Locals shine at Grand Nationals


The Don Rodrigues Karate Academy in Warwick hosted its 39th annual Ocean State Grand Championships at the Crowne Plaza, serving once again as one of the largest karate competitions in North America.

Many local martial artists had strong outings, including the Paul Mitchell-sponsored team that includes competitors from the DRKA.

Ashly Sacrey took home two first-place finishes and the 30-plus Black Belt Forms Grand Championship. Hunter Stromberg took home four first-place finishes, as well as two underbelt Grands, while Cindy Gabriel also took an underbelt Grand Championship. Kathryn Tian finished first in the Black Belt Chinese Weapons competition as well. John D’Angelo IV won two finals in the intermediate division. Team Paul Mitchell also won the team sync weapons event.

Other local winners included Julie Williams and Logan Lucier, who together won the Black Belt Sync Forms competition. Charlie Williams also took six first-place finishes while brother Joe Williams also captured first place.

“We have a very big core of martial artists in Rhode Island. This tournament was our biggest in about five years or so,” said Don Rodrigues, who has been proud to see his school and its students continue to grow for nearly four decades. “It goes in stages like anything else. Twenty years ago, we had a lot of great students that went on to do great things. Lately, our competition team hasn’t been as big as it once was, so to see the tradition carry on and for our team to have that success is great. It’s great to see the progress that our students have made over the years.”

The DRKA has grown into perhaps the top karate school in Rhode Island, and is among the premier programs throughout all of New England. With over 200 enrolled students, which includes many who compete at the local and national level, Rodrigues and his team have developed a program that has found success and will continue to strive for greatness moving forward.

“Martial arts are just so much more than (competition). It’s about respect, there are so many things that you can take from martial arts into life with you. In our belt system, we use stripes. Before you can get your yellow belt you have to get four stripes, we believe in establishing small goals to get big goals ... not worrying about what’s down the road, just about what’s in front of you and taking that next step, getting better each day,” said Rodrigues, whose program also focuses on being your best self outside of the dojo. “If a kid wants to get their next belt, they need to have a parents’ signature and the signature of at least one teacher at school to make sure that they are doing what they are supposed to. If they do not get those signatures, they cannot go for their next belt or compete. It’s about discipline.”

The DRKA is already beginning to plan for next year’s Ocean State Grands, which will mark its 40th tournament. As more of his students grow and continue achieving high-level success in the art, Rodrigues is proud of what his school has accomplished over the years and looks to continue its tradition for many more.

“The skill (on the team) this year was very comparable, and it’s because we have a structured system. After nearly 40 years, we feel like we know how to do this,” said Rodrigues. “We spend so much time with our students that we never really get to step back and think about what we have accomplished. Once in awhile I do though, and I look at some of our students that have had success, I’m proud of all of them. It’s one of those things that you don’t really think about, but I am very fortunate to still be (teaching) and I don’t think ill ever do anything else.”


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