Karate kids: Apache Junction kenpo team brings home seven first-place trophies

Four kids, seven first-place wins. Members of the kenpo karate class offered by Apache Junction Parks and Recreation fared well during an international competition last month.

Patrick Allison, Rheanna Allison, Ryan Gilbert and Kayla Gilbert each earned at least one world champion title competing in the 2015 Master Stan Witz’s USA World Championships held June 26-28 in Las Vegas.

About 3,200 competitors from as far away as Africa and the Philippines participated in the open competition, Mr. Witz, the event promoter, said during a phone interview.

When asked about the Apache Junction team, he said, “I believe they did well. I tip my hat to the Arizona instructor who put his kids up against so many competitors from around the world.”

The two brother-sister duos earned their world championship titles while representing the local parks and recreation program.

Ryan, 14, competed in the advanced division for ages 14-15. He won his first place trophy in Traditional Forms. He also placed third in Traditional Weapons. Kayla, 11, competed in the intermediate division for ages 10-11. She earned her first place trophy in Extreme Forms and in Traditional Forms. She also placed second in Extreme Weapons and third place in Musical Weapons and Musical Forms.

Patrick, 16, competed in the black belt division for ages 16-17, where he won first place in three disciplines: Grappling, Musical Weapons and Musical Forms. He also placed second in Traditional Form and Traditional Weapons. Rheanna, 12, competed in the intermediate division for ages 12-13. She placed first in Extreme Weapons, second in Musical Weapons and third in Musical Forms and Continuous Sparring.

Their instructor, Pete Rodriguez, has taught kenpo karate for about 30 years, 15 of those for Arizona Parks and Recreation, he said during a phone interview. He said his team practices the basics year-round and held about six practice sessions geared specifically toward the USA World Championships.

He said kenpo is an American version of the martial art karate. It is not a traditional martial art where all students perform each move in the same way, he said, Instead, it is unique in that the moves are tailored to the student, he said.

“A certain punch can be done various ways to fit the individual,” he said.

Patrick, who won first place in his division in Mixed Martial Arts at the same competition last year, likes kenpo because he gets to perform different moves each day, he said during a phone interview.

“It’s not always the same thing,” he said.

Patrick said he devotes eight to 10 hours attending five martial arts classes each week. Of those, three are with the Apache Junction Parks and Recreation program. Locally, he helps students in the kenpo classes for youths.

He said it “feels really good” to win a world championship.

“We train really hard. There are a lot of good people there,” he said.

Patrick and Rheanna’s dad, John, said he selected the local parks and recreation class because it was cheaper than some martial arts schools he researched. He was happy when the kids liked it, he said during a phone interview.

Apache Junction Parks and Recreation charges $35 for a series of about eight kenpo karate classes for ages 8-12, according to the department website. The 45-minute classes are held starting at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays during about a one-month period; some class durations vary, according to the website.

Mr. Rodriguez said he thought his Apache Junction team was the only group representing a parks and recreation program rather than a karate school. Mr. Witz could not confirm that.

Even so, Mr. Rodriguez said he is very proud of his students.

“At those levels of competition, everyone they compete against is at their top level; they’re winning or losing by tenths of a point,” he said.

In late January, the first-place winners will return to Las Vegas for a special recognition ceremony where they will receive a plaque from the International Martial Arts Council of America, Mr. Witz said.

Reach staff writer Wendy Miller at wmiller@newszap.com

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