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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Jackson’s Five: U.S. Open 2023

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Photo Courtesy: Lindsey Little Photography

5. Terrific Teenage Traditional Forms

Christian Cheeks ElizondoPhoto Courtesy: Jackson RudolphPhoto Courtesy: Jackson RudolphMy discussion of men’s weapons will focus less on the implications for my bo lineage that dates back to Mike Bernardo which Jake, Ben, and Esteban are all a part of. Instead I want to focus on what this division means to Team Paul Mitchell. JPM has won a ridiculous 13 of the last 15 ISKA men’s weapons world championships. Here is the breakdown:

2. Underrated No More

Devon HopperLast year, the final theme on my Jackson’s Five countdown for the U.S. Open was titled “Passing the Torch”. I wrote about my longtime synchronized partner Jake Presley, and how him winning the 2022 ISKA weapons title was a transition to a new era as I stepped away from competition to focus on commentating and coaching. This year, although I write about these boys a lot, I have to show my respect to Esteban Tremblay and Ben Jones for what they are doing to continue carrying that torch and moving competitive bo, and the sport as a whole, forward. I’ll begin with synchronized weapons, a title that Team Paul Mitchell has now held eight consecutive times. Kyle Montagna and I won the title to begin the streak in 2015. The next year I teamed up with Jake Presley and we proceeded to have an unbelievable run in which we won a record five straight titles from 2016-2021 (one year missing due to the pandemic). Now Ben and Esteban, who I have trained since they were each about eight years old, have won back-to-back titles to extend the streak. Clearly there is a strong personal bias behind what this means to me, but all emotions aside this is a truly historic feat. We haven’t even gotten to the actual men’s weapons division yet…It has been two weeks since the 2023 ISKA U.S. Open World Martial Arts Championships came to a close, and I just now feel like life is returning to a normal rhythm. This edition of Jackson’s Five was delayed by committee meetings for significant changes to the Black Belt Magazine rankings, a neurology exam in medical school, and breaking the massive news about Team Paul Mitchell’s signing of four elite point fighters. It has been a wild couple of weeks, but there are five themes that still replay in my mind from the open.

1. Carrying the Torch

Esteban Tremblay Ben JonesPhoto Courtesy: Team Pil-Sung via FacebookRelated Articles Around the WebPhoto Courtesy: Lindsey Little Photography

  • 2008 Kalman Csoka
  • 2009 Kalman Csoka
  • 2010 Kalman Csoka
  • 2011 Kalman Csoka
  • 2012 Matt Emig
  • 2013 Sen Gao (ASG)
  • 2014 Tyler Weaver
  • 2015 Reid Presley (AmeriKick)
  • 2016 Reid Presley (JPM)
  • 2017 Jackson Rudolph
  • 2018 Jackson Rudolph
  • 2019 Jackson Rudolph
  • 2020 Event Canceled
  • 2021 Jackson Rudolph
  • 2022 Jake Presley
  • 2023 Esteban Tremblay

Esteban taking home the 2023 title is a 7th consecutive for JPM and the reason that I am emphasizing this so much is because of what it means to these athletes. It feels different when you are competing for something bigger than yourself. Let’s not forget the fact that in Esteban’s winning effort, his teammates Dawson Holt and Ben Jones also put in the work to ensure that JPM continued this run and Ben even pulled a couple of 10s from the judges. I also have to pause to show some respect to Rashad Eugene, who battled alongside these men although himself not a part of the JPM narrative, as he has been a formidable opponent and always puts on a great show. All this being said, I want to close this countdown by just saying how grateful I am that the next generation of champions is passionate about protecting what my generation and all those who came before built. This is why it is so important to preserve the history of our sport, because it means something special to so many.

Photo Courtesy: MAIACONOne of the most competitive divisions in the Night of Champions was 14-17 boys’ traditional forms, featuring Christian “Cheeks” Elizondo, Luca Ricotti, and Noah Sansait. Noah has been a consistent winner throughout the season, while Luca and Cheeks had an awesome showdown in the runoffs during the eliminations. A mathematical tie sent the division to the rulebook for a tiebreaker where Luca came out on top. Luca earned his spot on stage with the win, and Cheeks put up such an impressive performance against Luca that he deserved a spot too. On stage, despite all three competitors displaying fantastic kata, Cheeks would be crowned the ISKA World Champion. This is a division I feel sometimes goes under the radar but these performances in Orlando prove that more should be paying attention. I also want to use this paragraph to shout out Sofia Rodriguez Florez and Logan Goodman for a great duel in the ladies’ division, with Sofia (who I have written about several times in these articles for her amazing achievements) coming away with the win.

Jackson's Five: U.S. Open 2023

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