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Estacada's Team Ezra rises to the top

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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: LEO HOEFT - Students in Leo Hoeft's karate studio preformed well in the 2015 world games, organized by the National Blackbelt League.

The students at Team Ezra karate studio began 2016 on a high note.

Students Robert Ashley, Mihaela Keller, Justin Kennini and Patty Hanigan, who study under Leo Hoeft, all took home titles at the Super Grands World Games international championships, held from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 in South Carolina.

The top-five competitors in each division are eligible to attend the world games, organized by the National Black Belt League.

Ashley was the world champion for men’s continuous fighting and men’s lightweight point fighting and second in the world for 35 and over weapons.

Keller was the world champion for women’s lightweight point fighting and women’s continuous fighting and third in the world for Kajukenbo & Kenpo Kata.

Kennini was the world champion for junior point fighting, junior continuous fighting, junior Japanese Kata and junior Kajukenbo and Kenpo Kata.

Hanigan was fifth in the world for junior girl’s point fighting.

“(The world games) were good,” Ashley said. “We go to tournaments throughout the year, and these are similar to those, but on a much bigger scale.”

Ashley thought the most challenging part of the world games was nervousness.

“No matter how much you prepare, you get those nerves,” he said. “The anticipation can be overwhelming.”

He said martial arts has enabled him to better deal with the stresses in everyday life.

“Our style, Wu Ying Tao, is more than just kicks and punches,” he said. “There are emotional and mental concepts that come with each belt.”

The Wu Ying Tao style emphasizes compassion, humility, respect and balance.

Additionally, Hoeft emphasized that he focuses on dedication and effort in his rather than the results of the game.

“It’s about effort, it’s not about winning or losing,” he said. “In martial arts, you compete against yourself. It’s good practice for when there’s chaos in school and life.”

Ashley agreed.

“It’s more than just a fighting style,” he said. “There’s chaos and obstacles in the ring, and there are the same things in life. It’s made me a much more calm and confident person.”

For Hoeft, the best part of coaching is seeing his students improve over time.

“I get to watch that change,” he said. “My trophies are my students.”