Originally published at http://www.news-press.com/
Written by: Tim Ritter
Jean Gruss was fed up.
Tournament after tournament, he would cheer as his son Sam kicked and punched his way to gold, silver and bronze medals in karate.
And Jean was tired of it.
“I couldn’t sit in the stands at these tournaments and let him have all the fun,” Jean said. “Then I was surprised to see how many adults were competing …”
Times have changed. Last month, Sam brought home two bronze medals and one silver from the AAU state championship in Fort Pierce. Jean brought home a gold medal.
The father-son duo help form the tournament team at Kurokawa Martial Arts in Fort Myers, and they’re hardly alone. Of the team’s 20 competitors, 12 are related, and that’s not counting some more parents who volunteer as coaches.
“It’s brought a lot of unity,” said Carmen Diaz, owner and chief instructor at Kurokawa, whose original owners grew up in karate’s homeland of Okinawa, Japan. “That’s how it started in Okinawa, where families would adopt the new kid.
“It’s kind of passed down from them to us.”
The approach is working. The tournament team brought home 39 medals – 12 gold, 11 silver and 14 bronze – from the state tournament, and has its sights set on more hardware at this week’s AAU nationals in Fort Lauderdale.
“That was awesome,” Diaz said. “It was very exciting to see.”
The team’s large improvement for the school, which is in its 25th year, was partially indebted to some new organizational tactics Diaz picked up at an AAU coaching clinic earlier this year.
The rest of the credit goes to its unique family dynamic.
“It’s good support and makes for good camaraderie,” said instructor/competitor Alex Martinez, 43.
The whole team always stays at a tournament to cheer each of its members, even if the event comes long after their own sessions are done.
“And you get inspired by seeing your mom and dad do it,” said Jose Martinez, Alex’s 11-year-old son and fellow black belt.
Diaz, mother to her own second-degree black belt in Ben Diaz, puts it more succinctly: “How many sons wouldn’t like to see their dad or mom get in a fight?”
The group’s fervor even encouraged Diaz to get back on the mat, as the instructor stepped in to earn her own gold medal at the state meet. She and her teammates, young and old, are feeling as confident as ever heading to Fort Lauderdale this week and then New Orleans in late July for the AAU Junior Olympics.
Each will be followed by the team’s special celebration: end-of-tournament pool parties.
“That’s all my daughter talks about,” said Jean McCaughey, who was talked into being an instructor by her hard-charging young daughter, Jeanne Michelle.
As for Jean Gruss, he’s just happy his son found the pair’s new favorite sport.
“It definitely brought us closer together,” he said. “It’s a fun thing to do with your son. I coached him in Little League and soccer, but I didn’t get the same satisfaction. I didn’t get to participate.”