When Jason Roldan came to Temple as a freshman, he had no experience in Shotokan Karate.
The junior kinesiology major had a black belt in taekwondo, but he had never been involved in any other martial arts. Encouragement from his uncle Pedro Roldan, who is a major competitor in Shotokan, convinced him to enroll in Karate I, a kinesiology course, last year.
Soon after, he was hooked. Roldan began training three to four times per week. After his first test, he went from having a white belt, which signifies beginner status, to skipping the yellow belt and going to the third level, orange.
Now he is the vice president of the Temple Shotokan Karate Club, and he is preparing to represent Temple at the 39th annual International Shotokan Karate Federation National Championships in Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday.
“I’ve been busy, and I’m ready,” Roldan said. “I’ve been training more. I know my forms, I definitely have them down, but I don’t want to get cocky. I think I know what to expect.”
The ISKF National Championships consist of tournaments in three age levels — collegiate, adult and youth. Roldan will compete in the collegiate and adult levels.
Roldan is eligible to compete in a sparring competition in both age groups and a competition of forms, which are choreographed karate routines also known as Kata.
In Kata competitions, judges select a random form that competitors must perform cleanly to advance to the next round, Roldan said. There are one-on-one knockout rounds where judges choose a winner, then score the final rounds by points.
“It’s based on the sounds you can make,” Roldan said. “So like a snapping sound when you make your moves, that’s the first thing. But to a trained eye, it’s more about how big the movements you can make are and the more realistic your technique can look.”
Roldan, now a green belt, said he will most likely be one of the lower-ranked competitors. In Shotokan Karate, the green belt is three steps above the white belt, Roldan said.
But sophomore Daniel Sbar, the club’s treasurer, believes inexperience will not be an issue.
“He is significantly better than most people of a higher belt,” Sbar said. “He is clearly above the grade that his belt shows, and I expect that he is going to do very well.”
The trip is funded partially by Campus Recreation. The majority of expenses, however, will be paid out of pocket by Roldan. He’ll stay with his uncle Pedro Roldan, who is also competing in the event, so he won’t have to book a hotel room.
Roldan decided to spend the money because attending the competition means more than just getting a chance to win medals. He and fellow club officers Sbar and president Nicholas Palmer think a great performance could mean more recognition for the club.
“Our club has not really gone to competitions in our past,” Palmer said. “We usually just do in-house tournaments. So him going to a national tournament and doing well would be great for us and the dojo we’re affiliated with.”
The club has about 20 members, but less than 10 participate regularly, Palmer said. Word of mouth and flyers are the club’s main forms of recruitment, while Roldan also utilizes social media and talks to his kinesiology classmates.
Roldan and Palmer typically lead the group during two on-campus practices per week. Once a week, the members go to the city’s ISKF affiliate dojo, Honbu Dojo, in West Philadelphia.
The dojo is ISKF’s national headquarters and is run by instructor Hiroyoshi Okazaki, who Sbar said is one of the most “prestigious” senseis in the United States.
The club hopes Roldan’s presence in the national tournament will boost the attention ISKF and Temple Shotokan Karate Club receives.
“It would definitely be very good recognition for us,” Sbar said. “It will show that we have a good program here as well as a very good teacher in Jason. And hopefully it will help us get more people to train with us.”