A mastery of martial arts on display this weekend

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For the 38th time Don and Christine Rodrigues are running the Annual Ocean State Grand Nationals karate tournament at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

As part of the North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) – consisting of 14 tournaments across the country – people from all over the world are coming to test their mettle against each other in this three-day event.

The tournament has a variety of international teams, including representatives from Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, 30 different states, various local teams from the area and even the top team in the country, the Paul Mitchell Team, led by Don Rodrigues since 1987.

Anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000 people, including spectators, will be in attendance.

Competitions start at 5 p.m. on Friday, and then continue from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Saturday night at 7 p.m. is when the finals begin for the black belts, and the underbelts get to compete on Sunday after the black belts.

“Our black belt winners compete for overall grand championships on Saturday night, which will be the finals,” said Don. “That’s where all the best competitors in the world will be. If you want to see some really talented martial artists, that’s the place to be.”

There are over 350 divisions in the tournament, including Junior Black Belt, Adult Black Belt, and Underbelt divisions. Kids under the age of five years old all the way through adults over 50 years old will be competing, with 28 grand championships in total. Rodrigues said that it is organized this way so that everyone can see each other compete over multiple days, instead of cramming all of the events into one day.

“The kids get to see their instructors compete on Friday and Saturday, and the instructors get to see their kids compete on Sunday,” said Don. “It works really well, and everybody seems to like it.”

The competitors come from all different types of martial arts, including taekwondo, kung fu, wushu, and utilize different forms and weapons, extreme martial arts and countless other styles from different backgrounds.

“We try to take the best out of every system and have them compete against one another. You’re seeing the very best,” said Don. “Competition is very fierce, but it’s a brotherhood…The respect level is amazing. It’s really something special to be involved with it.”

Don and Christine have been involved in martial arts for a majority of their lives. Having started 51 years ago at the age of 12, Don has since earned his 10th degree black belt under three different mentors, while Christine has earned her 9th degree black belt. As a husband and wife, they are one of only two couples to have been inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame; Don as Coach of the Year and Christine as Competitor of the Year. 

Having learned under Ed Parker, who opened up the first Kenpo karate school in the United States, Nick Cerio and George Pesare, Don Rodrigues has been fortunate enough to learn under three significant instructors in the martial arts community 

Christine herself has been involved in a number of shows and films including “WMAC Masters,” “Mortal Kombat,” “The Next Karate Kid,” “27 Dresses,” “Batman and Robin” and multiple others. She is a nine-time world champion, and has been featured on the cover of 40 magazines.

Don and Christine now use their extensive backgrounds to teach at the Don Rodrigues Karate Academy in Warwick. Don said that most of the people at his school are helping out at the tournament.

“When you’re running an event like this here, it takes about 200 people to run it,” he said. “With 12 rings a day for three days, it takes a lot of people.”

Rodrigues added that this tournament does great things for the economy of Warwick. With the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and other hotels sold out, along with the influx at restaurants and malls, there is certainly a financial benefit to having the event in the town.

Along with the tournament itself, he said that one of the highlights for this year is the reunion of the actors from the American live-action show “WMAC Masters” that aired from 1995 to 1997. Christine was one of these actresses, who played the role of Lady Lightning for the two-season show. The special guests will be available for autograph signing at the Crowne Plaza.

In the past, they have had other famous people attend, such as Andre Tippet, a linebacker for the Patriots who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as Chuck Norris, who has attended twice.

“We’ve got quite a history here of people who have been in movies,” said Don. “We’ve had Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, everybody. A lot of these people have won grand championships here in the past.”

Don and Christine Rodrigues are currently swamped getting ready for the tournament, as they are coming up on opening day this Friday. With preparations still being done, and classes being taught at their academy, they certainly have their work cut out for them. 

Being the 38th consecutive year in a row that Don Rodrigues has run the tournament with his wife, he and Christine take great pride in everyone that competes.

“You will not believe what these people do. It’s simply amazing,” he said.

The Ocean State Grand Nationals will take place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel from April 6–8. You can find more information as well as ticket prices at www.oceanstategrandnational.net.

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