Â Â WINTERHAVEN -Â Â Belts of every color flashed byÂ at the 17th Annual South Cal International Martial Arts Camp which was held this past weekend,Â Friday to Sunday, at the Quechan Casino in Winterhaven.
The 2012 campÂ is the 17th in a long running tradition that started in 1994 at Central Union High School by 8th degree black belt Sensei Nabil Noujaim, a local teacher in El Centro. From its startÂ with 100 local students the camp has expanded to over 300 in number, making this the biggest one yet.
“We are very, very proud to bring this part of the valley and to have these numbers in this part of the world.”
Students of all levels and experience were in attendance from yellow belts all the way up the ladder to the high ranking black belts.Â All were there to learn from different instructors and to meet others students from around the country and world.
“You learn a lot,” said Greg Marquez, student from the El Centro dojo, “Some of these guys have been teaching for 40 years.”
It was also a chance for students to see, meet, and learn from instructors who came from Okinawa, Japan, the founding country of the Shorin-Ryu style.Â These special guests included the son of the Grand master, 10th degree black belt Sensei Minora Nakazato.
Brawley’s own dojo, run by 7th degree black belt Sensei Art Garcia, was also in attendance with 30 students.Â The dojo has been in Brawley for close to 30 years.Â Garcia himselfÂ was a part of Noujaim’s camp and dojo since both first started.
“We’re all here for the same reason, to train and learn under traditional karate,” said Garcia
Brian Velasquez, age 11, from the Brawley dojo said he had been coming for four years andÂ plans to keep doing so.Â “We’re very lucky, like we don’t have to spend moneyÂ for airplanes and for overseas travel.”
Some have even been around since the camp started at Central years ago.Â Bill Smerdon, another student of Garcia’s, has been attending the camp for 13 years.Â “This is a huge turnout, biggest I’ve seen.Â It’s fun to see all my buddies.”
The camp not only catered to the local valley dojos, but statewide and international dojos as well. 12 states were represented at the camp along with five countries that included Zimbabwe, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and India.
The sheer amount of knowledge and skill present at the camp did not phase Michael Campos, a yellow belt from Temecula, California and first time participant.
“Every black belt has been encouraging in every class,” said Campos, “There’s this amazing family atmosphere here.”