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Center Grove High School sophomore Nya Schank represented the U.S. this past August on the U.S. Junior Karate Team. As part of the team, she competed in the Pan American Championships in Ecuador. Schank, 15, is the third student of Shodan Karate Academy to join the U.S. Team and she’s worked hard to get to this point since 2011.

“Making the U.S. team is a really big goal,” Schank says. “It’s what you’re working toward your entire career in karate.”

Before she joined Shodan Karate Academy, she participated in dance, but it was karate that captured her heart and kept her engaged.

“We keep the kids’ best interest at heart. We try to teach them respect, discipline, self-confidence,” says Ricardo Guerrero, Sensei and founder of Shodan Karate Academy.

Shodan Karate Academy was established 10 years ago and has been located at the Gathering Place at the Community Church of Greenwood for about seven years. Guerrero is originally from Venezuela. It was there that he competed in karate and was part of their national team. In 2009, wanting to teach and share his passion for the art of karate, he started Shodan Karate Academy. A few years later in 2011, he made the U.S. Karate Team.

Shodan has a team that travels the country yearly to compete. Their team competes in the U.S. National Karate Federation National Championships, the only Karate Federation recognized by the Olympic Committee. This year it took place in Chicago, where Nya competed in the elite division and qualified for the U.S. Junior Karate Team.

“Once you reach that level, you represent a team, instead of just representing the school or yourself,” Guerrero says. “There is a real bonding of the U.S. Team.”

When Schank competed at the Pan American Championships, she won two out of the three rounds.

“We always say whether you’re going to nationals or a local tournament, it’s always just a tournament. I go and do my best,” Schank says. “Of course a big tournament is always daunting, but I try to put it into perspective. These competitors are people too and they’re not superhuman. They’re just like me.”

Her humbleness mixed with her focus, dedication, and confidence shines—giving her the ability to compete at such elite levels. This was also her first time out of the country, allowing her to have the experience of a new culture and language.

“It’s surreal,” Schank says. “Once we were at the tournament when the team was together, and everyone was cheering, there was a sense of camaraderie. You realize you’re part of something bigger than yourself.”

Karate has two divisions — Kata (forms) and Kumite (sparring). Sparing is what comes to mind to most people when they think of karate. It’s point fighting, where students barely make contact with the other person and have good form. There are different points awarded for different attacks, whoever has the most points at the end of the timed session wins.

During the competition season, from January to July, Schank is busy. With group classes twice a week, a competition class, a private class, and independent practices, she spends around 12-15 hours a week training.

“I could see a difference this year when we started training,” Guerrero says. “Sometimes I would show up at the dojo and she would already be there practicing. I could tell she was going for it.”

When she’s not training, she’s taking AP classes at Center Grove and teaching karate to kids from 4-11 years old at Shodan. Starting in November and December, she’ll complete in a few tournaments in Illinois and Ohio to get warmed up for the competition season.

“[Making the U.S. team] was the goal for so long,” Schank says. “I hope to make the U.S. Team again next year and go to the championship, then going to worlds and placing. That’s my goal for right now.”

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