The slogan for this weekend’s Ocean State Grand National Karate Championships is “The Legacy Continues.”
It’s a fitting tagline.
The event is back for its 34th year as a fixture on the New England martial arts scene, it’s welcoming in a host of world champions and it’s bringing back fitness guru Billy Blanks as a main attraction. Before he invented Tae-Bo and went on to national acclaim, Blanks was a champion himself at the Ocean State event.
It’s a full-circle feeling for event organizer Don Rodrigues of the Don Rodrigues Karate Academy.
“It should be a fun tournament,” Rodrigues said.
The event runs from Friday through Sunday at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. Friday features the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations, Saturday’s nighttime finals will be the tournament’s main event and Sunday will feature competition in several divisions. Upwards of 800 competitors will be a part of the event.
“There should be a lot of good competition,” Rodrigues said. “Our nighttime show will be outstanding.”
The presence of Blanks will add a unique touch. He was a karate champion in the 1980s and early 1990s before he created a fitness sensation when he invented the Tae-Bo exercise program. Popularity soared, and Blanks became one of the most well-known fitness gurus in the country.
His return to the Ocean State event will include a Tae-Bo certification camp, to be held Thursday at the Don Rodrigues Karate Academy, as well as a fighting seminar Thursday night at the Crowne Plaza. Blanks will also be on hand for Saturday’s finals.
“He’s coming in as a special guest,” Rodrigues said. “He’s doing a Tae-Bo certification at our school on Thursday, lasting all day. He teaches them the whole program and they become certified instructors. For local schools to have that opportunity and incorporate that in their schools is great.”
Blanks has also lent a hand to a fundraising effort spearheaded by Rodrigues. A former member of Rodrigues’s Paul Mitchell team, Kevin Thompson, was diagnosed with ALS several years ago. Rodrigues and several local schools have come together to raise funds in an effort to buy a wheelchair accessible van for Thompson. Blanks, a former teammate, donated commemorative autographed black belts and will pose for photos with top fundraisers at the tournament.
Thompson, who hails from New Jersey, is also expected to attend.
“It should be a memorable thing,” Rodrigues said. “A lot of people are looking forward to seeing him, and it looks like we’re going to get to our fundraising goal.”
In addition to the expected tournament success, the local economy should get a boost as well, something that’s always been important to Rodrigues.
“You have X amount of competitors, but you’re getting a couple of spectators apiece,” he said. “You’re up to a couple of thousand people filtering in and out. It’s very good for the economy.”
Anyone interested in purchasing tickets can contact the Don Rodrigues Karate Academy at 401-737-2809.