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Picayune dojo sends karate talent to world stage

Two Pearl River County natives will be representing the United States in 2019 World Karate Martial Arts Organization World Cup.

They will be competing by using Shotokan Karate, which is a specific type of karate founded by Gichin Funakoshi in Okinawa.

Known as the “Father of Karate,” Funakoshi brought his techniques to Japan, where in 1943 Hidetaka Nishiyama began training in Shotokan Karate under Funakoshi. Nishiyama brought Shotokan Karate to the United States in July of 1961. Eleven years later, Tom Kelly joined that dojo, and eventually became a sensei himself.

Kelly is a fifth degree black belt in Shotokan Karate, and has been involved in it for 47 years. He now uses that experience to pass on the techniques and principles to the students that come to his Picayune based dojo.

His prowess in teaching has led to his dojo producing two students, Hayden Walker and Katie Barkman, who will be participating in the 2019 World Karate Martial Arts Organization World Cup in Montecatini Terme, Italy from Nov. 21 to 24.

Walker and Barkman were both selected to represent the United States as part of the USSSA Karate National Team.

At the World Cup, Barkman and Walker will compete in Kata and Kumite.

Kata is the word for “form” in Japanese, and during the competition the two athletes will go through a series of techniques in front of officials. Kumite is the sparring aspect of Shotokan Karate, and both athletes will compete against athletes from over 120 countries who will also be at the World Cup.

When it comes to determining sparring opponents, weight, gender, and years of training are taken into account. Kelly said that because it is an international competition his athletes would need to adapt to the rules and regulations of the event. Walker doesn’t usually have to wear face protection when sparring, but for the World Cup he will.

Additionally, Burkman will be required to wear a chest plate for protection, a piece of equipment she normally doesn’t use in her training. These little differences meant that Kelly has been having his two athletes practice in that equipment so they’re used to it come competition time in November.

The road to get to the world stage was not easy for Burkman and Walker.

To get there, they both won gold medals at the Mississippi State Games in Meridian, Mississippi.

They then advanced to the USSSA Karate National Championship in Orlando, Fla., where they again won gold medals. Winning the second round of gold medals didn’t guarantee the two athletes a spot on the national team, but their performances were good enough to qualify them for the World Cup.

Now the athletes have just over a month to prepare before heading abroad and representing the United States on the biggest stage in competitive karate.