Dixon's had their most successful year yet at the USA Karate Junior Olympics competition in Las Vegas, taking home nine medals in their fourth year of entering the event. The event took place at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, with most of the students staying overnight at either Caesar’s, or across the street at the Flamingo.
"We did local tournaments to get ready," said Ramtown owner Jim Ernest. "The other top team in California is in Elk Grove, and we met them locally and didn’t do so well in one of the tournaments. That’s one of the things that turned the corner for us because we got serious after that."
With over 925 competitors from 35 different countries, the Junior Olympics are divided into two different events and three age groups.
The "Kumite" competition is a point-fighting event where participants score with punches and kicks to the head and body. The "Kata" competition is based on a series of detailed movements that the students perform. Each competition is divided into three divisions—novice, intermediate, and advanced.
Ramtown Karate won five medals in the Kumite competition this year, and four medals in Kata competition, all in the novice and intermediate divisions. The children train four days a week at Ramtown Karate, and started preparing for this event on Jan. 1 of this year.
"This was my second year competing in the advanced division," said Jeremy Cristobal, 13. "The competition is really tough. We’ve been practicing for months."
Kiera Mackenzie, 13, won a gold medal in the Kumite competition in only her second year of competing in the event.
"The competition was a lot harder than last year," said Mackenzie. "There were a lot of countries that I didn’t see last year that I did this year."
Another added benefit on the competition is that the children are exposed to other cultures. The children often times bond with athletes they are competing against over their shared passion for Karate.
"The biggest experience the kids have is meeting people from Spain or Kosovo or Kazakhstan," said Kathy Ernest. "They fight against these people and then they sit beside them making friends, and that is huge."
“They try their very best to beat each other and get an international ranking, but they also respect each other for being really tough athletes from their country,” said Jim Ernest. “Many times they’ll actually connect later on through Facebook, so they have these international friendships.”
Jim and Kathy Ernest have been teaching Karate to Dixon children since moving to the town in 1978. They have owned Ramtown Karate since 1994. This year, Ramtown Karate has about 18 Karate students, more than any other year, and with such a deep talent pool they are hoping to continue their success.
"Our job as martial arts instructors is different that most sports," said Kathy Ernest. "We have to deal with turning the kids into grownups emotionally, mentally, and physically. When we get kids here they’re learning things like respect, how to preserve through something really hard, and how to keep going if something hurts. It’s our job to pull them along that path and watch them grow. These kids are the hardest workers you'll ever meet."
Sebastian Gutierrez: Silver in Kata (novice division)
Juliette Leach: Bronze in Kumite (intermediate division)
Kiera Mackenzie: Gold in Kumite (intermediate division)
Alex Shehan: Bronze in Kumite, Gold in Kata (intermediate division)
Bayley Stoner: Silver in Kumite, Silver in Kata (novice division)
Jakob Stoner: Bronze in Kumite, Bronze in Kata (novice division)