Karate athletes compete for gold

Taj Patel performs a swords kata Saturday during the Battle of Lenoir City karate tournament at the War Memorial Building.

More than 300 karate athletes from the Southeast descended Saturday on Lenoir City's War Memorial Building to compete in the third annual Battle for Lenoir City.

The tournament was hosted by the Lenoir City Isshinryu Academy and serves as the organization's primary annual fundraiser.

"We do it for free and we're a nonprofit," B.J. Frye, LCIA director, said. "I don't pay anything out of my pocket. Every dime that comes out of here, it all goes to us. I've been here for three years and I drive 50 miles every Saturday to get here, but it's all about the kids. At the end of the day, it's worth it. If I can do something good for kids, that's what it's all about. You can see the turnout here and it's a good thing."

The tournament featured grandmaster and United States Isshinryu Karate Association founder Phil Little of Anderson, S.C.

Little has been involved in karate for 45 years and became an instructor in 1974.

"I'm a 10th-degree black belt and I've been teaching B.J. since he was a little kid," Little said. "It's an open tournament and different styles are welcome here. It's not just an Isshinryu tournament. It's been a wonderful event and we have a wonderful representation from black belts that have been training a long time for this."

Different styles presented included Isshinryu, Kung Fu, Taekwondo and Shoinryu.

"You'll have four different countries of origin of all the styles that make this tournament up," Little said. "This is our third year and Lenoir City has been a great, welcoming city for us. It's been really good every year."

Taj Patel traveled from Andalusia, Ala., to participate Saturday on his way to Nashville for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

He came away with first place in the swords kata event.

"I've been doing karate for nine years," Patel said. "At first, I wanted to be Superman and I thought karate would help me be Superman, but now, it's really helped me grow as an individual. I'm a second-degree black belt and got it two years ago. If things go well, I'll get my third-degree next year. It really is a tough journey and you have to overcome a lot of things. It really is a hard thing. We saw they were having this tournament, so we thought we could fit it in."

A large segment of the participants were LCIA students, which gives Frye hope for the future of karate in Loudon County.

"I have 58 students," he said. "I do Isshinryu and MMA. I also do ground fighting. If you can get on the ground, I'll do that, too. Karate is not very big around here, but if I didn't have karate in my life, I would just give up. I love it and I love teaching kids. We're going to have this tournament every year and I hope next year this place is too small for our tournament."

Lenoir City Isshinryu Academy is a nonprofit school that teaches self-defense, sparring and karate techniques to students for free.

Classes are held Friday nights and Saturday mornings at the Loudon County Technology Center.

For more information, visit the Lenoir City Isshinryu Academy Facebook page or email IsshinryuAcademyofLC@gmail.com.