In karate, the kiai, or battle cry, is meant to intimidate or startle an opponent. It sounds when executing powerful blows with fists or feet.
As a lifelong martial arts student, Monica Lopez is no stranger to the kiai. She knows the discipline and strength that goes into karate and reverberates through the kiai.
It is with the same strength and determination she fights stage four breast cancer.
She isn’t fighting cancer alone. Her martial arts brethren came together Saturday at the Decatur Civic Center to compete in the Monica Lopez Open Karate Tournament.
About 140 competitors raised more than $7,000 for Lopez and her family. The event was led by Stephen Starnes, whom operates North Texas Karate Academy in Bridgeport.
Lopez and Starnes go way back.
“We were students together when we were kids learning from Darrell Sanders,” Starnes said.
In the late ’80s, Starnes was about 10 years old when he and Lopez first studied together under Sanders, who has kept up with both ever since.
Sanders taught in Mineral Wells and has been practicing karate since 1974.
“I love her like she was one of my kids,” he said. “I think the discipline has helped her through this.”
Sanders said Lopez has to be strong because she’s a mother and she is a fighter. In karate, they learn to endure, but it’s not just punching. People have to be strong in mind and body.
Lopez said thinking about everyone who has come to her aid during her fight with breast cancer is humbling and truly wonderful.
“Sanders taught me to be strong, and cancer taught me to be stronger,” Lopez said. “We face different things at different times in our lives, and that is what makes us stronger. Today is a great day. I never even dreamed it – but this could top my wedding day. Can I say that?”
Lopez did not compete Saturday. She said she would have, but she hasn’t gotten any updates from her doctor and still has some medical issues to resolve before entering the ring again.
“I feel great. I feel really good, and nothing has been limiting me,” she said. “I’m trying to start some training and some physical therapy, too.
“Overall I feel so much love. I just always felt, going through this, I was ready to kick it.”
She didn’t compete, but she was one of several judges scoring competitors in and kata, or choreographed fighting displays.
In kata, a single fighter will enter the ring, bow to the judges, say their name, style of martial arts and what forms they do. Then they ask to begin.
Lopez and the other judges watched as each person went through specially-planned movements and graded them on power, stances and technique.
After the kata, sparring began as two competitors squared off to fight.
Any hit in the headgear was a point. For students below brown belt, there was no face contact allowed, but controlled kicks and punches 3 inches or so from the face would count as a point. If a blow to the face was landed, a point was taken away.
Points were also awarded for hits to other parts of the body, and light face contact was allowed for brown belts and above.
Takedowns or leg sweeps were not allowed and considered fouls, as was stepping out of the ring. Three fouls meant disqualification.
Competitors came from 20 different schools throughout North Texas, including Jacksboro, Fort Worth, Haltom City, Bridgeport, White Settlement, Bowie and Dallas.
Charlie Bates, 8, of Burleson, has been studying karate for five months and had never been to a tournament before. He wore his orange belt and waited for his turn in the ring.
“I want to see if I do great and get one of those trophies,” Bates said excitedly.
Another youngster competing for the first time was Shayden Baker, 7, of Fort Worth, who said she came to support “the girl,” referencing Lopez.
Starnes said the second annual Monica Lopez Open Karate Tournament is already being planned for next year.
HALL OF FAME KARATE GRAND MASTERS IN ATTENDANCE
- Roy Kurban
- Billy Smith
- Steve Parks
- Max Cardoza