It could be difficult to book a room at the Crowne Plaza, the Holiday Inn Express or a half dozen other Warwick hotels this weekend. That’s because Don Rodrigues is throwing a party for an …
It could be difficult to book a room at the Crowne Plaza, the Holiday Inn Express or a half dozen other Warwick hotels this weekend. That’s because Don Rodrigues is throwing a party for an estimated 800 people from nine countries, not counting their tag-along friends.
Well, actually it’s more than party. It’s the Ocean State Grand Nationals Karate Championship. This will be Rodrigues’ 41st annual championship and one of the biggest yet.
Even though Rodrigues, his wife Christine and a handful of loyal supporters have done this so many times that it runs like clockwork - after all they are masters at moves – “something always pops up,” Rodrigues said Thursday in an interview.
Rodrigues, now 68, is a survivor and so too is the school he started more than four decades ago, The Don Rodrigues Karate Academy. The March 2020 shutdown in response to Covid-19 was a kick to the groin and a knock out blow to many martial arts schools, gyms and fitness clubs. Rodrigues took the hit, quickly rallying to continue instruction on Zoom and acting to hold together his students and followers, the martial arts family.
“I feel we’re back in the swing of things,” he said.
And, indeed, he’s back into it.
The Ocean State tournament is one in a series of 11 under the banner of the North American Sport Karate World Tour that started in January in Chicago and will close in California in November. The Rhode Island event with competitions starting Friday will be held at the Crowne Plaza features students, teachers and professionals.
$28,000 in prize money
Rodrigues has upped the ante with $28,000 in prize money, the highest of any of the stops on the tour. In fact, Rodrigues has been a trend setter when it comes to prize money and throwing the spotlight on martial arts. Ocean State was the first to eclipse $20,000 in prizes. It has also been successful in bringing in celebrities including actor and black belt Chuck Norris. It was 2001 and Rodrigues knew having Norris, founder of the KICKSTART KIDS Foundation attend the event would be a huge draw to teams and individual who wanted to meet the star and have their photos with him. However, bringing Norris in would take raising $60,000. He turned to the karate community and the money started coming in. The timing was good. Norris was an ambassador for President Bush’s campaign to Kick Drugs out of America. The money came in. Rodrigues sent Norris a check for $60,000 before the event, which Norris later told him was a first. The money kept coming in. Another $42,000 was raised which Rodrigues handed over to Norris.
“That was money that had been given to see him,” Rodrigues said in response to colleagues who questioned why he hadn’t kept it.
This year action star Don “the Dragon” Wilson will take the event spotlight. An eleven time world champion, Wikipedia quotes the STAR System Ratings as describing Wilson as “perhaps the greatest kickboxer in American history.”
But Rodrigues needn’t look further than his wife, Christine, to find a champion. She is a 9th degree black belt, holds nine World Championships including consecutive 3-time World Titles at the W.A.K.O. Games. Christine broke into film with the Karate Kid. She has acted for both film and television, including the feature films Sci-Fighter (aka X-Treme Fighter) and 27 Dresses. Her stunt work can be seen in a number of Hollywood productions, including Underdog, Batman and Robin, and The Next Karate Kid. Christine has appeared on television in WMAC Masters, and Mortal Kombat: Conquest. In 2012 Christine did the martial arts choreography for the film Champions of the Deep (2012). She has played a big role in putting this weekend’s program in place and if anything like last year’s championship will scheduling events and ensuring things run smoothly.
Events starts Friday
Open to the public – tickets are $25 for the three full days – the event opens Friday at 2 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom with a black belt team synconized team demonstration and traditional challenge followed at 3p.m. super fights, team fighting and open weight fighting.
Saturday events start at 9 a.m. with black belt traditional and creative weapons. That evening the show finals start at 6:30 p.m. in the grand ballroom. The men’s Super Fights World Challenge sponsored by the Ocean State Collison Center will be held with the $3,500 prize going to the winner. A total of 55 money prizes ranging from $100 to $1,000 will also be awarded. On Sunday, as the event starts to wind down , all under belt including boys and girls and adult competitions will be held as well as the handicapped division.
But the event will live on. Major competitions will be video recorded to be shown every Saturday in May at 1 a.m. on the CW Channel, The shows will include breaks with Warwick promotions that Rodrigues hopes will bring people and other groups looking to host events into the state. As it is, he said, the tournament will have a significant impact on the Warwick economy.
That’s a spin off benefit to Rodrigues’ hometown. What he really enjoys is what the event does for the sport and best of all the people it brings together…a karate family.
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