Mississippi martial artist has eye on Tokyo Olympics

(Photo: Benjamen Sanford/Hattiesburg American)

Olympic gold is on the mind of a 23-year-old martial arts instructor.

With the 2020 Summer Olympics including karate for the first time, Ian Turner has the opportunity to join the first U.S. karate team, along with four of his students.

Ian, from the small town of Bailey, was selected to compete at the World Martial Arts Games for the United States Martial Arts Team in September. Participants at the competition will be chosen to represent the U.S. at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Ian, who graduated from William Carey University majoring in speech and social science, began training in karate at seven years old.

Martial arts inundated the pop culture of the ’80s and ’90s, with films like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Karate Kid” and movies featuring Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris. Ian laughed as he admitted that such movies made him interested in martial arts, and that he initially “just wanted to beat somebody up.”

His mentality quickly changed when he realized the intensity and beauty of martial arts at his first lesson. For the first seven years of his career, Ian trained for four to six hours a day for five days a week, taking four different classes a day.

As Ian’s love for martial arts grew, his family quickly joined him. His father, Kenneth, and younger sister, Brittany, began taking lessons. The two other Turner sisters, Kenna, 12, and Elise, 6, also take martial arts. Their mother, Sheila, does not practice but supports her husband and children at events and encourages them to master their forms.

Kenneth said martial arts became a “centerpiece” to the Turner family. They went to competitions together, trained together and Ian said they are each other’s “biggest competition.”

Brittany, 19, who started training at age 3, said she had never known anything other than martial arts.

“It’s the normal thing for our family; we are all close today because of it,” Brittany said.

At the age of 16, what Ian intended to be a small seminar to instruct other children in martial arts turned into him opening his own dojo. Turner Shotokan, in Collinsville, is run by the family with Kenneth, Ian and Brittany instructing.

“We do everything as a family,” Ian said.

At Turner Shotokan, Ian said they concentrate on teaching martial arts in an applicable way to students ranging from 6 to 40.

“I want to make sure my students get a good workout and are actually learning and are using what they learn so that they can defend themselves if needed,” Ian said.

On Feb. 25, wearing jeans and flip-flops, Ian and Brittany went to coach and encourage their trainees competing in U.S. Martial Arts Team tryouts. Next thing they knew, Ian and Brittany were given gis and convinced to try out.

“The game had changed,” Ian said.

Ten hours later, the duo were informed they had made the team, along with their trainees Thad and Logan Davis and Aaron Rhodes. Neither Turner sibling had trained for the tryouts because they were concentrating on helping their students make the team.

As part of the U.S. Martial Arts Team, Ian will participate in the World Martial Arts Games in September, along with his sisters and trainees. Ian spoke with humility and awe as he expressed the honor he felt as an athlete representing the U.S.

“It hits me every time I think about it like it’s the first time I heard the news. I am a United States athlete. I will be wearing the flag. Holy crap.”

Ian’s training for the World Martial Arts Games in Orlando consists of a strict diet and daily workouts lasting about five hours. He said this competition was the “biggest thing” he has ever done and he wants to be the best he can be.

Ian was chosen to participate in traditional kata, sparring, point fighting and continuous fighting at the games. Brittany will participate in Chinese weapons, point sparring, continuous sparring, jiu-jitsu and grapple strike.

“Martial arts isn’t just something physical, it is something mental as well,” Ian said. “Your body is only as strong as your mind will let it be. If you stop the second your body tells you, ‘This hurts,’ you will never get stronger physically.”

In the midst of his rigorous training, Ian holds on to what his father, Kenneth, has told him since he was a child: “Sacrifice a little now for a lot later.”

Ian is focused on winning gold at the World Martial Arts Games in the hopes of proceeding to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.

To compete in the World Martial Arts Games, the five Mississippi athletes are raising $4,000 for tournament and travel expenses. Those interested in sponsoring may contact Ian at ianturner15@yahoo.com.

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