Martial arts has experienced an uptick in enthusiasm in the last few years as kids, teenagers and adults flock to the various disciplines to learn self defense and respect while satisfying their competitive tendencies. Enthusiasm alone often isn’t enough for some, however, as the cost to train, equip oneself, and compete has kept some potential martial artists away from the sports.
That’s where Junior Merafuentes, leader of Modesto’s Merafuentes Korean Karate, has stepped in.
After organizing martial arts tournaments for the past three years Merafuentes has started a new trend by providing free tournaments void of registration fees. The move is intended to not only increase participation in sports such as Jiu Jitsu and kickboxing but to also give back to the athletes and parents who put their time and money into the sports.
“It’s just a lot of money, especially in this economy,” Merafuentes said of traditional tournament entry fees. “They’re basically making a lot of money off people who are struggling and there’s a lot of hidden talent out there who can’t pay to compete.”
Merafuentes, along with the California Black Belt League, hosted one of their free tournaments at Pitman High on Saturday, welcoming 255 athletes, 25 martial arts schools and a horde of spectators into the gym. It was the third time in the past three years that a tournament was held at Pitman.
“We really rely on the spectators,” Merafuentes said. “We’re still looking for sponsors to help out with the costs because it’s all about giving back to the kids.”
Competitors in Saturday’s tournament ranged from 3 to 70 years old and competed in a number of different disciplines, including Sport Karate, IKF Kickboxing, and Jiu Jitsu, and categories such as traditional forms, open weapon forms, sparring, and competitive matches. Those athletes hailed from a host of different California cities, from Tulare to Sacramento. There were also a number of local athletes, including Brandon Bettencourt who took first place in his Jiu Jitsu bracket.
“Jiu Jitsu is a good base for MMA or even self defense,” Bettencourt said. “It’s taken some getting used to, but I really like it.”
CBBL tournaments will continue to be held each month until the Sept. 1 finals competition at the Double Tree in Modesto. Competitors and those interested in martial arts are encouraged to attend the tournaments and take advantage of the free registration.
“We run a circuit where every month we have a tournament,” Merafuentes said. “There are a lot of circuits out there that are charging and I wanted to do something a little different than everyone else.”