NOT JUST FOR KICKS: Louisiana Cajun Open highlights surging popularity of Martial Arts

John Dupont

A recent event in Dutchtown provided martial arts enthusiasts the kind of spectacular usually reserved for the Fourth of July.

The Louisiana Cajun Open showcased martial arts demonstrations from competitors young and old in a day-long event at Dutchtown High School.

The second annual event – promoted by Bobby Cannon of Gonzales Black Belt Academy — drew 150 participants, up from 80 for the inaugural event.

In addition, more than 250 spectators watched the competition.

“That wasn’t a bad number at all, considering the holiday weekend,” Cannon said. “In fact, I didn’t even think about the Fourth of July weekend when I set up the tournament.”

The event drew competitors from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama.

Competition focused on weapons (traditional and creative), traditional and creative forms and point sparring.

Many of the contestants ranged in age from 10-16, the most predominate bracket for competitors. Some were as young as 4, while one contestant was 79.

“You never know what your age divisions will be in a tournament,” Cannon said. “The diversity helps, but your tournament depends on how the promoter promotes himself and the event.”

Cannon, a National Black Belt League World Champion, is no stranger to the tournaments.

Much of the appeal toward the tournaments stems the variety a tournament may offer.

“Basically, most of your tournaments are small martial arts extravaganzas,” Cannon said. “You have all the different styles that come in.

“Our traditions aren’t as broken down as much as the NBL, but

we’re moving down from that Korean, Japanese and Chinese styles and they’re breaking them down more and more,” he said. “Tournaments are more specialized, and that gives every style a fair chance.”

Ken Ducote, of Black Dragon Martial Arts in Prairieville, gave the events high marks.

“I thought it was awesome,” he said. “It’s nice that there’s a working relationship among owners because Bobby is tournament oriented and his kids are nationally ranked and go all over the United States to compete.

“What we do at our school is sports karate, but we also teach Hapkido, a form of self-defense taught to kids 14 years and above,” Ducote said.

Ducote believes the sport extends far beyond the spirit of competition.

“You don’t see these kids in police reports,” he said. “They’re disciplined and work toward a goal. They’re all very respectful.”

The growing popularity of martial arts hasn’t hurt, either. The competition of discipline and strong athletic coordination helps, but many others turn to the sport as a means of self-defense.

Bob York, 72, a competitor in the weapons events Saturday, headed into the event with only two years experience under his belt.

“I got into this as a way to protect my daughter against a man who abused her,” he said. “It’s been good for self-defense as well as just staying active. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

Dwight Rush of Iron Tiger Academy in Gonzales, attributes the sport’s growth in popularity to more than just athletic attributes.

“I think martial arts has grown because people crave self- discipline, structure in their life and the philosophy of how to live right and treat others,” he said.

The success of his meet and others stems from two principles – organization of the event and a level playing field.

“Ultimately, your people want fair judges and a tournament that runs smooth,” he said. “Your tournaments depend on how the promoter promotes himself.

“For your first few tournaments, people come to see the promoter and get the feel,” Cannon said. “After that, they come because of the word of mouth for the tournament.”

We make sure the kids all have a good time, the judges are fair, they talk to everyone and make sure everyone has fun,” he said. “That’s the main idea of this event.”


Black Dragon Natalie Espinosa  6-year-old,  1st Forms,;Black Dragon Terry Guarisco 30yr old 1st forms; Black Dragon Byron Bradford 28 yr old 1st Weapons - 1st Point Sparring,; Black Dragon DWright Rush 46yr old 1st Weapons, Black Dragon Holly Rush 15 yr old 1 Point Sparring and BobYork 79 yr old 1st Weapons and the 2012 Louisiana Cajun Open "Top Competitor" winner.

ONLINE -- Watch a video interview with Bobby Cannon and see more photos from the event on our website,