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The Karate Kids





Good Sport


Cara Hayden


Enter the Panthers

Three men begin a karate routine, synchronically punching, sidestepping, and kicking, whirling their arms like Jedi warriors from Star Wars. It’s like a dance—three arms simultaneously chop the air, three legs kick, three bodies slide across the ring. Grunting shouts of "kiai" bellow during kicks and punches. Their coordination is flawless, perfectly timed, perfectly executed. At the end of the 50-second routine that is a culmination of months of practice, the men bow respectfully to the judges.

The judges were impressed with the Pitt team. Joshua Ryer, senior marketing major, Clayton Cartwright, sophomore athletic training major, and Alex Dorsey, Kenpo Karate instructor at Pitt, won first place in the team form competition at the 2003 International Kenpo Karate Championships in Revere, Mass., a prestigious tournament that has recognized karate masters like Bruce Lee.

Members of the United Parker’s Kenpo Karate Club include, from left, Justin McClelland, Alex Dorsey, Clayton Cartwright, Joshua Ryer, Joel Daugherty, and Nick Cooper.

During a typical practice at Pitt, Ryer paces along plastic workout mats at Trees Hall and shouts:

"Roundhouse kicks! Ready! One! Two! Three! Four! Five!"

Fifty or so Pitt students, scattered across the matted floor, follow Ryer’s direction, and swing their legs in a rotating motion, trying to perfect the technique with each repetition. They wear white martial arts uniforms, called gis, and wrap themselves in belts of various colors, depending on their individual skill levels.

"Strong kiais!" shouts Ryer, a third-degree black belt. In response, the students grunt and yell louder as they practice the kicking technique.

"Ha! Kiai! Ugh!"

The students are members of the United Parker’s Kenpo Karate Club (UPK), which Ryer helped establish as a Pitt student organization in the fall of 2000. The club is also the only Kenpo organization in the Pittsburgh area affiliated with the International Kenpo Karate Association.

Kenpo Karate is a modern martial art—it focuses on today’s street fighting. Unlike Tae Kwon Do, which applies traditional techniques from past centuries, Kenpo teaches self-defense against clubs, knives, and guns. It is considered the first American martial art, founded in the 1950s by Senior Grandmaster Edmund Parker in Hawaii.

"Repeating mace!" shouts Ryer. On the plastic mats, the students have paired with each other for the next set of drills. They take turns pretending to approach each other with a hammered fist and fight their opponent using learned techniques. Some students participate to increase their fitness level; others are boosting their confidence by learning self-defense.

"For black belts and beyond, it’s really about understanding the art and teaching it to others," explains Ryer about his dedication to the UPK. He and Dorsey are the two primary instructors of the Kenpo classes at Trees Hall.

Meanwhile, Ryer and his Pitt teammates continue to train themselves as they plan to defend their title at next year’s Kenpo championship, which will take place in Dublin, Ireland.


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