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ISKA Champions Highlighted, Big Changes for BBM Rankings

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Photo Courtesy: Lindsey Little Photography

The Black Belt Magazine Sport Karate Rankings have been updated once again following the U.S. Open ISKA World Martial Arts Championships. Thanks to Black Belt Magazine’s partnership with the International Sport Karate Association, the newly-crowned ISKA World Champions will now hold a featured spot on the rankings for an entire year.

Meanwhile, the new champions presented the committee with an opportunity to make significant changes to the rankings. These changes can be read in more detail in the preface on the rankings page (click here), but the highlights are that athletes who did not compete in either the U.S. Open and Battle of Atlanta have been excluded; the term “CMX” has been removed from the rankings in favor of using the terms “open” and “traditional” to differentiate the athletes by style instead of by the division they compete in; and there are a few new ranked divisions for females.

These changes for our sport’s lady warriors include separating “women’s sparring” into “divisional” and “open weight” to mirror how the men’s rankings are broken down, as well as the separation of Senior Women’s Forms and Weapons into two separate ranked divisions. Again, more detail about these changes can be found on the rankings page. This article serves to provide highlights about the changes within the rankings in the interest of transparency for the subjective process that the committee operates through.

Kicking things off with the adult women, Haley Glass won ISKA titles in both CMX and traditional weapons to maintain the number one position in open and traditional weapons. Her historic Night of Champions effort also included another ISKA title in CMX forms, helping her maintain the top spot in open forms as well. Women’s traditional forms has seen Amber Rutherford skyrocket to the number two spot in the rankings with her ISKA world championship win. She trails only Gabrielle Rudolph who won the NASKA women’s overall forms grand championship at the U.S. Open to further enhance her season with multiple overall grands.

As mentioned above, the women’s sparring rankings have received a makeover and there are now separate categories for divisional and open weight sparring. Katarina Herman sits atop the divisional rankings for her success on the season and overall grand championship at the U.S. Open. Right behind her is Corina Balan who defeated Herman in the overall grand championship bout at the Battle of Atlanta. In the open weight division, U.S. Open champion Jasmine Peterson jumps to the top with Battle of Atlanta champion Jimena Janeiro in second.

Photo Courtesy: Lindsey Little Photography

Now for the men, where Esteban Tremblay won ISKA world championships in CMX forms and weapons to maintain his place firmly atop the open forms and weapons rankings. Closely behind him in weapons is his teammate Ben Jones who won the NASKA CMX weapons overall grand championship at the U.S. Open. Notably in the open weapons division, Sen Gao makes his rankings debut in the fifth spot. He won the NASKA traditional weapons overall grand championship with a whip chain form at the U.S. Open.

This form was deemed to be more “open” than “traditional” by the committee and is a great example of how the term “open” is being used by the BBM rankings. To be clear, fast-paced traditional bo and sword forms commonly seen on NASKA are still being considered “traditional”. It was the acrobatics and performance-based weapon manipulation (such as the infamous ‘butt-bounces’ ) associated with a whip chain form that caused the committee to consider Sen Gao in the open weapons rankings. Alec Jahanvash moves to the top of the traditional weapons rankings following his overall grand championship in Atlanta and placing ahead of Esteban Tremblay in the grand championship at the U.S. Open. In men’s traditional forms, ISKA world champion Joey Castro is elevated to number two in the BBM rankings behind Mason Stowell who won the title at Battle of Atlanta and was absent in Orlando.

Men’s sparring has seen a great deal of movement given the decision for the committee to exclude athletes who did not compete in Orlando or Atlanta, eliminating superstars like Kameren Dawson and Avery Plowden from consideration. Among those active, the top heavyweight is now Kristhian Rivas who won the title at the U.S. Open. He is followed by Battle of Atlanta heavyweight grand champ Devon Hopper, who Rivas defeated in the eliminations in Orlando. Hopper makes a jump in the open weight rankings, moving into a tie with Tyreeke Saint for the second-place spot, which was a very difficult decision for the committee.

