OXFORD — Cesar Gonzalez steadied himself in front of his opponent Saturday, eyes straight ahead, sharply focused on the boy standing a few feet away.
When the instructor gave word, the 8-year-old from Ashland attacked, scoring five points in quick succession and winning his first competition. Cesar’s father, Julio, smiled widely and knelt down for a photo with his victorious son.
The Gonzalezes were one of many families who came from across the Southeast to the Oxford Civic Center Saturday for the World Yoshukai Karate Kobudo SuperFight, where since 1993 competitors have challenged one another in a series of competitions.
Gonzalez, a Cuban native, said they teach karate in his former country, but a form that originates in China, not Japan, where the Yoshukai form of the martial art was born. He hopes his son continues to practice the sport, saying he’s proud of how he’s done thus far.
“I think it’s a great sport for him, and he likes it,” Gonzalez said.
Debbie Mangham walked through the gymnasium full of fighters Saturday with her hands full of trophies.
Some of those fighters would get a trophy, others would not, but healthy competition is not the only lesson karate teaches those who practice karate, Mangham explained.
She points to her two grown children, both honors graduates in college and both grew up practicing Yoshukai karate. Mangham and her husband, Mike, teach the sport at the Oxford Civic Center and in several other local cities. The sport builds character and teaches discipline, Mangham said.
Participants Saturday began with points fighting, in which heavily-padded competitors tried to score points by striking their opponents with quick jabs and kicks. Later, full contact knockdown fights had competitors battling in timed matches.
Kelly Leo, owner of Full Throttle Fitness in Oakwood, Ga., came to Oxford Saturday to support his students, but not to fight. Leo said he was still recuperating from fighting 100 men in a row in one on June 28.
The 100-man Kumite, as it’s called, is a grueling series of matches, each 90 seconds long. Leo’s test of will was done to raise money for epilepsy research, he said. He lost his brother to the neurological disorder in 2000.
“It’s was tough,” Leo said. “It took about three hours to get through it. I was severely dehydrated.”
Debbie Auerbach, 62, of Atlanta never thought she’d study karate, but she’s done just that for a decade.
She wasn’t competing Saturday, thanks to an injury she got from sparring, she said. It’s every bit a contact sport, Auerbach said, but she’s found something a bit later in life that she loves doing.
“I think it chooses you,” Auerbach said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.