The International Sport Karate Association’s U.S. Open is one of the largest and most prestigious martial arts tournaments in the world. Competitors travel from around the globe to compete in divisions that include traditional and open forms, weapons, point fighting, self-defense and breaking. Some of those competitors will test their skills against the best of the best during the Night of Champions, while others will be inspired by the performances and train harder for next year so they might secure the crown jewel of sport karate: an ISKA world championship.
This was my story. I attended the Night of Champions for the first time in 2006 when I was just 8 years old. I watched legends light up the stage, then looked at my father and told him that one day I would do the same. Seeing those champions changed my life. Looking back, I realize that I had that experience only because I was fortunate enough to watch the competition in person at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Florida.
There was a 17-month period from the 2020 Compete Nationals to the 2021 Battle of Atlanta during which no events sanctioned by the North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA), which co-sanctions the U.S. Open, took place. Only time will tell whether the defending champions are still at the top of their game. New contenders also have arrived. Talented young stars have turned 18 and are ready to test themselves in the adult divisions. Competitors have risen to prominence in regional or national leagues that managed to keep their events running through the pandemic — such as ProMAC and USA Sport Karate — and are prepared to perform. Some top-tier point fighters have sharpened their skills in pay-per-view events promoted by the likes of Pro Point and the Virtual Fight Tour.
In December 2020, Black Belt unveiled its official sport karate rankings inspired by the Karate Illustrated ratings of the 20th century. The defending 2019 U.S. Open world champions were selected to hold the “champion” ranks because of the prestige of the tournament and because most of the major divisions were accounted for by this one event. These rankings will receive their first update after the 2021 U.S. Open. This article will tell you everything you need to know about the champions and top contenders for the adult (18-29) forms, weapons and point fighting divisions.
Jackson Rudolph • Team Paul Mitchell
Let’s begin by addressing the bo-wielding elephant in the room. Not only am I the author of this article, but I am also the defending champion in the men’s weapons division. For readers who don’t know me, I innovated a style of bo performance throughout the 2010s that featured powerful, foundational striking with high-speed releases and manipulations organized into long combinations. I have been blessed throughout my career, and my work has culminated in 14 ISKA U.S. Open weapons titles, the most by any male in history. Nine of these are individual wins, including three consecutive titles that make up my active streak. The other five are from the synchronized weapons division, which I won for the first time alongside the ever-intense Kyle Montagna and went on to win four more in a row with my right-hand man Jake Presley. My success at the U.S. Open, combined with the numerous bo tricks that I’ve innovated and debuted at the event, earned me the nickname “The Magician” from ESPN. These accolades landed me in the Black Belt Hall of Fame in 2018, an honor I am eternally grateful for.
That is all I will say about my accomplishments. Those who know me know that I prefer to let my performances do the talking. Because I’m preparing to attend medical school in the fall, my competitive future remains uncertain. I love sport karate and it would be a thrill to compete again, but I must make the best decision for my career in martial arts and medicine. Will I compete again at this year’s U.S. Open? Well, a good magician never reveals his secrets.
I want to use this space to disclose that this article mentions many of my teammates, friends and even my fiancee. I provide this transparency while noting that everything I write is based on the prior performances of these athletes. My personal relationships and background knowledge of the individuals has not impacted anyone’s inclusion here.
Mackensi Emory • Team Paul Mitchell
Emory won the women’s forms and weapons titles at the 2019 U.S. Open, an impressive feat that earned her a spot in the Black Belt Hall of Fame. She has amassed 14 ISKA titles in the forms, weapons, synchronized and team demonstration divisions. She’s known as one of the best female tricking athletes on the planet, but her technically sound basics are what attract attention from the judges. A disciple of Rudy Reynon, Emory uses a variety of finger rolls and releases with her kama to increase the difficulty and performance value of her routines. Her impressive résumé at the U.S. Open is reflective of the rest of her career. She once won 24 out of 28 possible overall grand championships during a two-year span, nearly an 86-percent win percentage.
Emory has successfully leveraged her sport karate experience and accomplishments into Hollywood work as a stunt performer. Her talents have been featured in a Star Wars video game, the American Horror Story TV series and other projects. Her presence in the film industry exemplifies how sport karate can prepare martial artists to be successful in other careers — but it makes her status at the U.S. Open uncertain. The 2019 event was her most recent performance despite there being several other world-class events between then and the onset of the pandemic.
Reid Presley • Team Paul Mitchell
This defending men’s creative/musical/extreme (CMX) forms champion is a sport karate veteran. The oldest of four siblings (including Cole, Jake and Averi from oldest to youngest) who have won ISKA championships in individual events, synchronized divisions or both, he’s best-known for his use of two staffs at once in the CMX weapons divisions. In the year leading up to the pandemic, Presley shifted his focus to open forms. He used powerful hand combinations and strong aerial kicking techniques to secure back-to-back victories at the Diamond Nationals in 2017 and 2018 and claimed the 2019 U.S. Open title.
Reid and his brother Cole, who would be a strong contender in the men’s weapons division if he is active, work as consultants for Premier Martial Arts, the school franchise owned by Barry Van Over, Black Belt’s 2020 Business Leader of the Year. This, of course, does not rule out the possibility of Reid defending his title in 2021. However, his relative inactivity after the 2019 event provides reason to believe he might not compete.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
“Made In Chinatown” Finding Love, Culture And Heritage
Question: What’s crazier than sending your horse to audition for The Godfather, wackier than two parrots saying, “Are you talking to me?” and wilder than the Scarecrow introducing Toto to the Wizard of Oz by stating, “Say hello to my little friend,” and thereafter referring to himself as the Scar-crow?
