Local and national Tae Kwon Do competitors converge
Along the west wall of the Bonner Springs High School gymnasium on Saturday, March 30, several men and women wearing only white cotton suits with black cloth belts stood and waited holding, waving, wielding their weapon.
Amazingly, this did not alarm the security guards at BSHS. Nor did it cause concern for the Bonner Springs Police Department.
Instead, it was your average Saturday morning at one of the many local, national and international karate tournaments that take place every weekend around the world. This one happened to land in Bonner Springs, and it was put on by Clifton's Tae Kwon Do studio, the No. 16-ranked Tae Kwon Do studio in the world according to one karate magazine.
Owner David Clifton said the event was everything he hoped it would be and then some.
"It was a success because we had so many national players from the National Blackbelt League that actually showed up," Clifton said. "For a local tournament that's very unusual. But we had a great mix of local competition and world-class competition, and that made it a great tournament."
Competitors from all across the United States, and even as far away as Canada, competed at the event.
Children as young as 5 years old and men as old as 45 brought their varying skills and different colored belts to the Midwest to challenge some of the best around. For some the faces were familiar. For others each turn brought a new vision. But for most, those faces, whether new or old, brought smiles.
"It's a blast, it always is," blackbelt Jon Waddle said during a break at the event. "Variety's great it's always nice to see some new faces in martial arts."
Waddle and his wife Kathy, who is also a black belt, are from Paola, Kan., and they travel to several tournaments throughout the year. Both said having a tournament like Clifton's recent event in their backyard is a huge advantage.
Valerie Bruce, a 15-year-old, second-degree blackbelt from Canada, was not so lucky. She traveled all the way from Toronto with one of her students so he could experience the event. Eleven-year-old Levi Tait traveled with Bruce to compete at the event. A day earlier, he earned his blackbelt at a different studio in Kansas City.
Bruce, with seven titles, has won more world championships than any woman in the history of the NBL. Because of that she said she is more used to competing at national tournaments where several different countries are represented. But she said the quaintness of Clifton's tournament was just as much fun.
"This is different than the national tournaments, but it's still a lot of fun," Bruce said. "I love watching the other kids especially in the musical divisions."
With that statement, Clifton said Bruce hit the nail on the head. For the older generation of Tae Kwon Do competitors in this case 15 years old and up a tournament like Clifton's is another fun event where the martial arts community gets a chance to catch up with each other. For the younger generation, it represents a chance to build a resume, make a name and win some trophies.
"The kids are the future of karate and you always want to inspire the kids to do their best," Clifton said. "Just to see the smile on their face after they compete makes it all worth it. They're a lot of fun to watch."