Western Pennsylvania martial arts team has ‘unprecedented’ success at World Games
In nearly 15 years competing at the National Blackbelt League Super Grands World Games, Western Pennsylvania’s Team Kumite had won a handful of world championships.
But when the local martial arts all-star team made its annual trip to the tournament late last month, its competitors had “unprecedented” success.
Team Kumite’s 10 competitors at the Super Grands World Games XXIV combined to win a dozen world titles and had a total of 20 top-three finishes, the most in the squad’s 14-year history at the tournament.
“Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to bring home a world champion, sometimes we’re not,” coach Bill Viola said. “This year, we just had such a stellar performance bringing home titles. It was really unprecedented for this region. It was the most success we’ve ever had for this region at the World Games. We’re pretty excited.”
Team Kumite members who competed at the tournament included Cameron Klos, Billy Leader, Dominic Leader, Sara Russell and Ali Viola from the Norwin area; Bess Chase, Brigid Chase and Hope Chase, of Imperial; Liz Leaseburg, of Uniontown; and Nick Kosan, of Penn-Trafford. The competitors’ ages ranged from 11 to 21.
Hope Chase, a sophomore at West Allegheny, won six of Team Kumite’s 12 championships at Super Grands. In her second year competing at the tournament, Chase won championships in team fighting, individual fighting, forms and weapons as well as overall titles in fighting and forms. The two overall titles are a rarity.
“I was hoping to win, but I didn’t really expect to bring home as much in just my second year,” she said. “It’s great. It’s kind of a giant karate party, pretty much. You go down and compete every day. You wake up, go down to the competition floor, compete and see if you can make it to go for the world title. It’s a pretty cool experience to be there with so many martial artists in one place.”
Other Team Kumite championships included Brigid Chase in team fighting and continuous fighting, Dominic Leader in black belt fighting, Russell in team fighting and continuous fighting and Viola in black belt fighting.
“This year was extra hard because my health decided to take a turn for the worse as soon as I got there,” said Viola, whose fighting championship was her fifth in a row. “Physically, I felt awful, but I didn’t train all year and I didn’t put in all the effort and hours to show up and be sick. It’s just mind over matter, and you get it done. I refused to let my body and being sick get in the way.”
Members of Team Kumite trained throughout the year and competed at various tournaments all over North America to qualify and earn seeding for Super Grands. The 40 members of Team Kumite typically train at Allegheny Shotokan in North Huntingdon and take part in additional work on their own.
“To be able to have all the hard work throughout the whole year and all the sweat, to come home with that many world titles against people from around the world, is very, very gratifying,” Hope Chase said. “It’s totally awesome for that hard work to pay off.”
The Super Grands features top competitors from across the world.
“It’s definitely, without a doubt, the best competition you see all year as far as just numbers go and the skill level,” Ali Viola said. “There’s really no other tournament throughout the year like it. It’s definitely just the top of the top.”
With its unprecedented success in the books, Team Kumite is already at work preparing for next year’s games. Chase said she planned to double her work from last year in the hopes of doing even better in 2014.
“It definitely will be a hard feat (for the team) to replicate,” Bill Viola said. “But I think this sort of thing catches fire with younger students that maybe didn’t qualify this year or up-and-comers. It gives them hope that they could be the next world champion.”