Local karate students gain nationals

Gabe Chilson, 9, was named national champion for his age division at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) National Karate Championships earlier this month in Lakeland, Fla. (CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson)

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

Learning the ins and outs of karate is a serious task. But excelling at it can lead to some serious fun, too — as several Clovis-area youngsters learned this summer.

Seven karate students qualified for the AAU national karate championships June 27 through July 3 in Lakeland, Fla. The field was formed from regional competitions in 15 locations.

Students at the United Martial Arts Academy in Clovis — Jordan Smith, 11, Heather Benbow, 9, Gabe Chilson, 9, Lindsey McManus, 7, Robert Guerra, 7, Jayson Dixon, 13, Zachary McManus, 12 — qualified for the Florida tournament by finishing third or higher at a regional in Albuquerque.

At the AAU national tourney, Chilson ended up winning the fighting championship for the advanced brown belt division. A junior black belt division was also held for 9-year-olds, but Chilson won’t test for his black belt until the end of July.

Chilson’s mother, Megan, said karate has been a bit of an obsession for her child since he first learned the discipline.

“He started three years ago. We moved to New Mexico about then and he just said, ‘I want to do karate. I want to do karate,’” said Megan Chilson, who taxis her son from Portales to Clovis several nights a week for karate lessons.

“We kind of thought it just be a passing thing,” she said. “We thought he’d do it for a year and then want to do something different, but he keeps wanting to do more.”

Rodrigo Rodriguez and Sandy McManus are co-owners of the school where Gabe Chilson learns karate in Clovis. Rodriguez said that his academy is one of four martial arts schools in town.

He said the serious aspect of learning karate will hit home for Chilson, and other ambitious students, when they get back to work at their home academy.

The test for junior black belt isn’t one where the students merely display knowledge of the subject, he said.

“It’s going to take about three to four hours. It’s more of an endurance test than anything else,” Rodriguez said. “We know that he (Chilson) knows his stuff. But he’ll have to show all of his techniques and forms that he’s learned over the years. After two or three hours of kicking and punching, his focus is going to be off — and that’s when our testing really begins to count.”

“He makes sure that they’re learning the correct discipline of karate,” said Megan Chilson of Rodriguez. “They learn that they don’t use it at school and only use it in absolute emergencies, that it’s an art form and he’s very traditional in his style.”