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Local teen fighter eyes his shot at the Olympics

June 29, 2011

Dontavious Bennett was like any other kid growing up in West Point; he played football and baseball and hung out with his friends. But even that wasn’t enough to keep him grounded.

“He still had all this energy, always running around wanting to kick me,” his mother Tamika Bennett recalls. “He was full of energy, always busy, so we figured we’re going to put this to use. We met his sensai, Master Nash at a baseball game and asked if he was still doing the school. He said yes, so we told him we’re going to bring our boy down. And he’s been doing it ever since.”

Fast forward 10 years and you’ll find a now 17-year old Dontavious wearing the famed white uniforms with a black belt around his waist. Twice a week, sometimes three, Dontavious makes a trip to the West Point Karate School on Main Street to hone in his skills, both physical and mental. Although he’s come a long way, his mom says she still gets a little nervous when he fights.

“I still always prayed that he wouldn’t get hurt,” Tamika said. “Even at the tournaments now, I’m still nervous and praying all the time.”

His father Willie kept him coming back for more even it was taking a toll on his wallet.

“If he did bad in school, I’ll take him out of football or baseball but I had to bring him here,” he said. “I told him, ‘your going to karate, because I have to pay for it’. I always made sure he was here.”

Not only is karate good for the body, muscle strength, agility, coordination, it’s also a powerful weapon for the the mind.

“My dad gave me discipline, but I got my patience from karate,” Dontavious said.

Influenced by some of the best martial artists like Jackie Chan, Jet Lee and Steven Segal, Dontavious said it was the movies that got him started at a young age.

“I still watch them today,” he sad. “All I really watch is fighting movies. I’ll take some of the moves they do and bring them to class to try and learn them. Some of them are hard to imitate because they move so fast.”

“Anything he watches, he can do it,” Tamika said. “Even growing up, if he saw something on television, he could stand there and do it. He picks up on anything just like that.”

For Dontavious, it just came easy to him and his parents took notice.
“Master Nash said that some people are just naturally made like that,” Willie said.

It seems his training and love for the sport has paid off because he was invited to participate at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in New Orleans in July. He becomes the first athlete from the area to ever participate in karate at this level and it’s something he and his family are extremely excited about. The winners will get the opportunity to fight for the Unites States next year in Europe. Although the fighting style was different, Dontavious quickly adjusted.

To qualify, he had to win tournaments in his age group, usually two or three fights depending on the competitor. But there is a rare occasion when he wins by default because there is no one else in his age group. It’s common for an older fighter to drop down and fight him in exhibition.

The rules are simple; first to five points in the two minute round is victorious and points are awarded for certain punches, kicks and take downs.

“It’s like my first tournament all over again,” Dontavious said. “There’s a few butterflies, but I’m ready.”

Mom and dad try and keep him grounded despite the excitement.

“I just tell him to keep God first, continue to pray and keep the faith,” Tamika said. “This is his first time trying out for it, and I think I’m more nervous than him. I get my strength from him because he’s really confident. This is an opportunity of a lifetime.”

“I’m not nervous at all,” Willie said. “I know he can do it.”

Dontavious said he would love to be chosen, but it’s more important for the future of karate in the area because he has set the bar high.

Martial arts involves a lot of different movements that most athletes won’t ever have to do and Dontavious says he likes taking in new skills every time he comes to practice. And he’s quick to tell you it’s not all about fighting, the most difficult part of the sport is the
conditioning, both in and out of the class; the weights, cardio. You
can’t afford to miss a workout.

“You’ll lose,” Dontavious said. “Because somebody else is training just as hard as you. There’s still a lot I have to learn. There is still a long way to go and I want to learn it all”

Right now Dontavious is a second degree black belt, roughly three or four years from the highest rank, fifth degree black belt and the right to be called Master. And he’s developed quite a following wherever he fights. Tamika says both fighters and teachers alike praise his skills.

With success, more often than not comes sacrifice, and that’s what the Bennett family has had to endure over the last ten years. The long trips, hotels, food, gas, not to mention the cost of the competitions, have all taken a toll financially to help support Dontavious (one of six children) but it’s all worth it.

“At times you have to make sacrifices,” Tamika said. “But to let him be in peace and happy with what he learns, we’re going to do it. Whatever it takes. Ever since he started karate, you can see the joy in him. It’s like karate is his life.”

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