DENVER — Two teens from Denver will compete in a large karate competition in Ecuador later this month.
Maria Gladkih, 13, and Martin Gissa, 15, are heading to the Pan American karate Championships. That means that they’ll go up against the world’s best Junior Karate champions and hopefully, bring back a gold medal of their own.
“So, I guess that’s pretty big,” Maria said with a cheeky grin on her face.
FOX31 and Channel 2’s Angel Andres was invited to visit them for an afternoon of training at Okinawa Dojo in southeast Denver.
It doesn’t look like much from the outside. They dojo sits just behind a McDonald’s off of East Hampden Avenue. It’s run by two brothers, Alexander and Vitaly Padalka. From inside their gym, there’s a lot of noise coming from the workout mats.
There’s just enough air conditioning to keep the athletes comfortable as they throw punches and kicks. Grunts break the silence each time Maria and Martin land a hit on one another.
Protected with foot pads, gloves and mouth guards, they’re landing hits each other skillfully. Each strike makes itself known with a loud smack.
“This is one of the beauties of karate,” said coach Alexander. He is one of their two Sensei, pronounced “sehn-say,” paying homage to karate’s Japanese roots. “Athletes have to demonstrate their punches and kicks executed at their highest speed and power while controlling their techniques perfectly.”
“They’re super good. We believe in both of them and we are sure that they will represent strong,” added Vitaly.
This is how the competition works: Two athletes start about six feet apart. They use their athleticism to land hits on their opponent’s body. Any punch landed is one point. Any kick to the body is two points. Any kick to the head is three points. Multiple judges are watching from the corners and sides of the mat and assigning points as the match progresses.
Then, there is the yelling.
“You won’t get points for the yelling by itself but if you strike your opponent with a good hit and add the yell, it impresses the judges and accentuates that you did a good job with your attack,” Alexander said.
Andres asked the two kids to quantify this upcoming competition. How big of a deal is it?
“To me, this is huge,” Maria said. “Last year, it was my first time in elite division. I was so scared that I didn’t win. But now, being a girl, I guess it — I don’t want to say it — but it proves to me that I’m capable and that anybody else can be capable of doing this thing.”
Martin, who recently received his black belt, said. “I’m hoping for a gold medal. Hopefully to be the first from our dojo to finish with a gold medal.”
Vitaly isn’t shy talking about how hard the teens have to work to maintain this level of athleticism.
“The kids train super hard. Five, six times a week. Sometimes two times a day. So, it’s a lot of commitment,” he said.
Team USA is providing a portion of the funding to get the kids to completion in South America. However, to fill the remainder, they’ve held a fundraising car wash and dojo party. They’re still asking kindly for donations. You can help them by going to their GoFundMe page.
Angel Andres wrote and produced this report.