2012-05-18 / Sports

Rockaway Martial Artist Brings Tournament To Gateway

By Stuart Mirsky

Local martial artist and seventh degree Shotokan karate black belt Bruce Hodes recently organized and presented the exciting 21st annual Metropolitan AAU Karate Champion ships at the Aviator Sports Complex in Floyd Bennett Field.

Held on April 29, the event brought together almost 200 martial artists, ages five through adult, to compete in a wide range of traditional martial arts events that included kata (fixed routine competition), kumite (sparring) and kobudo (weapons routines). Com petitors faced each other, both individually and in teams, from areas in and around the Greater Metropolitan New York area, including Long Island, Albany and Connecticut.

Sensei Hodes, who runs one of the oldest karate dojos in the metropolitan area, World Champions Karate on 112- 20 Beach Channel Drive, is chairman of the New York Metropolitan Amateur Athletic Union Karate division which sponsored the event.

In this capacity, Rockaway’s most renowned sensei has presented karate tournaments around the metropolitan area throughout the years and led his students to participate successfully in other national and international events. According to Sensei Hodes, some 20 separate dojos (karate schools) competed at this year’s tournament for gold, silver and bronze medals.

“Competition is an important part of our sport,” he explains, “because it gives students a chance to test themselves and grow in the martial art they’ve chosen. Our style, Shotokan, is the oldest form of karate in Japan and comes directly from several sources on the island of Okinawa, where karate was born. It was brought to Japan in the 1920s by an Okinawan educator, Gichin Funakoshi, who had trained in several forms of empty hand combat on his native island which he combined and systematized to create Shotokan.”

Karate, which literally means “empty hand,” Hodes notes, originally came to Okinawa from China and only later moved on to Japan and then Korea (in the early part of the twentieth century). After World War II it began appearing in America and elsewhere around the world, too. It’s a method of fighting, using hands and feet, which the Japanese adopted for selfdefense purposes and to help restore their ancient martial culture which had begun to erode due to the modernizing forces of the twentieth century.

Hodes, who began studying the art in his late teens under several well-known American sensei, brought karate to Rockaway in the 1960s where he’s been a local fixture ever since. He taught Phys Ed at P.S.114 for decades and now, in retirement, devotes a substantial amount of his time to fostering his favorite martial art, both in his traditional dojo on Beach Channel Drive and on the AAU tournament circuit.

This year’s event opened with Sensei Hodes’ daughter Jaimie Hodes-Esopo, an accomplished sensei and tournament competitor in her own right, delivering a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, following introductory remarks by Chairman Hodes. The event, itself, consisted of a series of exciting matches across six rings with various senior sensei officiating while students from the different dojos tested their skills against one another before the judges and spectators.

“We had a full complement of five A list referees scoring the events in the 19- to 34-year-old Adult Black Belt ring,” Sensei Hodes explained, “so everything ran smooth as silk without any of the disagreements or complaints you sometimes see at tournaments.” The kumite matches, he adds, “were judged according to AAU Sport Karate rules. Since we emphasize speed, power, and control, the ref can call a point, a miss or a penalty, as in any other sport, making the well-trained referee a real asset in this kind of event.”

The tournament was only open to classical Japanese styles which include well-known systems like ShitoRyu and Goju Ryu as well as Shotokan. “They all share the same culture and traditions,” Hodes notes, “which makes it easier for us to ensure everyone gets a fair shake since they’re all playing by the same rules.

“There were also some Shorin Ryu stylists participating, Sensei Hodes pointed out, which is a classical Okinawan style that grew out of the same historic roots as Shotokan. When asked how many styles of karate exist in the world today, Hodes shrugs and smiles. “Who can count them anymore?”

Sensei Eugenio Jimenez, who teaches Shotokan karate in Washington Heights, explained that he brought his students down from Manhattan to show support for the event and the style as well as to savor the competition. “We have a lot of martial arts schools in our area,” he said, “with maybe fourteen competing for people’s attention, including kung fu and taekwondo styles, all within a few blocks of each other. But our style, Shotokan, has been around a long time and we more than hold our own.” He indicated his appreciation of the AAU event and afterwards confided that he’ll be taking his students on to another upcoming AAU-sponsored tournament in Chicago after this one because of the great time his students had at the Gateway-based event.

Sensei Hodes, who spent an inordinate amount of time making sure everything was on schedule and free of glitches, says he’s already planning next year’s tournament which he also expects to hold at the Aviator Complex.

That one, he says, will be even bigger than this. “You’d be surprised how much interest there is in the martial arts, and how exciting this sometimes exotic sport can be, both for participants and spectators alike,” he says.

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