2009 National All Styles Australian Championships

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As 2009 came to a close, martial artists across Australia flocked to Melbourne for the 28th annual National All-Styles Australian Championships at the Sports and Aquatic Centre on 28­–29 November. The 600-plus competitors battled it out to see who could earn themselves the title of Champion of Champions for 2009.

As I arrived on the first day of proceedings, it was remarkable to see the array of sports and competitions happening in the Sports and Aquatic Centre and the surrounding facilities on 28 November — swimming coaches and table tennis competitors dashed down the corridors looking for their respective events. But there was little doubt as to where I was to go as I followed the legions of proud martial artists in their gis, doboks and silky kung fu uniforms. All were headed for the grand finale that is the annual Australian NAS Championships.

The first morning started off with the official opening parade, where everyone large and small took the playing field and showed pride for the clubs that they'd been fighting for all year round.

People still filed in as NAS President Silvio Morelli performed the introductions and the official opening before handing it over to the competitors for their oath and then the officials and referees did the same.

nat09-pic1Then before I even knew it, the action literally kicked off early with the forms, where the young and old alike showed what they'd been perfecting all this time. Everywhere I looked there were weapons, creative forms and stringently accurate kata being performed with all the heart each individual could muster. At times I didn't know where to look as multiple events took place simultaneously as the Championships unravelled in record time.

A standout in the junior forms would have to be tiny Brook Boulchard from Kimekai Karate who despite her very young age and small stature performed a focused display that put some of the older competitors' kata to shame. She won a deserving first place in the Seven-and-Under Forms for her efforts.
I noticed a big gap between the casual entrant and the passionately focused competitor watching the intensity of the forms. I could also plainly see the enthusiasm of the younger, hopeful entrants that looked proudly up to the past champions as they walked among the crowd — and the older focused competitors that knew what was ahead of them and spent their time preparing for the point-sparring that was nearly upon them.

It seemed, though, that experience isn't always to one's advantage, as I saw the reigning female champion Samantha Palmer looking confident to onlookers, yet quietly nervous within herself. She started at the bottom with everyone else and looked ahead to a record-breaking three consecutive belts if she walked away Champion of Champions again.

nat09-pic3She wasn't alone however, as nervous competitors performed for the stern judges with some of the more flamboyant forms including spectacular spins and dives, and the junior weapons division entrants wielding weapons twice their size, but performing with the confidence of seasoned veterans.

There was also Lachlan Carr, who couldn't help but be obviously disappointed with his recent run of injury that had prevented him from having a run at a third-straight championship himself. It was good to see him ringside either way as he coached his own young fighters on.

The proceedings of the second day were in stark contrast to the hopes and excitement of the first day as faces got sterner and last minute practice became anxious during the point-sparring heats that took up the bulk of the day. Senseis and trainers took every final minute they had to coach their students in the last pre-fight moments.

I have to admit I was genuinely surprised by the fierceness of some of the sparring matches I saw, and have greater respect for the point-sparring crowd as I saw plenty of nice knocks to the head and bloodied gis changed for the blood rule. Although it is non-contact, accidental hits were taken like true warriors. None of it was intentional, but when you have frenzied fists flying at each other's faces, there's bound to be the odd connection.

nat09-pic4I was amazed to see pint-sized Mason Riley from Ishinryu Karate take on Joseph Rodwell from Australian Mixed Martial Arts, who seemed at least twice his size, and although Mason couldn't pull off the win, he got his second place in the Seven-and-Under division with a ton of courage while Rodwell took the cup.

In other junior events, Pece Naumouski from GKR showed why he has gained such a strong international name for himself already as he comfortably beat Eric Xu from Chikara Kenpo karate in the 10–11 Year-old Point-sparring championship, to win himself another trophy that is nearly his own height.

Blake Campbell from Loong Fu Pai made his way through the Black-belt heavyweights and continued to dominate with his aggressive style that stood out against the rest. It looked like he would take the win in his final fight after his opponent had to change gis after a blood ruling, but he lost by a few quick points at the end to finish fourth in the Men's Heavyweight division — but I am sure we are bound to see much more from this strong competitor in coming years. In the Heavyweight Point-sparring final, Mark Stone from Seishin Zen Ryoko took on New South Wales' Ashley Fleming from GKR, who had been making a name for himself all day, fighting his way through the division. Their battle was intense, with each taking some hard hits, but after a quick stoppage due to an illegal contact from Stone, the crowd chanted for Ash. He took it on board and bounced back with quick footwork and tough hands.

With all of the weight divisions done and dusted and the day's trophies handed out, everybody waited eagerly for the final showdown in the Champion of Champions playoff. The rest of the competitors surrounded the mats as the Black-belt champs made their dramatic entrance and ran in with the roll call.

The crowd gave an especially loud ovation for Samantha Palmer, who was looking to score her third Champion of Champions title to make the record books.

Her superior punching to the midsection had already given her a leg-up on the competition as she took the number-one position in both the Heavyweight and Open-weight divisions.

There was some confusion as to who Sam would fight, as the Heavy and Open winners would usually take on each other. After it was announced she would fight twice, there was a small uproar, which was seriously taken into consideration by the judges and officials who voted to change their own ruling and Sam was set to fight just once.

