One of Queens’ own has just won, for the third year in a row, a cluster of national karate titles in both freestyle and traditional forms, or routines.
For 7-year-old Howard Beach resident Aidan Lok, that’s simply how he wanted to spend the first two weeks after the end of second grade.
“There isn’t just one reason I like karate,” Aidan said. Naming just one, he said, “It’s a lot of exercise.”
Aidan, who attends the STEM Citywide Gifted Academy at PS 85 in Astoria, recently told his dad Simon Lok that he likes that he gets to travel when attending competitions.
“He also very clearly likes winning as well,” Simon Lok said.
And win he does. Aidan spent Fourth of July week taking six gold medals out of the six contests he entered in his age group at the National Sports Karate Association’s (NSKA) US Open World Martial Arts Championships at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Florida. He won for weapons use in each of three divisions, Traditional, Creative and Extreme. He also won for kata, which is an all-out fight against imaginary opponents, again in the Traditional, Creative and Extreme divisions.
NSKA competitions are a departure from traditional karate, encouraging use of multiple styles of martial arts and requiring some acrobatic maneuvers. It yields forms similar to fight scenes found in Hollywood movies, Simon Lok said.
Yet six championships in extreme karate events didn’t quite start the summer for this self-motivated brown belt. The following week, Aidan also won first place in four out of five events in the more traditional style of karate at the 2013 USA National Karate-do Foundation’s National Karate Championships in Greenville, SC. He won for Short Weapons, Long Weapons, Okinawan Kata and Open Kata. The one event in which he didn’t place was kumite, or sparring, a fast but controlled demonstration of technique against one live opponent.
Training and competing in both the traditional and free-style types of karate is an unusual, if not rare, path for any karate enthusiast to take.
“What we’re doing is pushing the boundaries of what karate can be,” said Simon Lok. “To my knowledge, nobody actually competes in both,” except Aidan.
To compete this way, Aidan trains with a variety of instructors. Sensei Kai Leung, founder of the Shotojuku Karate Dojo in Astoria, and his staff are Lok’s primary teachers. He also studies Peking Opera Acrobatics with Sensei James Luk to enrich his performance in the Creative and Extreme divisions and goes outside the dojo to study weapons with Sensei Cleveland Baxter at the Baxter Karate Dojo in Westchester.
Aidan’s interest in karate began with a viewing of the original 1984 movie, “The Karate Kid,” starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, because it was available for home viewing around the time that the 2010 Jaden Smith version was only available in theaters. Aidan also had a pre-kindergarten friend starting recreational karate lessons in Forest Hills, and his mom, Lai Cheung, thought it would be fun for the two boys to participate in an activity together.
After a few months, the parents realized Aidan was “pretty serious” about it, and they began looking for a new dojo so their son could study in a serious environment, Cheung said.
The child’s enthusiasm has spread throughout the family. Both parents signed up for karate classes when they realized the intensity of Aidan’s interest. “It’s just that we’re not nearly as good as he is,” Cheung said. Now, the whole family wears brown belts earned at the Shotojuku Dojo and spends an average of 10 hours per week on karate, including some private classes for Aidan.
Next up for Aidan is an August NSKA competition in Washington, DC, a weapons seminar that same day, and working on a new kata called Kururunfa.
For a karate outsider watching Aidan’s very first lesson in Kururunfa with Sensei Kai Leung, it would appear to be a perfectly polished and impressive display by a seven-year-old. He displays the same relaxed happiness and good humor as a peer about to enjoy a Good Humor bar, concealing the amount of work it will take to get the kata just right.
“It will take three to six months to get there,” Simon Lok said.
Leung told Aidan during the lesson that the kata will take time because he has not yet “found his opponent.” But he does appear to have found his passion.