When Lee Burgess decided to take six students to compete in the Kick USA tournament season in January, he admits his expectations weren't very high. Some of his students had been taking karate instruction together at his dojo, Burgess Modern Day Warrior in Spring Hill, for only a year. But none had ever competed before.
Last weekend, Burgess stood at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista as the team competed in their 10th and final tournament of the season. Six students, ages 4 to 16, took home at least one world championship for a total of seven in Open Weapons, Traditional Forms and Point Fighting.
They also placed in several divisions for the national competition, held the same weekend.
The final tournaments were part of the International Martial Arts Festival held each year, Elite World Championships and Kick USA National Championships. Competitors had to qualify during the regional competition held in May in Viera to compete in the Elite World. And they had to win their state competitions, held in Naples, to progress to Nationals.
"In July, all six team members won state championships in one event or another and qualified to compete in the national and elite world championships," Burgess said.
Elite World Championship placements include: Emma Owen, 10, first in weapons, kata (forms) and fighting; Tommy Kane, 12, first in weapons; Zachery Whestine, 16, first in fighting; Ricky Lopez, 10, first in fighting; and Zairabella Perry, 4, first in kata (forms).
Kick USA National placements include:
For Open Weapons, Lopez, Owen and Kane were first in their divisions; Whestine was second; and Sarah Norford was third. For Traditional Forms, Perry, Owen and Zachary were second in their divisions, and Norford was third. For Point Fighting, Perry, Lopez and Norford were first in their divisions and Owen was second. Owen also placed second in her division for Continuous Sparring (fighting).
Burgess has 32 years of martial arts experience, holds three black belts and currently competes in MMA cage fighting. He began teaching at Modern Day Warrior in 1992 and took over the school when the former sensei retired.
Burgess decided to form a competition team after taking over the school.
"It was the beginning of the new season," he said. Six of his 35 enrolled students joined the competition team and went to their first tournament in October held in Tavares. But because they were not registered with Kick USA, their placement points didn't count, explained Burgess.
"I figured we would just win some medals here and there," Burgess said. "But what our team was able to accomplish this year just blows me away."
The team became close over the season, often rushing between divisions to cheer on teammates.
Norford, 14, said she was proud of how well she did.
"And our team did very well," she added.
Whestine, the oldest at 16, said he was surprised by how far he could go with training and in competition.
Owen and Lopez, both 10, joined Modern Day Warrior a year ago.
"I really felt like I accomplished something and it was great to compete this year," Owen said.
"I was scared before the first tournament," Lopez said. "But now I feel comfortable competing. I can't wait for next season to start."
And Perry, just 4, was proud to be part of the competition season.
Burgess couldn't have asked for a better outcome.