Butler County martial arts academy training for unique national competition

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to force people to adapt to new norms, a local martial arts academy reopened after a three-month shutdown and has 70 students training to compete in a virtual national competition next weekend.

Melissa Gerhardt of Budokai Academy of Martial Arts in Middletown said her standalone academy has the largest number of competitors in the national competition while another academy with nine locations in the Cleveland area has the next-highest total of students competing.

She said her students in the competition range in age from 7 to late 50s and some have won national titles in the past.

“The team has been training hard and it is a huge accolade to compete and win in this competition,” she said.

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She said instructors have to wear masks at all times but that is optional for students competing. Gerhardt said the competition team fights in events locally, regionally and nationally. Because of COVID-19, all of those events were cancelled this year. However, the Amateur Athletic Union for Taekwondo is holding a virtual nationals competition event next Friday and Saturday.

While there is no sparring in a virtual competition, students will compete in several breaking, forms, and weapons events for a national title.

Gerhardt said the breaking event includes competitors breaking 15 boards in the fastest time. The competitors perform skill in the weapons event that includes nunchucks and bow staves, and the form event is a demonstration of the competitors' execution of moves.

She said judges will watch two competitors at a time and determine the winners. The competition is “one and done” in which the winners advance to the next bracket, Gerhardt said.

“Our athletes are very excited to be a part of this and is definitely something positive during this pandemic,” she said.

The top four black belts who win gold at the national competition will have the opportunity to compete for a spot on the national team and participate in AAU competitions, Gerhardt said.

The local academy is affiliated with Kayla Harrison, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo who is now a PFL MMA champion and trains there when she is in her hometown of Middletown. It has 200 students, and there are many families training, she said.

“It’s fun and it’s more of a family sport ... everyone is on the mat here,” she said. “People can socialize and some have a goal of becoming a black belt.”

Last year, Gerhardt and her husband Rob opened the Middletown location at 1725 Yankee Road after outgrowing their previous location in Fairfield Twp. She retired as a sergeant with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office but recently returned as a part-time deputy/school resource officer.

The school offers Tae Kwon Do, Olympic Sparring, Hapkido, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo and Cardio Kickboxing, making it what Gerhardt said is “the only martial arts school in the Tri-State that offers all these arts under one roof.”

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