(ran TP edition)
"Bubbaaaaa! Do a dragonfly!"
Professor Ed Maley is shouting at one of his judokas _ or judo students _ to demonstrate a move to the rest of the Saturday morning class.
Bubba Ellis, a 6-foot-something Tampa furniture salesman with a black belt, stands up, then throws himself at the battered red vinyl mat. He lands on his hands, then pulls his legs over sideways and ends up on his feet in one graceful second.
It is drills such as the dragonfly that the students at the Florida School of Judo repeat a thousandfold for every second of fighting time. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Street Fighter video games may have captured the popular imagination with images of spectacular leaps, karate chops, and feet smashing through boards and bodies, but real martial arts are composed of hours of disciplined practice and respect for your opponent and for your teacher.
"People want to go to straight to the fancy stuff without ever learning the foundation," Maley says. "They look at all this ninja business and they don't realize what the martial arts are all about. It's a way of life. It's a way of learning how to perform at maximum efficiency with a minimum of effort."
That's what spectators might not understand when the competitors take the floor at the Sunshine State Games this weekend. Judo can be spectacular to watch when a judoka makes a skillful throw, but it's more often an inscrutable knot of limbs and a subtle battle of minds that reveals a competitor's strategy.
Maley's school will send about 40 competitors to the games, from the 41-year-old Bubba Ellis with his lifetime of judo experience, to enthusiastic novices like 10-year-old green belt Kathy Launey. Although many judo masters stress the importance of judo for discipline and self-defense rather than competition, Maley says the games can be useful for the serious student of martial arts:
"It gives them a fighting spirit. It gives them an examination. It gives them a feeling of accomplishment."
Along with judo, karate, tae kwon do and wrestling will be a part of the games this weekend. The cartoonish bombast of televised professional wrestling couldn't be further from real wrestling, but it nonetheless put stars in the eyes of 17-year-old Vaughn Rice: "You see WWF (World Wrestling Federation) and you wanna go and do a little throwin' action, you know?"
But once coach Dave Mitchell convinced the Leto junior that wrestling would help his football game, Vaughn proved that he sees wrestling as more than choreographed neoprene mayhem. He's the district champion and ranked third in the region for his weight class (171 pounds). So much for a little throwing action.
"In wrestling, it's the person that wants it more that'll always win," Rice said. "I wrestled guys that wrestled for three years, and I only wrestled two years, and I beat them because I wanted it more."
But he also mixes want with technique for formidable combination: "My coach emphasizes more on techniques. I wrestled guys that are maybe three times as strong as me, but I had better technique and more stamina to beat them."
Rice will compete in freestyle wrestling Sunday at the 1996 Florida Amateur Wrestling Association State and Club Championship, which is sharing space with the Sunshine State Games.
Though he's a serious athlete, he still has leftover stars in his eyes that inspire him. "Unlike football, when you win, you're up there in front of all the people, and you beat one guy. You get out there and see all the people cheering for you. Makes you feel tougher, like you're superior over the guy."
Richard Kim, a 15-year-old tae kwon do competitor, has a different kind of inspiration. His father is Grand Master Moon Kim, owner of the National Tae Kwon Do Academy in Tampa. Young Kim's Second Dan (degree) black belt shows how far this apple fell from the tree.
"It's real interesting," Kim said of being the grand master's son. "A lot of discipline. It keeps me, I guess, on the right track."
Saturday will be his third appearance at the Sunshine State Games. He has two state championships already under his black belt.
Though Kim is capable of such fireworks as spins and jumping high kicks, "after black belt, it's usually the philosophical region of tae kwon do. You need to learn about the meaning and the history of tae kwon do. You just have to keep on practicing and finding a balance between the physical and the mental aspects of tae kwon do."
AT A GLANCE
1996 Sunshine State Games judo, karate and tae kwan do championships and 1996 Florida Amateur Wrestling Association state and club championships, Saturday and Sunday, Tampa Convention Center, downtown Tampa.
Saturday, Judo, tae kwon do and wrestling competitions. All events begin at 10:30 a.m.
Sunday, Judo, karate and wrestling competitions. Wrestling begins at 8 a.m., judo and karate 10:30 a.m.
Admission is free.