The WKC (World Karate Confederation) world tournament will be held in Niagara Falls this year. In the past, the tournament has taken place in such far off places as Dublin, Ireland and Orlando, Fla.
A local martial artist — who is no stranger to traveling the world or in competing in the martial arts — will be representing Team USA.
Brandon Benenati, who works and trains in Rome, will compete in the prestigious event, having successfully completed a grueling gauntlet of training and tournaments to earn a place on the U.S. squad.
Benenati has been practicing in karate since he was six-years-old, when he began training in hopes of being like his dad who also practiced karate.
“My dad was in the Air Force so as is often the case, I was born overseas, Japan to be specific. When I was 5-years-old we moved to Germany where I started my martial arts journey with my dad as we trained in Tae Kwon Do. We then moved to England where I continued my training in Shorin-Ryu, being taught by my school art teacher.” explained Benenati.
From England he moved to Rome, where he would take up American karate at Bailey’s Karate School in 2005 run by Sensei Vicki Gillen, training in Tae Kwon Do and Shotokan.
“I think I took to martial arts much easier than other athletic activities. By the time I reached high school I knew karate was my thing.” said Benenati.
With all his training around the world and at Bailey’s Karate School, he earned his black belt in 2007.
Benenati also became an instructor at Bailey’s Karate School, where he continues to share his passion for the martial arts with students from across the region.
Benenati has always wanted to compete nationally to some degree and with a little encouragement from a friend to compete in the WKC – he did.
“When an opportunity opened up for me to give the WKC a shot, I didn’t want to pass it up,” he said.
But getting onto the team isn’t easy — and it has taken many steps to accomplish.
“There are three phases to competition within the WKC. The first phase is regional competition where there are several tournaments held throughout the year in different regions across the country.” he explained
“In my case I chose to compete at a regional tournament in Ohio. The goal in regionals is to place within the top four within your various divisions of kata and/or sparring in order to qualify for the next phase.”
“Phase two is national competition, which in the case of the U.S., takes place in Michigan. The goal here is the same as regionals but now the competition is more difficult. Those who place in the top four within their divisions qualify for phase three and are now a part of their respective country’s team.”
“Phase three is world competition. The location of the world tournament changes from year to year. This year it is taking place in Niagara Falls,” he said.
“I would have to say the hardest part of the competition for me was self imposed. I chose to compete in what most people would call Traditional and Creative/Contemporary divisions. Within those divisions there are different disciplines.”
“This made it especially hard for me because each division looks for different aspects of martial arts. It is also part of what made it fun for me. I liked the challenge of training myself to move in different ways and learn things that were foreign to me” he said.
Putting those difficulties aside, he explained what is was like to compete.
“If there was anything easy about the whole process it was finally competing. I had already put in the hard work preparing for the experience and when it came time to actually perform all I had to do was do what I had trained to do.”
The world tournament takes place November 2-8 this year. With just a couple months left to practice Benenati says he continues to go to tournaments so he can “keep myself fresh” for when the world tournament finally arrives.
When asked about his martial arts training in general Benenati called it “the greatest gift I have ever been given in my life”.
He also said how “martial arts gave me the opportunity to meet the wonderful woman who is now my wife, Kira Stone-Benenati. Kira has also been a student of the martial arts for many years at Bailey’s Karate School in Herkimer, under the mentor ship of Sensei Thomas Arcuri.”
Benenati’s gratitude for martial arts is apparent.
“Martial arts is an integral part of my life and I don’t foresee that ever changing. I have had the opportunity within my martial arts experience to become a better person, form lasting relationships, and help influence the lives of others,” Benenati said. “I am very fortunate, and I only wish to continue to do what I love for as long as I can.”