Local karate dojo sending nine to national championships in Denver | SteamboatToday.com

Local karate dojo sending nine to national championships in Denver

Austin Colbert

— Sensei Michael David Bauk doesn't view his disciples as kids. While many haven't reached high school yet, almost all have proven through their efforts at Bauk's Steamboat Springs-based Rocky Mountain Karate Academy dojo that their maturity is far beyond their years.

"It speaks volumes to their ability to concentrate and to focus and to be dedicated to an idea, to a principle and to a goal," Bauk said. "I never call them children. I always refer to them as students, because they are going to be the future leaders of not just this community, but any community they land in."

A New Jersey native who moved to Steamboat in the late 1990s, Bauk is a fifth-degree black belt instructor of Goju Ryu karate and second-degree black belt in Isshinryu karate. He opened Rocky Mountain Karate Academy in 2000, the name of which was inspired by his master, Sensei (Japanese for teacher) Teruo Chinen, who died last fall and was an annual visitor to the Steamboat school.

In operation longer than most of the students have been alive, this week will mark a first for the Rocky Mountain Karate Academy, when it sends nine young martial artists to the 2016 United States Karate Alliance National Championships in Denver.

"In the 16-year history of the Rocky Mountain Karate Academy, this is the very first time that not only the opportunity came up, but that we had qualified students that could go. Prior to this, all of the national opportunity tournaments were a plane flight away," Bauk said. "But now, it's in Denver. They've been training very, very hard. Three days a week for the last month and a half."

The dojo hasn't been short on talent, with many of its students having been very successful at the state level. But, the USKA National Championships are more often than not too far away to be a feasible option for the Steamboat kids and their parents. Having the finals held a short drive away in Denver this year, was an opportunity too good to let pass.

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"I'm pretty nervous," said 11-year-old Jordan Ward. "I wanted to do it last year, but I don't think I was quite ready. I've been wanting to do it for a while. I feel like I'm really prepared, because Sensei has been teaching us really well."

Ward, a Steamboat sixth-grader who recently earned her purple belt, is quickly becoming one of the more accomplished athletes at the dojo. She will compete in all three aspects of the national tournament — kumite (sparring), kata (forms) and weaponry — with her success giving her plenty of spunk, even outside of competition.

"She loves singing. She is definitely not afraid to get up in front of a crowd," said Sharon Ward, Jordan Ward's mother. "I probably attribute a lot of her confidence to karate. Just remembering all the moves and just being confident in that realm."

Ward is one of four girls going to nationals from the dojo, others including Audrey Sumner, Delaney Parker and Sydney Ryan. The boys include Matthias Wolf, Casey Wolf, Sawyer Ryan, Thomas Miller and Connor Elliott.

Some, including Ward, qualified for nationals after their top-four performance at the state championships in Eagle in February. Others are simply along for the ride as non-qualified competitors, their advanced belt rankings giving them a chance to represent both Steamboat and their dojo in Denver.

"I'm really excited. It's my first time going and it's going to be a really good experience," said Sumner, 12, a purple belt. "I'm hoping to learn a lot of things and get stronger, both mentally and physically."

The national championships begin Thursday and run through Saturday at the Denver Marriott Tech Center. Should any athletes have bigger dreams, the USKA World Championships take place July 21 to 24 in Phoenix.

"I'm thinking it's like states," Casey Wolf, 10, said about nationals, "just 10 times worse and 10 times harder."

To reach Austin Colbert, call 970-871-4204, email acolbert@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Austin_Colbert