COMPETITOR OF THE YEAR
AS A COACH, DAMON POSSESSESPOSS THE SAME PASSION AND DESIRE TO BE THE BEST THAT HE DID AS A WORLD-CHAMPION COMPETITOR.” — DON RODRIGUES
W e �irst crossed paths with Damon ilbert at the Martial Arts uper how in as egas and quickly determined that he was a skilled practitioner as well as a true gentleman. hat we didn’t know until we started doing research for this write-up was what surely must have been two key components in making him who he is todayǣ ilbert is a 1[-time world champion in sparring, and he’s been protecting the public as an of�icer in the Oakland olice Department for going on 20 years. For half that time, he taught defensive tactics to fellow of �icers, which ought to silence naysayers who claim sportkarate people can’t �ight.
(For those who are interested in Of�icer ilbert’s views on law enforcement, PBS NewsHour released an insightful video interview with him in 201. In it, he discusses the challenges of being an AfricanAmerican police of�icer in modern America. atch it at pbs.org.)
ilbert started training in the martial arts in 1980 and earned his black belt in 1991. Just a year later, he began winning in competition — we’re talking about big events like the Battle of Atlanta and those put on by the orth American port Karate Association and the ational Blackbelt
eague. In 200 the practitioner of kajukenbo — an art in which his father holds a sixth-degree black belt — joined Team aul Mitchell Karate. ven though he’s based in California, where he serves as chief instructor at BIT Martial Arts Academy in an eandro, and most of the team is headquartered in ew ngland, ilbert manages to get together with them for training and teaching several times a year. Often that happens at tournaments like the Ocean tate rand ationals, which is run by aul Mitchell head coach and Black Belt all of Famer Don odrigues. “As a coach, Damon possesses the same passion and desire to be the best that he did as a world-champion competitor,” odrigues said. “e approaches everything with a never-say-never attitude, which he showed more than ever when he broke his neck in a team �ight at a tournament. The doctors said he would never �ight again. A little over a year later, Damon captured the I KA orld Championships title at the . . Open on .”
odrigues’ wife Christine Bannon- odrigues, a Black Belt all of Fame member who retired from Team aul Mitchell, also thinks highly of ilbert’s acumen. “Damon sweats and bleeds black and white — the team’s colorsǨ” she said. “e will �ight for his team members, when a rule is broken or for any other reason, until the end. e always has his team’s back and is beyond passionate about his coaching. The �ighters are blessed to have him in their corner.
“By day, Damon is a police of�icer, trying to make the streets a better and safer place by protecting and serving his community. By night, he’s a family man and martial arts instructor and the �ighting coach for Team aul Mitchell. I’m proud to call him a friend and brother in the martial arts.”
Black Belt is proud to name Damon ilbert its 2017 Competitor of the ear, both for his past achievements and for the contributions he’s making to the next generation.