High­lights From Amer­ica’s Pre­mier Mar­tial Arts Expo

Black Belt - - EVENT SPOTLIGHT - Story and Pho­tos by Robert W. Young

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.

Bill Wal­lace

Michael Jai White and his wife Gil­lian Waters

Rick­son Gra­cie

Ernie Reyes Sr.

Mas­ter Ken

Benny Urquidez

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