Highlights From America’s Premier Martial Arts Expo
The day after Independence Day, representatives from Black Belt packed their bags and hit the road for Las Vegas to prepare for the 2017 Martial Arts SuperShow, held this year at the MGM Grand Hotel. There, we joined more than 2,000 martial arts enthusiasts who made the trip for the same reasons we did: to go hands-on with soon-to-be-released products, to pick up new skills in seminars, to discover innovative ways to grow the martial arts biz and to just have some fun with like-minded individuals in good old Sin City.
Describing everything that caught our eye in the MGM’s convention center would require more space than we have here — which is why we wrote up a handful of the more interesting products we spied in this issue’s Essential Gear section. That leaves this space to focus on the human angle of the SuperShow.
The most famous person in attendance was John Paul DeJoria, cofounder of Paul Mitchell Systems. Why was he at a martial arts gathering? To deliver a very inspirational keynote address at the opening ceremony and to rehash a little about why he’s sponsored Team Paul Mitchell Karate for three decades. The martial arts community could use more benefactors like him.
A VIP of a different color — specifically, bright red — at the show was Master Ken. If the Martial Arts Industry Association had given an award to the martial artist (he’s a real-life kenpo black belt) who attracted the most fans seeking graphs, both photo and auto, it would have gone to this man. Master Ken, of course, is the star of the hit web series Enter the Dojo.
Making the rounds on the tradeshow floor and likewise drawing a constant crowd was film star Michael Jai White. He’s a regular at the SuperShow, but he usually arrives alone. This year, he showed up with his wife Gillian Waters, also a martial artist — we learned that when we watched the happy couple work out together at a 7 a.m. Bill Wallace seminar.
Side note: Although Black Belt has hosted White for several photo shoots over the years, this marked the first time we got to see him really whale on a kicking pad. Believe us when we say that his kyokushin background is legit, especially when it comes to low shin kicks. That man can generate some power!
The SuperShow highlight for grapplers was surely the free Rickson Gracie seminar. When it started, we wandered in through an open door to shoot some action shots. By the time we left, the crowd had swelled so much that door monitors were forced to shut down the influx because the room was at capacity. Even though he hasn’t competed in years, Gracie clearly still commands a following.
Less celebrity oriented but nearly as popular over the course of the threeday event was the expanded Black Belt booth. The focal point was a backdrop that looked like an oversize mag cover sans subject. Anyone who ever had a hankering to appear on the front page of the world’s leading martial arts magazine had only to step up, grab a weapon or other prop, strike a pose and wait for the iPad to snap a photo. The results were then emailed or texted to the ad-hoc model.
Two other things cemented the SuperShow’s position as the martial arts event of 2017. First, Benny Urquidez received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Martial Arts Industry Association. He earned his first black belt in 1966 and has been active in the martial arts community ever since. He owns six world championships and claims a record of 63-0-2. All that means he’s definitely deserving of the recognition.
Second, Bill Wallace was honored with a proclamation from Carolyn Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas. It officially established July 8, 2017, as Bill “Superfoot” Wallace Day in the city. Like Urquidez, Wallace is eminently worthy of the accolade and, once again like Urquidez, was characteristically humble in his acceptance.
Michael Jai White and his wife Gillian Waters
Ernie Reyes Sr.