bucks or be in a movie, he’s just out there to become a good, all-around karate person. He’s a hell of a guy. Milt’s going to make the state proud and our dojo proud. I’ve got great confidence in him.”

Karate has taught Baston many things: perseverance, tenacity and that any situation can be attacked from different angles, he says.

“It’s a lifelong study. I can’t quit now, I’ve been coming for so long I just have to keep coming. It keeps me young and keeps my joints lubricated,” he says and then adds with a chuckle, “I dodge falling limbs in the woods much better now.”

For more information about Shotokan Karate, log on to http://www.maineshotokan-skif.com/ or call Mike Cook at 778-0413.


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