FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii-- On July 2nd, martial artists from around the country traveled to St. Charles, Illinois to compete in the four-day Amateur Athletic Union Karate National Championships.

Sgt. Randal Kumagai, military intelligence for the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, flew to the tournament to test his mettle against the best of the best in the country.
The AAU is a nationally recognized, non-profit, multi-sport organization that is a major spring board for the Junior Olympic Games, which is ultimately an Olympic qualifier. This year's national championships had more than 1,500 participants from all age groups. Children, ages five and up, through senior adult competed in four unique events: Kata, or form; Kobudo, or weapons, both long and short; and Kumite, or sparring. Gold, silver and bronze medals were given out to the top finishers in each category.

At the International Karate Federation, his dojo, Kumagai has been training for the better part of a year for this and other tournaments, but still considered a novice for this level of competition.

"Everyone is broken down into four categories," said Kumagai. "After that, they broke us down even further by age."

The belt system followed years of karate experience: beginners with less than one year of experience wear white belt; novices with one to two years of experience wear green belts; intermediates with two to four years of experience wear brown belts; and advanced competitors with more than four years of experience wear black belts.

Kumagai fell into the green belt category in the 40-44 year olds. He used the bow, the sai and empty hand to compete in the Kata and Kobudo categories.

"I had to learn them from scratch," he said. "I wasn't aware of the competition requirements so I quickly learned a basic sai technique. In short weapons, I felt as I could've done better. It was the first event and the Kata I performed was very basic. I didn't have a lot of time to practice. But, with each event, I felt I got stronger and more confident."

Ultimately, his hard work paid off with four gold medals, the top in each event, as well as being crowned national champion in his skill level and age bracket. But to Kumagai, medals are worth less than the experience.

"Getting the opportunity to train with the national team, the best of the best, has been the real reward," he said. "I will continue to train and condition for the next tournament. The All-Hawaii Tournament is next on the list. Karate keeps me focused and has helped improve on every aspect of my life. I will keep training for as long as they let me!"