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Karate tournament returns to Myrtle Beach

Karate will have a leg up as the main event this weekend at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

Competitors of this Japanese form of martial arts will converge for the 40th annual Dixieland Nationals, which opens Friday night and continues Saturday morning and afternoon before the finals that evening.

The promoter, Dewey Earwood, said people from as far as California, Washington state, and Dublin, Ireland, are scheduled to attend and that this marks the second year in a row for Dixieland in Myrtle Beach, after a tournament in Charlotte and the rest in or near Columbia.

Earwood, who owns a karate studio in Prosperity, northwest of Columbia, said this tournament is part of a continental tour through the North American Sport Karate Association, which concludes with events in New York in September, Minnesota in October, and Miami in November.

Bringing Dixieland back to Myrtle Beach, he said, lets tournament officials build a tradition of a getaway to Myrtle Beach, also letting local residents and vacationers join in a spectators in this showcase of karate. The competitors range in age from 3- and 4-year-olds to 63. Some special guests will include a man who “competes in his wheelchair with the best of the athletes,” despite coping with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“It’s really touching,” Earwood said.

Christine Bannon-Rodriguez, a black belt stunt double whose work includes the movies “Batman & Robin” and “Underdog,” also will be on hand coaching the Paul Mitchell team, from the hair-care products empire.

“They have a huge team that dominates the circuit,” Earwood said.

With 360 divisions of competitors, many varieties within karate will share the exhibition, such as creative and extreme, “new age” forms, some with swords, as well as aerial and musical modes, on Friday, Earwood said. Then Saturday, all the “traditional” kinds of karate will have their turn.

“No flips,” he said, “just standard, powerful styles, the old kind of karate.”

‘It gave me confidence’

Earwood said karate has captivated him for 43 years since he first attended a class with a friend.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It’s about individual attainment. ... It gave me confidence. I just love it, and it’s something you can carry with you forever.”

Instilled with the discipline of karate, Earwood has found it helps in getting along with people, and “it makes you humble.”

“You put other people before you,” he said. “It’s just a great art.”

He sees the ideal age for children to begin karate as 8 to 12, but adults also can make new strides in their own classes, too.

“They come in, watch it, and say, ‘Hey, I can do this,’ ” said Earwood, who has spent 34 years as a sensei, or teacher.

Still, he said he remains a student, also attending classes, and “I learn a lot from my students.”

Every tournament generates new friendships, Earwood said, expecting to again see competitors from the Grand Strand and Charleston this weekend.

Julie Bowland, of Little Mountain, will watch her 11-year-old son, who takes instruction from Earwood, compete in the beginner division. She said she also enjoys assisting in the tournament among a “bunch of us” parents who volunteer.

She said watching youth spar in myriad forms of karate, “the adrenaline gets going” and such events always display “something unusual that you’ll never see anywhere else.”

Bowland said since her son began the sport a year ago, his grades in school and overall focus have improved, and her own view of the martial arts world has widened.

“I knew very little about karate until he started,” she said.

The return of Dixieland to Myrtle Beach also has been a popular topic among the karate circle in her part of the Midlands, said Bowland, whose parents live in Little River. She’s looking forward to quality family time with her parents as her son and his class colleagues compete on the mats.

“They’re going to be coming down to watch them,” Bowland said.