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Student competes in martial arts against world’s best

November 13, 2013

» click to enlarge «
Kaelynn Kowalski, 12, of Roseville, shows off some of her championship medals from the World Karate Council world championships, as well as her Michigan Sport Karate championship belts from 2012. Kowalski has been practicing martial arts since she was 5, learning karate and kung fu techniques.
Kaelynn Kowalski shows off her bo skills in the midst of her creative weapons division routine during the World Karate Council's world championships tournament in Italy in October.

ROSEVILLE — For two years in a row, a Roseville Middle School student has taken her martial arts prowess to the world stage.

Kaelyn Kowalski, 12, of Roseville, successfully competed in the World Karate Council, or WKC, World Championships martial arts tournament Oct. 14-19 in Taranto, Italy, as part of Team USA. She came home with two bronze medals in the creative weapons and Chinese soft style divisions.

According to her mother, Debbie Kowalski, Kaelyn has been involved in the martial arts since she was 5, when she started out in the Japanese martial art of karate.

“She brought a flier home from kindergarten and said she wanted to join, and I didn’t take her seriously,” Debbie said. “I just hung it on the fridge like most moms did, until the start date when she said, ‘Mom, we need to go.’”

She said that Kaelyn started taking Chinese kung fu two years ago, a radical change from karate. Debbie said that karate involves a lot of power and precision, with a focus on “strong stances.” In contrast, kung fu is a fluid martial art, more like a dance, where momentum is a key component.

“I prefer kung fu,” Kaelyn said. “It’s hard to explain, but (I like) pretty much all of it.”

About the same time she started kung fu, Kaelyn also started competing in martial arts tournaments. Initially only participating in karate competitions, as she gained more experience in kung fu, she began entering events open to all styles, Debbie said. She has been participating in regional, state, national and worldwide events ever since.

Kaelyn earned two championships in the 2012 Michigan Sport Karate circuit, as well as a silver medal in Chinese soft style for her age bracket in last year’s WKC World Championships in Montreal. Debbie said Kaelyn also is on track to earn a first-place spot in this year’s Michigan Sport Karate circuit for forms, and possibly a third place spot in weapons, depending on how she does in the final monthly tournament in November.

Kaelyn typically competes in two of the three local WKC divisions: forms and weapons, with the third one being sparring. She said she prefers the bo staff for her weapons training, though she has recently started to learn the broadsword because many of the principles are the same.

“(The bo) seems difficult, but it’s pretty easy to control once you get the hang of it,” Kaelyn said. “And plus, it just looks flashy, so that’s — pretty much it tops it all off.”

Debbie said qualifying for the WKC world tournament in any division requires a person to first finish top-four in their regional qualifier, and then again in the nationals qualifier. From there, the top four in a division are invited to the world tournament, where they compete twice to determine their final standing.

The competitor is responsible for getting to the world tournament themselves, however, and Debbie said they asked for donations from friends and family, held fundraisers, sold candy, and ran garage sales to get the money together to go to Italy. She added that the Roseville school system has also been supportive, with a couple teachers even donating some money for the trip after learning about it.

She said they were too busy to do much sightseeing, but Kaelyn said it was really interesting to see how competitors from around the world train and deal with their own difficulties.

Kaelyn added that they are already trying to raise funds for next year’s world tournament, scheduled to take place in Dublin.

Her father, Ed Kowalski, said their family has been very supportive of Kaelyn’s interest in martial arts from the start, noting that her brother, Brandon, used to take karate.

“The reason I would say we got her into martial arts is because she was timid around older people, specifically men. She would shy away a lot, and we figured she needs to learn how to protect herself,” Ed  said. “And it’s better than cheerleading. She can use this the rest of her life. Cheerleading you can’t.”

Debbie said they have family friends involved in martial arts who are always willing to help teach Kaelyn and give her pointers outside of class, and that they will continue to push her to keep it up “as long as she’s wanting to do it.”

“I think it’s an awesome opportunity for her, and when she is an adult that this could take her anywhere,” she said. “And then it teaches her respect, and discipline, and gives her focus on what the important things are.”

While she only has classes in Southfield a couple times a week, Debbie said her daughter is practicing every day, working on improving her skills.

Kaelyn, herself, is still interested in continuing to learn and travel the world through the martial arts.

“Most of the time, we’re confined to one state,” Kaelyn said. “I want to go to other places — not just one area.”

About the author

Staff Writer Kevin Bunch covers the communities of Eastpointe and Roseville, as well as Roseville Community Schools and East Detroit Public Schools. He has worked at C&G Newspapers since 2013, and is a graduate of Wayne State University and Henry Ford Community College. Kevin is also a 2015 Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting alumni.

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