Martial arts are a huge part of life for Don Rodrigues and his family, so much so that they’ve adapted a well-known phrase to fit their black-belt ways.
“The family that kicks together sticks together,” Rodrigues said.
Come September, they’ll be together for their best journey yet. Rodrigues, the owner of Warwick’s Don Rodrigues Karate Academy and the longtime coach of the United States team for the WAKO World Championships, will be teaming with his wife, Christine, to coach sons Dante and Niko at the championship event in Rimini, Italy.
Dante and Niko are two of four competitors with ties to the Warwick school who have made the U.S. team, and their presence will make an always-special trip even better.
“I’ve been to world championships in 17 countries but this is exciting for me,” said Don Rodrigues. “When I leave here, it just kills me. Anytime I have to leave my family, it’s really hard. This time, the only one we’re leaving behind is the dog.”
Dante, 16, has been to a world championship once before, but Niko, 13, has never been. They’ll be carrying on a family tradition. Christine is a nine-team world champion, while their older brother, Chris, won a title in 1999.
The chance to be part of that tradition together was too good to miss.
“We realized this is probably the only opportunity we’ll have,” Don Rodrigues said. “We couldn’t pass it up.”
Warwick’s Grace Rotondo is also qualified for the championships, along with former DRKA student Katherine Tian, who has moved to California.
They’ll be part of a 15-member team that will represent the United States at the event, which is sanctioned by the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations. At least 60 countries are expected to send teams.
“This is a big thing for all of these kids,” Rodrigues said. “It’s always exciting.”
Dante Rodrigues will compete in forms and weapons in the 16-18-year-old age bracket. In his world championship debut in 2010, he finished fourth in his division, just outside the medals.
“I think Dante has a good shot to win a gold medal,” Don Rodrigues said. “Dante’s division is going to tough, but he’s at the top of his class right now. He’s one some big tournaments so the pressure is not going to be there for him. He’s been on the big stage.”
Rodrigues also expects good things from Tian, his former student.
“She’s got a lot of talent,” he said. “I expect her to do real well.”
Rotondo and Niko Rodrigues have a little less experience on the big stage, but no less desire.
“For her size and her ability, Gracie should do very well,” Rodrigues said. “It’s her first world championship so there will be pressure, and you never know how kids respond. But she has worked very hard.”
Niko will fight in the 13-15-year-old division, where he’s at the younger end of the spectrum.
“Niko, being in the bottom part of his weight class, he might be fighting kids two to three years older than him,” Don Rodrigues said. “He’ll be at a disadvantage in a way. He might be fighting kids the same weight, but they’ll be older and more experienced. He’s got the ability to win. It all depends on the competition he’s going against.”
Rodrigues and his charges will leave for Italy on Sept. 6. For the Rodrigues family, it’ll be the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip.
“It’s exciting,” Don Rodrigues said.
And if the gold medal tradition continues? Even better.
“Let’s see if we can bring a couple more home,” Don Rodrigues said.