MISTAKES CAN BE EMBARRASSING
THAT A DIRECTOR OF MY CITY’S OPERA COMPANY WOULD CALL ME SEEMED A LITTLE ODD. THERE ARE PROBABLY SOME MONKEYS WHO KNOW MORE ABOUT OPERA THAN I DO. BUT THE DIRECTOR WAS INVITING ME TO LUNCH, SO OF COURSE, I WENT.
THERE'S A NEW “SHERO” IN TOWN, AND HER NAME IS GILLIAN WHITE!
GILLIAN WHITE HAS WORKED IN FILM AND TELEVISION FOR 25 YEARS — FAR LONGER THAN SHE’S BEEN MARRIED TO MICHAEL JAI WHITE, WHOM SHE WED IN 2015. RECENTLY, SHE’S CREATED A BUZZ IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY BECAUSE OF HER ROLE AS ZARA INTAKE BACK, A MOVIE THAT ALSO STARS HER HUSBAND AND TEACHER, AS WELL AS MICKEY ROURKE. AFTER EIGHT YEARS OF HYBRID TRAINING THAT INCLUDES KYOKUSHIN KARATE AND AN ARRAY OF EFFECTIVE FIGHTING STYLES, GILLIAN WILL STEP INTO HISTORY AS THE FIRST BLACK FEMALE MARTIAL ARTIST TO PLAY THE LEAD IN AN ACTION FILM WHEN TAKE BACK IS RELEASED THIS YEAR.
PURPOSE, FEAR AND MINDSET
WHEN THE SUBJECT OF SELF-DEFENSE COMES UP, THE AVERAGE PERSON GENERALLY THINKS OF THE PHYSICAL TECHNIQUES AND TACTICS THAT ARE INVOLVED. WHEN I COME ACROSS SUCH A PERSON AND GET AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE SOME KNOWLEDGE ABOUT REAL SELF-DEFENSE, I USUALLY START BY INFORMING HIM OR HER THAT SOME IMPORTANT PREREQUISITES NEED TO BE ADDRESSED BEFORE DELVING INTO THE PHYSICAL ARENA.
DEAR HOLLYWOOD: REBOOT “WMAC MASTERS”
IT’S TIME TO REBOOT WMAC MASTERS. YEAH, I SAID IT, AND I MEANT IT. IF YOU WEREN’T A KID IN THE 1990S, YOU PROBABLY HAVEN’T EVEN HEARD OF THE FICTIONAL WORLD MARTIAL ARTS COUNCIL AND THE TV SHOW BASED ON IT. IN THAT CASE, YOU’RE IN LUCK BECAUSE I’M ABOUT TO GIVE YOU THE LOWDOWN.
FINAL DESTINATION? NO WAY — WE'RE JUST GETTING STARTED!
IF YOU’RE UP ON YOUR MARTIAL ARTS HISTORY — OR YOU FREQUENT OUR WEBSITE OR FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA — YOU KNOW THAT BLACK BELT WAS FOUNDED IN 1961. IF YOU’RE EVEN MARGINALLY PROFICIENT AT MATH, YOU KNOW THAT MAKES THE MAG 60 YEARS OLD THIS YEAR.
Return of the king
COVID Might Have Won Last Year, But THE U.S. OPEN — the World’s Biggest Martial Arts Tournament — Is Back in Action!
CREATING UNBEATABLE PARENT-INSTRUCTOR TEAMS
“IN A TRADITIONAL MARTIAL ARTS SCHOOL, PARENTS AND INSTRUCTORS BECOME AN UNBEATABLE TEAM HELPING SHAPE CHILDREN FOR THE PATH TO SUCCESS.”
JAW TRAINING FOR STRIKERS
NEWS FLASH: FIGHTERS GET PUNCHED IN THE JAW! THE JAW AND ITS HINGES, ALONG WITH THE CHIN, ARE COMMON TARGETS FOR KNOCKOUT ARTISTS. A WELL-PLACED PUNCH TO THE JAW CAN RENDER AN OTHERWISE TREMENDOUSLY CONDITIONED ATHLETE UNCONSCIOUS IN A HEARTBEAT.
2021 U.S. OPEN CHAMPIONS & CONTENDERS
Ones to Watch at the World’s Most Prestigious Martial Arts Competition
AMAZON TO ALLOW EMPLOYEES TO WORK REMOTELY INDEFINITELY
Amazon said it will allow many tech and corporate workers to continue working remotely indefinitely, as long as they can commute to the office when necessary.
GUIDE TO OPEN ENROLLMENT
Health care costs continue to climb, but subsidies will make some plans more affordable.
MORE is MORE
Yngwie Malmsteen takes his neoclassical shred to new extremes on Parabellum.
AN INTERESTING OPEN SIGHT
Home on the Greens
Golf-driven real estate is finally getting out of the rough.
Building Community Through Education
KIRAN BIR SETHI is changing the experience of childhood in Indian cities through her education curriculum and initiatives to build healthy relationships between students and their communities. Here she is interviewed by KASHISH KALWANI.
Are Vaccine Mandates Justifiable?
Some call them reasonable public health measures, while others say they are an un-American invasion of privacy
The Kids Are Alright
SCIENTISTS HAVE FOUND A SURPRISINGLY SIMPLE CURE FOR THE POST-PANDEMIC BLUES — FOR CHILDREN AND THEIR PARENTS
Data Breach Exposes Student Requests For Vaccine Exemptions
Personal information from students at a California college who requested a religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine has been posted online after an apparent data breach.
‘BATTLING A PANDEMIC IS A SPECIAL KIND OF WAR'
To create the leadership we need to fight biological threats, look to the military’s example