Neighboring karate schools sometimes have rivalries with each other. They’re competitors after all.
For two Warwick schools, that’s never been the case. Don Rodrigues of the Don Rodrigues Karate Academy and Dennis Molloy, owner of State of the Arts Karate Center, are friendly with each other, and they’ve always been willing to work together.
Last month, they took their teamwork to another level.
Rodrigues is a longtime coach of the United States national team that travels every other year to the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations World Championships. This year, one of his athletes was Molloy.
They came home with gold.
Molloy, a 49-year-old Warwick resident, placed first in his division after taking third at the same event two years prior.
It was a career-making win.
“I will say that standing on the podium with our national anthem playing was one of the best moments I’ve ever had in my life,” Molloy said. “It was fantastic.”
And the Warwick connection had paid off.
“There weren’t too many people happier for Dennis than I was,” Rodrigues said. “It was something special.”
Molloy and Rodrigues have both operated their schools for many years. Even when they weren’t working with each other directly, they got along great. A rivalry never really developed.
“In other areas, a lot of schools don’t get along well with each other,” Rodrigues said. “We have not been that way ever. Most of the schools in this area get along very well. I can’t say that happens everywhere. It’s an unusual circumstance here.”
Two years ago, Molloy and Rodrigues began working together for the WAKO World Championships. Molloy had taken several years off from fighting but was back into it and wanted to shoot for a WAKO title, the pinnacle of the sport. With an experienced coach right around the corner, Molloy knew he was in a good position.
That first trip, though, it didn’t happen. Molloy took a bronze medal.
“I felt as his coach that there were some butterflies and certain things he wasn’t acclimated to,” Rodrigues said. “We fell a little short.”
But almost instantly, the loss became the perfect motivation.
“I remember that same day he lost, when we talked a little while later, he said, ‘I’ve got to come back here and win this gold medal,’” Rodrigues said.
WAKO championships are held every other year, so Molloy would have to wait. But in the meantime, he didn’t waste any time. After coming home from his first WAKO championships, he promptly delivered the best year he’d ever had as a competitor.
“That loss motivated me so much that the next year was the best year I’ve ever had,” Molloy said. “I competed in 18 tournaments and won 14 grand championships. That was a turning point for me. After losing that match, I said I’m going to do whatever it takes for the next two years to train hard and win.”
It was all geared toward a return trip to the WAKO championships, which were slated for November of this year in Dublin, Ireland.
With Rodrigues still on board, Molloy was confident – and more importantly, he felt like he was prepared.
“I was a lot more prepared,” Molloy said. “I was confident last time, but I think I trained too hard. I put too much pressure on myself and I think I over-trained for it. This time I approached it as just another tournament and stayed within my training routine and tried not to venture off of that too much.”
It worked perfectly. Molloy continued his recent run of success and surged to the championship.
“That’s the ultimate thing when you can get one of the people you work with to win a gold medal,” Rodrigues said. “When he lost two years ago, that crushed me too. To go back and get that gold was quite a thing. When you win a WAKO world title, you’re considered to be the best in your division in the world. There’s nobody who’s going to dispute that.”
Three other Rhode Islanders also took home medals, and two of them – Trixie Dumas and Alicia Bianco – are actually Molloy’s students. Louise Therrian won a silver medal.
Back in Warwick, Molloy is still basking in the glow of the championship.
Teaming up with a close friend to get it just made it even better.
“It’s a very emotional thing,” Rodrigues said. “You put all these years into it, and it comes to this peak moment. It’s probably his greatest achievement.”