Zachary Gaona just needs a new level of competition to open up for him and he’s ready to take another step forward as a karate champion.
This year, in his third trip to the USA Karate National Championship and Team Trials, held July 10 through Sunday in Reno, Zachary achieved his goal of qualifying for the USA team and international competition.
His individual gold medal in elite kata — the demonstration of karate forms and moves — is Zachary’s second national championship, in addition to the title he won in 2012. At the time, that was as far as he could advance. This year, at the age of 13, the local brown belt earned a trip the 2014 Junior Pan American Championships, to be held Aug. 25 to 31 in Lima, Peru.
The gold in elite kata was one of three medals he collected at the national championships. He also won gold as a member of the NKD (Nihon Karate Dojo) Martial Arts team out of Fullerton and also won bronze in kumite (sparring).
Now Zachary, 13, who will be an eighth-grader at Traina School, expects that the same mental discipline that got him this far will bring him success at the Pan Am games.
“It’s not intimidating. Just train hard and don’t give up,” Zachary said, adding that he expected the toughest aspect of the international games would be maintaining his focus in a new environment full of potential distractions.
Zachary credited his success to his unrelenting mental focus. He said that even at the national championships, he didn’t think so much about his competition, though he knew it was a tough challenge. He zeroed in on his techniques and training until suddenly he stood alone as the top competitor.
“I was shocked and happy, so many feelings,” he said. “At the time, I couldn’t let it out, because I was still in the ring.”
Up until then, he had his own highs and lows during his performance, recognizing the things he did right and the little mistakes.
“It was a lot of training, some ups and downs too. It’s been a long time, and then I won. Boom!” he said.
Zachary has been into martial arts for the past seven years, but it was just three years ago that he decided to specialize in traditional Japanese-style karate.
He trains with NKD Martial Arts in Fullerton, making the trip to Southern California once a week to practice with the team. Locally, he trains at least three times a week with Ed Hunting, a trainer at World Gym on East Street.
Hunting said that Zachary had improved his strength, quickness and balance through a work ethic that challenged Hunting’s abilities as a trainer.
“This is just the beginning for him, obviously,” Hunting said. “It’s pretty amazing, his focus. He’s surpassed all expectations. I would expect him to do very well, but he’s really exceeded everything.”
Zachary said he simply trained with his goals in mind and refused to be discouraged.
“If you want to reach a goal and you put your mind to it, try your best and you really love doing it, it may not happen the first time or second time, or even the fifth time, but it will happen if you keep trying and don’t give up.”
Contact Bob Brownne at email@example.com or 830-4227.