Due to the mix up, it was then announced that from next year onward, there would no longer be an Open weight division, as to stop competitors winning in more than one category, which has happened on more than one occasion. From now on, there will be an extra weight class added and fighters will only have a chance at one division. The crowd and competitors seemed happy with the new decision.

Although she seemed a little bewildered by the confusion at first, Sam brushed it off like a true champion. "The decision did throw me a bit to begin with," she confessed, "but my coaches, Mark and Carl and Jason, all told me to just focus on my fight and just make sure I win both of them — just focus on what I have to do and don't change my gameplan. I knew it was my day, and not to take it away from the other girls, but I knew I could win it either way. I knew I could beat Nicki [Kennedy, from Kenshin Kan], because I'd beaten her earlier that day and I was confident going in to fight Jamie Palmer [Chikara Kenpo Karate]. I hadn't fought her before but I was pretty confident that I was faster than her. I was just going to keep on fighting."

Before Sam had a chance to prove herself, the women's semi-final kicked off between the winners of the Lightweight and Middleweight divisions. Jamie Palmer from Chikara Kenpo Karate took on Nicki Kennedy and after some heated flurries, was stopped after illegal contact. The match continued but Jamie lost after a see-sawing battle that pushed Nicki into the grand final opposite the reigning champion.

nat09-pic5Sam fought well in the final and because she'd already beaten Nicki earlier in the day in Open-weight, it was obvious she had the confidence and a mental advantage. Sam continued to take advantage of Nicki's low guard and once she was down a few points, Nicki tried to equalise the match with some high-scoring kicks. Sam seemed to be onto her gameplan and kept her distance, slowly waiting for the right time to strike. She found it, taking the win in clean fashion with her accurate hands winning her an amazing battle to give her a third straight Champion of Champions title. The look on her face showed a year's worth of pressure gone and a dream finally realised.

"All year everyone was saying, go for three! Go for three!" said Sam. "Because no-one had really done that before at NAS, everyone was a bit expectant in that way, which was interesting. The pressure wasn't too bad, I think it helped to drive me a little more because I didn't want to let my team-mates down or anything. They were all cheering me, so it pushed me further than I could ever go on my own. I always get nervous on the day of the tournament, regardless, but today I was confident, but still very nervous as always. I felt ready and I felt really prepared. I knew that I wanted it really bad; when I want it bad I just work that much more to achieve it. The team had a lot of faith in me too, so it was great to deliver for them."

With her three wins, it's disappointing to hear that Sam will probably call it quits for a while with NAS as she goes onto to achieve some of her other goals. "I think I'll give NAS a break next year. I think I've gotten all I can from NAS, unless there is going to be a World All-Styles tournament, then I'd give that a shot for sure. I'm looking at the AKF circuit next year and the Japan tournament in August. I might come back one day though!"

In the Men's semifinals, Ashley Fleming, who won the Open-weight Continuous Sparring as well as the Heavyweight Point-sparring, stumbled with a foot injury that looked to end the day for him. But after a few minutes he sucked it up and came back to fight but Dean Gould took the line into the last match against Luke Croxford

Dean had taken the honours against Luke earlier in the day by beating him the Middleweight, but just to prove Luke wasn't finished, in a twist he came back to win in the Open-weight division up against Dean again in the final and now the two came face-to-face again for what would be a best-of-three match in the final to prove who was really the champion of champions for 2009.

Spectators could not have asked for a better final match, with the pair exchanging heated blows, both showing lightning-fast skills on their feet. Just as it came to the crunch, Dean dove in to strike Luke with his guard down and copped a solid blow to the head. In a moment that absolutely silenced the arena, Dean hit the mat cold and lay unconscious for what seemed like minutes.

nat09-pic2As the St John's First Aid team went to his side, the onlookers breathed a sigh of relief and some laughed as Dean exclaimed loudly at the bright light the attendant had shone in his eye.

Showing incredible heart, Dean stepped up to the mat again as the time ended on the clock. The ref penalised him for rushing in unprotected, which levelled the scores and forced the match into sudden-death overtime.
The crowd couldn't have asked for a more dramatic end as the two squared off for one last tilt of their lances to see who could walk away with the belt. Dean lashed out, but Luke was too fast and countered for the win as the crowd went wild.

"There was such a high level of skill shown by many competitors in each division," Luke said after his fight. "It was difficult to know who I would meet in the finals, however, I had a feeling I would be facing Dean Gould.
Throughout the day he blitzed the competition — he has phenomenal heart, ability and lightning speed, and was the clear winner in many of his fights. And sure enough, I was right. All of our fights were tough and extremely close, but very enjoyable as I am always up for a challenge and that's exactly what Dean brings, a challenge. I feel Dean and I are similarly matched — height, weight and technique-wise — and going into the Champion of Champions final we were one match a-piece, so really the COC was anyone's to win. I felt pretty confident within myself as I was prepared mentally and physically — even though I was nursing a torn oblique and an injured right knee."

Luke proved himself in the end and it turned out to be an unbelievable finish to a very successful day that saw everyone walk out with a smile.

The competitors who travelled all the way from Queensland had even more reason to smile as it was announced they'd won the State Cup on the points tally — much to the delight of NAS Vice President and Queensland native Jim Casey.

1. Download Tournament Results

Click here to download Tournament Results Nationals 28 - 29 November 2009 (PDF 81KB)