By Jessica Tuggle
VERO BEACH - In class, the students listen intently and concentrate on obeying the voice of their instructor. Quietly, they follow his directions and make smooth, fluid motions, but when the time comes to stand tall and be strong, the students quickly transform into fierce competitors.
The Florida Karate Academy of Vero Beach and Boca Raton took 26 athletes to compete in the 2012 AAU National Karate Championship in Chicago and brought home a total of 57 medals.
Derek Deleon, 11, brought home four medals from national competition.
"When you go there, you want to know if there are people there you've beat before," Derek said.
"You want to go up against as many people as you can and win," he said.
Trey Schiflett, 11, said he was happy about winning his three medals and always enjoys the big tournaments.
"It's very loud and there's a lot of people. We all train the whole year for it," he said.
"Sometimes you don't do as good as you want, but when that happens, you just say you will train harder next year. And you see your mistakes and try to fix them over the next year," Trey said.
The national championships attracted about 1,600 athletes from ages 5 to 65. All of the athletes had to qualify for the tournament by advancing through their district and regional qualifiers, said David Roth, owner and head instructor of Florida Karate Academy.
About 20 percent of his students participated in the competition teams, Mr. Roth said.
"Most people that get involved in karate do it for the health benefits, self-defense or recreation, which is excellent. The competition team is the 20 percent that work harder to get themselves to another level," Mr. Roth said.
"I was very pleased with the team performance this year. It was outstanding," he said.
While winning is great, Florida Karate Academy isn't about churning out superstars. Martial arts are arts of self-improvement; physical, mental and spiritual improvement, Mr. Roth said.
"It's not just about winning a tournament, it's about doing your best in all of your life," he said.
For more information about Florida Karate Academy, call (772) 563-9333 or visit www.floridakarateacademy.com.