World champions return to the valley |

World champions return to the valley

Ryan Slabaugh

As one of two world champions who returned to the valley from the United States Karate Alliance event in New Orleans Aug. 4-5, Mr. Lee (it’s standard to call a black belt Mr.), won the national and international team competition, was inducted into the Atlee Chittim Role of Honor (the hall of fame) and became a member of the 2002 U.S. National Team.

And along the way, he ruptured his ear drum and had a tooth go through his lip. But that’s a minor point for a man who’s competed at the world championships five times.

“It’s very serious,” he said.

One of his students, Gail Lamb, a yellow belt who began training last October, won the gold in the Kata and the bronze in the Kumite (pronounced Koo-me-tay) in the women’s beginner division. Kumite is hand-to-hand fighting with an opponent, while Kata is the simulation of a multi-party attack. Good technique and balance help, but creativity in the ring will allow the judges to understand where the imaginary opponents are coming from.

The difference between placing in each event is up to a panel of five judges, who are expected to keep up with the flurry of fists and kicks.

“You have very talented and skilled fighters that want to win,” Lee said. “When they decide to go, they throw kicks and punches at each other, it goes so fast. They (the judges) might not see the first two punches or kicks, but score the third instead. It’s because the human eye can only move so fast. Hands can move a lot faster.”

Like many martial artists, Mr. Lee got his start from Bruce Lee – no relation – when he was nine years old. Lamb got her start from a different inspiration.

“I did it when I was a kid, and always wanted to get back into it. I was going through a rough patch in my life and it helped me,” she said. “I feel more grounded and very content with life.”

Training the mental and physical sides of the body is the claim all masters make about the martial arts. Mr. Lee is no different. He brags about the 6-year-old world champions in his academy and the self-confidence it brings not only for the child, but for the whole family.

“Everyone at these tournaments are good friends,” Lee said. “Some of my best friends right now are guys that beat me in a tournament or I beat them in a tournament. You just earn that respect. Some of our 8- and 9-year-olds know who their toughest competition is out of Arizona and out of California. You see them fight and then later, you can see them at the hotel swimming or eating pizza together.”

Joining Mr. Lee and Lamb were Christie Pinion, a white belt, and Carrie Wooten, a local massage therapist who has a purple belt and placed second at the world championships in Kata.

“She hasn’t lost a tournament in a long time,” Lee said. “We all have good days and bad days.”

In the championship of the international tournament, Mr. Lee had what could be considered a good bad day, if that exists. While he made it to the finals, he was matched up against a 6-foot-4 man from Trinidad that weighed in over 200 pounds. Mr. Lee stands well under the 6-foot mark.

“He was just a monster,” he explained. “He definitely earned my respect. He beat me by one point.”

But still, for all of the competitors, the world stage in the Big Easy was a humbling experience. Being humble is one of Mr. Lee’s rules for his classroom, which are posted in large type on the wall.

“My thought when I left the world championships was I could not wait to get back here and train,” he said. “I need to get stronger and faster. I have a lot to learn. But that’s the nice thing about martial arts. It’s a lifetime commitment to getting better.”

Mr. Lee offers classes for beginners, intermediates and experts. He can be reached at (970) 328-4360.

Support Local Journalism