Masters on the mat |

Masters on the mat

Sensei Will Durham and Ryan Hotchkiss (8) practice Karate

While most kids were tinkering with toys, mastering video games or romping outside with playmates on Wednesday, Matthew and Paige Hourigan were pitted in competition at the National Karate Championships in Lakeland, Fla., against the most adept martial arts students in the country.”The competition was extremely fierce,” said father Patrick Hourigan, who served as the young warriors’ chauffeur and one-man cheering section. “It was a pretty tough bunch. These kids are only 8 (years old) but they’re lightning fast. They were all very well trained and precise.”The same could be said of 8-year-old Matthew and his 6-year-old sister Paige, who train at Matsuyama Martial Arts Academy in Truckee under the tutelage of Sensei Will Durham. Ever since the young siblings qualified for Nationals at the regional championship in Grants Pass, Ore. they have been waking up in the wee hours of morning to begin training at 6:30.”Just to go to Nationals is an extraordinary experience,” Hourigan said. “It’s very, very intense competition. It takes a lot of dedication.”Like most of Durham’s students, Matthew, a green belt, and Paige, a yellow belt, specialize in kata, a choreographed routine demonstrating a series of precise martial arts movements. Paige, who began training last fall, earned a silver medal in kata at her first USA Nationals on Wednesday.This year Matthew did not have the same fate.

Although kata is his forte, Matthew also entered the sparring competition – last year at Nationals he took home two bronze medals, one in sparring and the other in weapons. But the higher the age, the more intense the competition is. “He had a pretty tough sparring match today,” Hourigan said by cell phone while driving back to their hotel. “He got kicked in the stomach, got kicked in the groin and in the head. But I’m very proud, very impressed that he did not quit.”The kid had reach on him. But (Matthew) just hunkered down and came back. He was really going after the kid.”But it was not enough for a comeback victory and Matthew had to settle for a top-10 finish and some bruises, but no medal. Matthew, who weighs in at slightly more than 50 pounds, said he was nervous entering the match against his taller and heavier opponent.”Before going into sparring I was kind of shaking,” he said. “There was a lot of screaming in the crowd – a lot of people. I just closed my eyes and let everything out of my mind.”About the match: “It kind of hurt. I shed a few tears. But I gave a few shots myself,” Matthew said.

In the kata competition, which is a judged and thus subjective event, Matthew placed in the top five. But according to Hourigan, he could have easily been in the top three.”The first competition was kata, and that’s my favorite,” Matthew said. “I don’t like the violence in sparring.”And when Matthew is receiving more punishment than he’s dishing out, his father doesn’t like it much, either.”It’s kind of hard to watch as a parent,” Hourigan said. “I’m a bit anxious before he goes out. It can be pretty brutal. But I’m really proud. Matthew never threw in the towel, never gave up. He was able to face his fears and come through.”Paige was not involved in the violence her brother had to deal with in the sparring competition – outside of rooting him on – but she too felt the nerves flowing before her own performance.”Yes, I was nervous,” she said. “There was tons of people.”

Why karate?After numerous inquiries about karate while driving by Matsuyama, located on Donner Pass Road just east of Tahoe Berry, Hourigan signed his son up in the spring of 2003.”He took to it like a duck to water,” Hourigan said. “It’s just kind of his thing. He loves it.”So naturally, after he wanted to do it, Paige wanted to do it, too.”For Durham, the discipline and respect he so avidly ingrains in his students was already present in Matthew and Paige.”They both have the strongest spirit and great natural athletic ability,” Durham said. “They are always willing to help everybody in class and they’re both real respectful. They are just great kids.”

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