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Full-contact karate kicks back to Banff

Fists and kicks were flying in Banff.

BANFF – Fists and kicks were flying in Banff.

The eighth Banff Kyokushin Karate (BKK) Championships got underway Saturday (Dec. 2) inside the Banff Elementary School gym, as the local club welcomed the martial arts community to town to compete in full contact knockdown, non-contact and kata events in children and adult categories.

In knockdown, competitors mostly attack the body and legs, with punches and elbows to the face/neck being illegal, but light kicks to the head are allowed in adult divisions.

Bouts ranged in time from one to two minutes, depending on age. Each fighter wears protective head, mouth, foot and hand gear in the competition.

Throwing fists and kicks relentlessly, Banff’s Grace Mayberry-Hjertas was the 13-14 female champion, defeating two opponents, including teammate Kyle Sunderland in the final match-up.

In the sport since she was six, it was the 14-year-old yellow belt’s first time winning a knockdown tournament.

“I’m very happy with myself,” said Mayberry-Hjertas with a smile ear-to-ear. “The second competitor I fought was my friend and we were really hoping that we would get to fight each other so that was good.

“I had no injuries, so I was happy about that.”

Banff’s Mya Firlotte, who recently competed in knockdown in the martial arts hub of Japan, won silver in the 15-17 female category.

Using a barrage of brutalizing knees, Firlotte won her first bout by decision, which set up a showdown against a familiar face.

While in the Land of the Rising Sun, the 16-year-old green belt said she was inspired watching other competitors, particularly footwork while engaged in striking, which Firlotte brought with her to the Banff tournament.

“It was my third time fighting [Maya Slobozian] this year,” said Firlotte. “She’s won every time, but I feel like this time it was a lot more even, thankfully. She’s super strong so I really have to implement that footwork that I was talking about.

“I feel like these were my favourite fights yet.”

In the men’s 35+ category, only two competitors squared off, one being Banff yellow belt Francois Labelle. 

In just his third knockdown competition, Labelle said it’s difficult for nerves not to get to you before a fight. One can game-plan ahead of the bout, but things change quickly after stepping onto the mat.

“Today the head kicks were flying at me, which tells me my guard was down,” said Labelle, who had a small cut on his cheek and was icing a leg. “It’s part of it. In the end, me and that guy will probably go have a beer after this and it’s all good.”

Labelle was runner-up to Calgary’s Winston Campbell, but the Banff competitor had seen significant upgrades in his abilities since the last time Banff hosted the tournament in 2019, particularly holding his own ground.

Four years ago, Labelle got rocked and dropped to the mat. However, this year, he traded blows the whole match against the bigger opponent.

“Compared to that, this was a major improvement,” said Labelle.

In other local knockdown results, Micah Evans won gold in his U12 boys category.

Locals rumble in Japan 

Three members of BKK recently competed in knockdown bouts at the 2023 International Friendship Elite Karate Championships last month in Tokyo, Japan.

In the single elimination style bracket tournament, Firlotte lost a decision to Russia’s Angela Bulgareva in the girls 15-17 category.

Banff’s Francois Pace, competing in one of the men’s master classes, defeated seasoned Japan competitor Tadateru Sano in the first bout and lost to Russia’s Magomed Tsakhaev after sustaining an injury in the match.

BKK head instructor Daymon Miller, also competing in a men’s master class, defeated Hungary’s Sandor Vanko after delivering damage to the lead leg of the opponent. Miller then fought and lost a decision to Japan’s Tadayoshi Ogata.

“In all three cases the opponents we lost to went on to win our respective divisions so we all fought the best and held our own – [we] didn’t get knocked out nor get points against us,” said Miller. “I’m very proud of everyone.”

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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