Okinawan Karate Association, Inc.
On Saturday, September 30, 2006 Master Ralph Passero, Ku-Dan hosted the Annual Don Nagle AOKA. Inc. Tournament at the Marist High School in Bayonne, New Jersey. As many suggested Master Passero is an excellent host and amiable entrepreneur in the martial arts. The Grandstands were packed and there were somewhere near 350 competitors for the special plaques that Ralph had purchased. Once again, he came up with an unusual trophy; plaques, appropriately engraved for the particular event and placement for the contestant, with a slot for a picture of that contestant, taken immediately after their win, on the plaque. It was a nice touch and made the award personal. In fact, the plaques were so expensive that, I am sure, that Master Passero undoubtedly either broke even or lost money.
As the Grand Master, I spoke to the crowd, asking them to remember my Sensei, ďThe Living Legend Don NagleĒ and ensured the crowd that they would see some great karate during the day. The competitors made sure that I was right. Every one of the contestants stood together and ripped out a thunderous Kiai in honor of Grand Master Don Nagle. After that we faced the flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance to our wonderful nation.
The higher rank black belts, who showed up to Sin ban, were excellently chosen and did an excellent job. These volunteers spent the entire day working their ring, without one complaint from any contestant. That is an extraordinary performance by these Masters. The matches from the youngsters to the adult black belts were exciting and showed aggressive tendencies, as is normal in an Isshin-ryu tournament and yet, there were no injuries, showing outstanding precision.
The tournament then turned to the Team Fighting portion of the tournament, which was an innovation recently added to the regular matches. It has become a highlight of the day. The defending Champions were the IIKA Fighting Team was waiting to defend the title they won in 2005. David Gabbard had brought his co-ed team up from Tennessee to New Jersey. I know that this group has a close friendship amongst their team. I have been to their dojo and know that the students are made to work out as hard as Master Gabbard did while he was a perennial Champion. As it turned out, Ernie Templeís Fighting Team vied for that Team Championship against the Tennessee team, in both Womenís and Menís Team Fighting.
Both teams were well trained and well conditioned and the bouts for the Team Championship would demonstrate that readiness. The women fought first and the matches took place in two separate rings, simultaneously. Foretelling the outcome of those matches, Julie Gabbard took third place and her trophy in kata.
All of the matches were exciting and very close, with excellent technique. At the end of five rounds we had a tie, 11 to 11 points. That set up a tiebreaker for the win and another perennial champion, Sandra Strong of Tennessee led her match throughout the bout, winning by a score of 5 to 1. They were then awarded their individual Championship Belt; this would be their second belt, winning the previous championship. After the menís elimination, Ernie Templeís group was set up to fight David Gabbardís team. It was a tense series of bouts, but the final score was IIKA 19 points, Templeís fighters 7 points.
Congratulations to both teams for a terrific effort in both menís and womenís matches, between David Gabbardís team and Ernie Templeís team, who were both, looking for nothing but excellence. The crowd loved the team fighting and showed it by their cheering for both teams. Every one finished their match, looking like real Proís. At the end of five rounds the scores were at an 11 to 11 tie. One round extra would determine the winner and the competitors were each teamís best womenís fighters, Sandra Strong for the IIKA and she won the match at 5 to 1. Then the menís division was up and again it was the IIKA against Ernie Templeís team. It was an intense set of matches with either opponent looking as though they could win the bout. The final score, however, was 19 to 7 for the IIKA.
Grand Master McGrath and Master Ralph Passero, our host, congratulated both teams, for their fighting skill and avoidance of any clashes.
The Ladies Grand Championship was now set up and again, Sandra Strong would vie for the Championship. Waiting for the match was Donna Abercrombie. They got the start for a great match, with Strong winning by 3 to 2. Seeded as the Defending Champion from the last yearís tournament winner was Theresa Barnette, The Ladies Champion. This would be the fight of the year. It would be a two round, total points match for the Grand Championship. The technique shown was excellent, as a Championship fight should be. The match was a patchwork of points between the contestants and at the end of the two official rounds the score was tied at 11 to 11, setting up a third round and everyone in the crowd was silent and on the edge of their seats. Theresa fought hard and managed to retain her title of Ladies Champion against one of the best womenís fighters of all time, giving Theresa Barnette back-to-back Championships. It was quite a show that these two competitors put on for the crowd, which erupted at the end of the extra round. Both of these young women showed a lot of heart, during a grueling three round barn-burner. Congratulations to both of these terrific fighters.
Ed McGrath, Ju-Dan
Grand Master, The Art of Isshin-ryu