By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
A renowned martial arts pioneer is set to bring the ancient art of karate to Bayside's Adria Hotel this Saturday at the 25th Annual Grand National Open Martial Arts Championship, an amateur tournament designed to entertain spectators and promote the sport.
Great Grandmaster Aaron Banks, a 10th-degree red and black belt in karate, has been involved in martial arts since the early 1960s, founding the New York Karate Academy in Midtown Manhattan and performing in shows and demonstrations around the world.
This is the sixth year Banks, a martial arts promoter, has brought his tournament to Bayside. He hoped the thrill of seeing other amateurs kick, spar and shatter objects with the sheer force and discipline of their bodies would inspire spectators to take up karate.
“This might encourage people to join a school,” he said.
About 100 participants from all over the country have registered for Saturday's tournament, the fifth of its kind at the Adria, said Banks, 75, of Rego Park. The venue was chosen for its proximity to Queens and Long Island, where Shihan Robert Ornes, a master teacher and the event's co-organizer, has a martial arts school.
Aspiring karate masters were set to compete in pee wee, junior, adult and senior divisions in events featuring self-defense moves, sparring, breaking wood and even shattering concrete, Banks said.
Weaponry events will incorporate the short sword, bow staff and even nunchukus, an ancient fighting instrument composed of two short sticks held together by a chain.
Banks' tournament, now in its 25th year, encapsulates his role as both a master and early popularizer of the sport.
“I'm the one that turned martial arts into a form of entertainment,” Banks said. “It wasn't Bruce Lee, it was me.”
Banks was regularly featured on ABC's “Wide World of Sports” and several late-night talk shows in the 1970s and 1980s. He even performed a demonstration for Queen Elizabeth II in London's Royal Albert Hall in 1981.
“I probably wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for martial arts,” said Banks, who was able to quit smoking and drinking because of his involvement in the sport.
Banks, who still performs demonstrations, said martial arts had great mental and physical benefits for practitioners of all ages.
“I learned that it wasn't just about defending oneself,” he said of his own experience. “The discipline was so important, and I developed a tremendous awareness and alertness of my own self.”
The 25th Annual Grand National Open Martial Arts Championship is scheduled for Saturday, June 14, at 11 a.m. at the Adria Hotel, 220-33 Northern Blvd. in Bayside. Admission for spectators is $20 for adults and $10 for children. For more information, call 718-897-4468.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.