For more than 30 years, the Ocean State Grand National Karate Championships have been a big event, but some years, the proceedings have a little more buzz.
This is one of those years.
The 32nd annual Ocean State event is scheduled for this weekend at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, and organizer Don Rodrigues of the Don Rodrigues Karate Academy can’t wait. In addition to the always-strong competition, the event is being billed as “The Year of the Dragons,” because of a big celebrity presence. Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce Lee, will be an honored guest, along with martial arts movie stars Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia “Lady Dragon” Rothrock. Actor Cary Tagawa will also be on hand.
It all adds up to a special weekend.
“This is the most impacted tournament we’ve had since the last time we had Chuck Norris here,” Rodrigues said. “We’re expecting a lot of people in and it’s pretty exciting. It should be a terrific competition.”
The event runs from Friday through Sunday at the Crowne Plaza. It will feature some of the nation’s top competitors in a wide range of disciplines, from sport karate and traditional forms to extreme weapons and team fighting. Also on the schedule is the Cerrone Black Belt Challenge, which includes some of the top touring teams from around the country, and the 2012 WAKO-USA National Junior Team Trials.
“This year’s event looks really awesome,” Rodrigues said. “It’s going to be terrific competition.”
The celebrity presence will be the icing on the cake, with the chance to salute Bruce Lee as the centerpiece. The opportunity first arose in December, when Rodrigues learned that Shannon Lee was raising funds to build a museum honoring her father. Rodrigues committed $25,000 to the effort in exchange for having Lee at the Ocean State Grand Nationals. Schools around the state chipped in to raise $15,000 and Rodrigues is covering the rest.
In addition to bringing Shannon to the event, the decision to raise the funds was also about honoring Bruce Lee.
“The thing I didn’t realize was how many kids right now don’t know who Bruce Lee is,” Rodrigues said. “He’s probably the most influential person in terms of getting people into the martial arts. I was stunned by the amount of prominent people who got started because of Bruce Lee. To see his legacy go down the tubes so to speak and not get preserved, it’s almost a travesty. We wanted to do our part in helping out and preserving that legacy in the martial arts. We want to make more and more people aware of his legacy. That’s one of the reasons why we’re having Shannon.”
Shannon Lee will be inducted into the Ocean State Grand Nationals Hall of Fame, and all the celebrities will be available for photos on Saturday afternoon. After that comes the main event, the Saturday night finals, which will also feature the Cerrone Black Belt Challenge. The finals are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
All in all, Rodrigues thinks a great event is in store.
“We’ve got over 30 states represented and four different countries coming in,” he said. “The very best teams in the country are all coming. It should be a tremendous competition.”