By Prem Calvin Prashad
Queens Village resident Manual “Manny” Tavares is a barber by day and a karate master by night.
The 2013 national champion in the Men’s Elite Kumite 67 kilogram division started the sport later than most of his competitors, but in a short time has managed to reach the upper rankings of the sport in the United States.
Tavares started karate at 24. During the course of his work as a barber, a customer convinced him to visit a dojo in Jamaica. Tavares started competing professionally in 2009, attaining Elite status in 2011. The New York Traditional Karate League, made up of dojos across the city, holds seven to eight tournaments a year, which serve as a springboard to national competition.
In July 2013, Tavares won his division at the USA National Championships & Team Trials, in South Carolina, earning him a spot on the national team. He followed that win with a second-place finish in the 2014 USA Teams Trials earlier this year in Chicago.
The trials are held twice a year and the top competitors are allowed to represent the United States in international competitions.
Also on the national team is Brian Ramrup, of Queens, ranked first in the Male Elite Kumite Open Weight Division and third, behind Manny, in the 67 kilogram division.
Karate is not an Olympic sport. That recognition has been extended to tae kwon do and judo, Korean and Japanese martial arts. Recent attempts by the World Karate Federation to secure karate’s inclusion in the 2020 games failed, owing to the number of combat sports currently included in the games. The WKF represents 10 million athletes across 130 nations.
Wrestling had been dropped by the International Olympic Committee, only to be re-included in a subsequent vote, eliminating karate from consideration in the 2020 games, to be held in Tokyo.
For athletes such as Tavares, the chance to represent the United States in international competition comes not at the Olympics but in WKF international tournaments or in regional competitions, such as the Pan American Championships, held this month in Lima, Peru.
Karate is a hazardous sport, and Tavares notes, “It took me a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I’ve gotten my nose broken, my fingers broken, you name it, I’ve been to it.”
Yet succeeding in the sport drives Tavares’ passion to compete at the international level.
Tavares has previously competed in the Karate1 Premier League in Paris in 2013, financing the trip on his own. American karate athletes generally do not receive funding to travel and participate in tournaments, which contrasts with nations that fund karate and other athletic programs on a national level.
This includes funding for strength and conditioning coaches as well as physical therapy and practice facilities.
In addition to having more children enter the sport, Manny stresses that older teens and young adults should consider karate as a hobby, noting the sport’s value for providing focus and discipline, as well as nurturing a competitive spirit.
Becoming the national champion, he notes, “started a dream for me, something that was farfetched.”
As a latecomer, he muses, “Look where I’m at now. If I started four or five years earlier, imagine where I could be now?”
After the Pan American Championships, Tavares will compete in the next USA Team Trials in Reno, Nevada. There Tavares will hope to qualify as a member of the U.S. delegation to the biennial WKF World Championship in Bremen, Germany.
As the team does not receive funding, Manny is raising funds to cover travel and training expenses at gofundme.com/ManuelTavares.