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MacDill sergeant to compete in elite karate tournament

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
Thunderbolt editor
Photo by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman

Staff Sgt. Frank R. Perez, 6th Operations Support Squadron flight scheduler, will be competing in the U.S. Open in Orlando today and Saturday. The 2005 US OPEN / ISKA World Martial Arts Championships will be broadcast in separate half-hour specials throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Asia, the Far East and Africa on ESPN2 and the ESPN International Network.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman

A powerful blow to the chest sends Sergeant Perezís partner staggering backwards. Sergeant. Perez will teach students at the Youth Center to use such force only when necessary.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman

Sergeant Perez subdues his sparring partner and easily displays why he has earned the right to participate at such a high level of competition. His three categories at the Open will be Traditional Forms, Creative Forms and Self defense techniques.

It is believed that a Buddhist Priest, Bodhidharma, developed the first self-defense techniques within the walls of the monastery in China. In this quiet, meditative atmosphere, the martial arts became a way of life, a spiritual discipline, with a code of honor.

Staff Sgt. Frank R. Perez, 6th Operations Support Squadron flight scheduler, has found that way of life has enabled him to have the confidence to confront any situation thrown at him, which today includes facing competitors in one of the biggest martial arts competitions in the world.

"It's going to be tough but I feel confident that I will place in the top, although there are a lot of good competitors who are known world wide," said Sergeant Perez. "Every time I go to a tournament I talk to God and He is always with me. That is the main reason I feel so confident."

Each year, the U.S. Open and ISKA World Martial Arts Championships weekend presents an experience unique to the martial arts. This year the competition is scheduled to run today and Saturday in Orlando. The location is at the Coronado Springs Resort Hotel and Convention Center in Disney World, and sets the stage for a thrilling competition, which will be telecast worldwide on the ESPN Networks.

This year there will be 17 different categories including traditional forms, team synchronized forms, demonstration teams, self defense, continuous fighting and even creative/musical weapons. Anyone interested in attending can get more details online at www.usopen-karate.com, or by calling the U.S. Open telephone line at 352-331-0260.

It has taken Sergeant Perez years of dedication, discipline and training to reach his current status as a fifth-degree black belt in Goju Ryu, a fourth-degree black belt in Akijutsu, and this level of competition.

"I started Karate in 1984 (at age 9) seeing my dad practicing and how enthusiastic he was with it,' he said. "I told him I wanted to take classes; so he enrolled me at a school close by our house which taught Shotokan."

As with most sports, the training has its ups and downs. And when someone is relatively new, it's mostly downs as the newbie tries to figure out what he can and can't do. Sergeant Perez figured out the hard way what Karate masters do in the movies isn't always possible in the real world.

"Around 1985 a movie called 'No Retreat, No Surrender' came out and there was a kick the star of the movie did when the bad guy was holding his leg," he recalled. "So one time at a class when we were sparring, my opponent grabbed my leg and I decided to do that same kick.

"You can imagine what happened; I fell flat on the floor. After that I didn't even try it any more," he said, remembering the bruised ego and behind.

True to the teachings of discipline, Sergeant Perez stuck with it and started competing in Puerto Rico in 1991 at local tournaments.

After joining the Air Force, he felt he didn't have the time necessary to dedicated to the sport. However, after eight years, he decided to make the time. Soon after countless hours of training and hitting the floor a few times, he decided to participate in a tournament in Ft. Lauderdale.

Sergeant Perez's second-place finish against a well trained and experienced competitor, Master Kevin Wuollet, motivated him to join the Florida League of Martial Arts, the number one ranked Karate circuit in Florida. Since then he has been regularly placing first in competitions in Kumite (sparring), Traditional Kata and Creative Kata (choreographed techniques.)

Sergeant Perez's training regimen when preparing for a competition like the U.S. Open is six days a week. His regular routine of three days a week will soon be augmented by teaching at MacDill's Youth Center. He also teaches private and group classes in Riverview.

"My plan is to teach the kids at the Youth Center self defense, awareness, discipline and sport martial arts," he said.

Bodhidharma is credited with saying, "The mind's capacity is limitless, and its manifestations are inexhaustible," and Sergeant Perez is a good example of that. From his humble beginnings at age 9 to competing at an international level, he has proven that by putting his mind to it, anything is possible. Be sure to follow up in the Thunderbolt July 8 to find out how he fared at the U.S. Open.

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