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The Spirit of Competition Lives On

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Submitted by: Charlie Poe

World Black Belt Team What drives a martial artist to continue to compete in sport karate sparring after thirty plus years? When is it time to hang up your gloves and walk away from the tournament scene? What can a fifty year old do out there in the national circuit.

These questions were answered in a recent conversation I had with 5-time International Champion, Ron Pohnel. Ron began competing in the national circuit in the mid seventies and he continues to find success three decades later. He has considered “retirement” many times over the last 33 years but continues to compete in local, national and international tournaments. He attributes his longevity in competition to being able to adapt to the “new school” techniques while keeping true to the “old school” philosophy and work ethics.

Pohnel, sees the value of the “new school” techniques, as sport karate sparring has evolved into a flashy, quick game of tag. He continues to be competitive by learning these new techniques and adapting it to his “old school” roots. Ron believes that the “new school” fighter lack commitment behind their techniques and rely upon flashy moves that the judges are looking for. He sees “old school” as the basics with 100% commitment and the value of timing, following a game plan, and a good reverse punch. Pohnel’s experience has shown him that the good fighters really only use 3-4 solid techniques to become champions in sport karate sparring.sept06.19 spiritofcomp01

Calling a point Pohnel, has returned to the national circuit after spending 15 years living in Hawaii. He traveled from Hawaii to the California in 2004 to compete in the Shark City Nationals. That experience sparked his competitiveness to learn some “new school” techniques. He then took his knowledge back to Hawaii and trained a team by finding a balance and combining the old and the new school techniques and values. The Honolulu Sparring Club team consisted of six martial artists who competed at the Salt City Nationals. They found success as every member placed no lower than third in their respective sparring divisions.

After more than three decades of competition Pohnel continues to enjoy and find great success in the sport karate tournament circuit. As the years go by he finds it more difficult to roll out of bed after a day of fighting. There are times when Ron is just happy to leave a tournament without any injuries, but at his core he is a fighter and strives to learn and develop as a martial artist. In addition to competing, he enjoys teaching and coaching the future generation to become national sport karate sparring champions. He has found a “formula” for success and has developed a training system called “7 Techniques to be a Champion”. Basically he says, “New school or old school a direct hit should always be called a point.”


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For two decades Bob Wall was a force on the tournament circuit placing 1st or 2nd in every major karate championship from 1965 to 1972. Mr. Wall was also a member of the legendary quintet of Chuck Norris, Mike Stone, Joe Lewis, and Skipper Mullins sweeping the world professional titles for 1970, 71, & 72.

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