To recap, Bailey Murphy has been one of the most consistent fighters in this division for an extended period of time. The committee determined that a single loss to Tyreeke Saint in the open weight final at Battle of Atlanta was not quite enough to knock him off just yet, then Murphy was not in attendance at the U.S. Open. Murphy clings to the one spot, but this sparked great debate about what to do with Saint who defeated Murphy a few weeks ago and Hopper who looked great on his way to winning the U.S. Open title and having a WAKO open weight win from the Quebec Open in his back pocket this season. Ultimately, it was decided that the fairest decision was to tie Hopper and Saint in the second position. The lightweights did not see much movement due to many not being in attendance at the U.S. Open. However, Kevin Walker fought on the lightweight side of the divisions and won the overall grand championship to be introduced to those rankings in the 4th spot behind Murphy, Tyson Wray, and Enrique Letona who have been consistent among the lightweights all year.

Regarding the more experienced adult competitors, Mouse Millner sits atop 30+ women’s sparring, Amy Williams regains the number one spot in weapons, and Melanie Strauss is ahead of the field in forms. Brayan Rodriguez won the U.S. Open senior sparring overall grand against Santiago Aversso and they are ranked one and two respectively. Kevin Kowalczik and Samuel Diaz III won the grands for forms and weapons respectively, and they sit atop each of those rankings.

Photo Courtesy: Lindsey Little Photography

Moving down in age to the 14-17 junior divisions, Phillip Brumme is the top competitor in both open forms and weapons for winning the ISKA world championship in weapons and being the most consistent winner on the season in forms. New ISKA world champion Joe Troia moves up to the number two spot in forms. Noah Sansait won the divisional grand championship in traditional weapons at the U.S. Open and reclaims the top spot in that division, while in traditional forms the ISKA championship effort by Cheeks Elizondo lifts him into second place behind Battle of Atlanta champion Matthew Gruitia.

Sofia Rodriguez Florez won ISKA world championships in traditional forms and weapons, and it is no surprise that she maintains her top ranks in those categories. Alyss Groce won both the NASKA overall forms grand championship and the ISKA title at the U.S. Open elevating her to first place in the open forms division. Averi Presley achieved the same in weapons, winning both the overall grand and ISKA title, to become the number one competitor in open weapons.

Now for the youth 13 & under age group, Judah Sagawa grabbed two more ISKA world championships in CMX forms and weapons and he is the top-ranked athlete in both of those open divisions. He also won the divisional grand championship for traditional weapons and elevates himself to #1 in that category too. Likewise in traditional forms, a divisional grand championship in Orlando for Adomas Rackauskas regains his number one position.

For the girls, Adelynn Lau’s consistency in traditional weapons this season including an overall title in Atlanta has her at number one with divisional grand champ from the U.S. Open Madalynn Wiersma at two. Amanda Duarte won an ISKA title against the boys at the U.S. Open for traditional forms and tops that division, with traditional challenge winner Riley Claire Carlisle in second. Savannah Agosto won each of the CMX ISKA titles and is the number one girl in both open forms and weapons for the rankings.

Photo Courtesy: Lindsey Little Photography

Closing out this summary with the team divisions, Team Freestyle put on a show in team demonstration and regained the ISKA world championship. The talented group from San Diego holds on to their number one world ranking with the win. Ben Jones and Esteban Tremblay captured Team Paul Mitchell’s eighth consecutive synchronized weapons ISKA world championship and the dynamic bo duo is firmly atop the weapons division. In forms, Diego and Sofia Rodriguez Florez used their traditional prowess to win the ISKA title and reclaim top honors in the rankings.

Lastly, men’s team fighting did not see any change at the top as a hybrid version of the top-ranked Team Straight Up won the ISKA title and the second-ranked Top Ten Team USA was not in action in Orlando. Team Dojo Elite was active at the Battle of Atlanta but had to bow out of the finals due to injury, and stayed put in their 4th position. Team Legend advanced to the finals against the hybrid Straight Up squad at the open to move up to third place as the formidable fighters of Team Diamond G3 swap places with Legend at five.

Black Belt Magazine would like to congratulate all the ISKA world champions and anyone who has climbed the rankings with their recent performances. All decisions about rankings come from a place of respect for every martial artist willing to test their skills at these major tournaments, and the committee hopes that the rankings continue to generate positive discussion about the sport and provide increased exposure to these amazing athletes. Click here to view the full updated rankings. Special thanks to Lindsey Little Photography for the images used in this article. Visit her Facebook page here.

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