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31st annual Sabaki Challenge takes place April 24 in Denver

Full-contact karate championships features fighters from around the world

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Official website for the Sabaki Challenge

DENVER – For Mike Ninomiya, it was about finding balance.


The two-time Sabaki Challenge champion, and son of tournament founder Kancho Joko Ninomiya, said when he won in 2003 and 2004, the key was finding the equilibrium in his mind and body.


"(You) just try to fight like you train," Ninomiya said. "You can't think too hard, but on the other side, you can't be too relaxed."


Now in its 31st year, the Sabaki Challenge will take place on April 24 at the Denver Merchandise Mart.


The full-contact karate championships was started in 1978 by the elder Ninomiya, grandmaster of Enshin Karate and the 1978 All-Japan Karate Champion. According to organizers, he created the Sabaki Challenge in order to "provide fighters of all styles an opportunity to challenge themselves in karate's purest test of stand-up fighting skills."


The tournament features four single-elimination divisions – an open women's division and three men's divisions (lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight) – with fighters from Europe, Japan and the U.S. Mike Ninomiya said winners from the Japanese and European tournaments come to Denver to determine who's the best in the world.


"This (tournament) is the biggest one in our style," he said.


The tournament employs a six-point scoring system. Competitors score one point with a takedown, three points with a takedown and control with a punch, and six points for a knockout – their opponent stays down for more than six seconds. Fighters cannot punch to the head, but are allowed to employ hits to the body, kicks to the head and body, sweeps, low kicks and throwing techniques.


Mike Ninomiya said other rules help emphasize striking techniques while discouraging grappling.


"It's not really a wrestling match," he said. "It promotes more action, more activity."


Tickets for the Sabaki Challenge are $25 for general admission, $50 for golden circle tickets and $10 for children 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased at Samural Martial Arts on 4730 E. Colfax Ave. or online at www.sabaki.com. For more information, call 303-320-7632.

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