U.S. SHIDOKAN OPEN:
YOU TAKE YOUR CHANCES...
by Roger Salick
in BLACK BELT MAGAZINE, April 1995
It was a mostly male audience, driven from the streets of Chicago into the Bismark Hotel by a freezing wind and a hunger for violent action. The marquee reminded everyone this is a BAREKNUCKLE, FULL CONTACT event, but no one was looking at the sign. Inside there were more compelling distractions.
Female muscle-mag models were working the doors, their Nautilus-fueled bodies so hard they seemed lathed out of bronze. Most of the men stared furtively--some openly--their eyes quivering as if in REM sleep,
their testosterone shunts cranking open like beer tent spigots. Just beyond, Don "the Dragon" Wilson, fresh from his seventeenth film, was alternately pinned by ESPN's klieg lights, enduring "buddy" photographs, and patiently signing enough autographs to bring on carpal tunnel syndrome. The ragged pulse of rock music thrummed the walls.
The U.S. Shidokan Open was ready to get it on.
Shidokan rules are borderline brutal but not unlimited, custom made for sustained contact and the occasional protracted match. Fighters can kick and knee to the head, body and legs. Punches to the body are fair game, which will sometimes occur in explosive flurries that can be heard up in the mezzanine. An opponent can be thrown to the mat, but may not be struck once he's there.
There are other taboos: no punches or elbows to the face/head/neck, nor anything to the groin, knees, spine or kidneys. No submission holds, joint locks, or chokes.
These rules, disappointing to a number of unlimited contact purists, nonetheless produce extremely tough athletes and some truly astonishing action. Ask Alan Pitts, a Florida heavyweight. After being savaged by the knees of 220 lb Dontel Fleming for exactly three minutes and 43 seconds, Pitts caught a concussive right roundhouse kick to the head that dropped him like a gunshot victim. His inert form was immediately surrounded by doctors who dug in his mouth with tongue depressors and an artificial airway.
Stretcher-ridden to the hospital, Pitts was declared all right. But as the fighter was carried from the ring, the announcer seized the moment to summarize the essence of the Shidokan. "We hate to see anybody hurt in this tournament," he said, "but sometimes you take your chances."
It was not easy for fighters to score points. Many matches are forced into one or more extended rounds because, generally speaking, you must drive your opponent to the canvas - and remain standing yourself - to score.
There were some classic battles, beginning with the first main fight of the night. A 5-foot-4 dynamo from Salt Lake City named Koki Hiro battled Hideo Ohta of Japan for three incredible rounds, exchanging hundreds of blows. The impact of kicks to the thighs - inner and outer - washed over the front row seats like the sound of wet sirloin hitting a butcher's block.
They went into overtime rounds, triggering one of the Shidokan's oddities: eight-ounce gloves and legal face-punching in overtime. With the gloves on, Hiro punched as if smacking leather into Ohta's face was the greatest thing ever invented. A second over-time round was declared. Exhausted, both men stood with their hands out like drunken kangaroo paws. Ohta's face became a piece of gym equipment for Hiro's punches, but his heart was iron and he refused to fall. At last, Hiro was declared the winner.
The night saw other great fights. Chicago native Bo Medenica, a middleweight veteran of domestic and overseas full contact fights, defeated Canadian Graham Zdril despite being floored by a spinning right backfist in the first of two overtime rounds.
Perhaps the biggest upset of the night was the match that saw giant Jean Riviere, the 300 lb Monster of Montreal - one of the few men with the power to make even two-year champion Tomasz Kucharzewski wary - fall prey to the trip hammer knees of Shidokan Open newcomer Jean-Michel Lavedrine of France. And this after Riviere had tortured Lavedrine with low kicks through much of the first two rounds, ruthlessly exploiting the devastating power of his 90 pound mass advantage.
In the end, the process ground through contestants until three champions emerged from their respective divisions. From the lightweights came Patrick White, Chicago's favorite son. In the semi-finals he tore apart Hiro in two rounds, exploiting a thirty-pound and two-inch advantage to stuff the smaller man through the ropes and slam repetitive knees into Hiro's face. Then in the finals he set his hooks into Hideshi Ohyabu of Japan. Ohyabu had just fought the longest match of the night, a six-round killer against Canadian Paul Rousseau that left his mouth bleeding and his pants ripped from his jock strap to his heel. But against White, Ohyabu hurt his leg and began limping, trying to shake the pain. It was too much. He fell open to a torrent of knee shots to the head, throwing a decision to White.
A knee to the head was the charmed weapon for middleweight champ Marco London of St. Martin as well. The unlucky recipient was Frenchman Frederic Aguilar, who had faced London in last year's championship match, where he clawed his way through three grueling overtime rounds before London finally beat him. This year he lasted four rounds before the knee hammered him into submission.
And in the heavyweights, the seemingly invincible Tomasz Kucharzewski of Poland once again asserted his right to own this division. Kucharzweski was an earth moving machine, absorbing punishment and dispensing misery, annihilating every man who rose against him. First to fall was Christopher Harrison, 210 pound pride of the Big Red One, then Alain Grosdesormeaux of St. Maarten caved from a first round knee to the head.
The greatest potential match of the night, Kucharzewski vs Fleming in the heavyweight finals, never came to pass. Fleming forfeited the contest, having been taken to the hospital after experiencing headaches and sensitivity to light. Next year, though, stand back. That's the one to watch.