By Cheyene Miller
Special to The Sentinel-Echo
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Fourteen years ago, Master Jeff Turner created a small karate tournament in Somerset that he appropriately named “Somer-Slam.” Fourteen years later, what started out to be just another little karate tournament has become one of the biggest and most prestigious martial arts events in the state of Kentucky.
Master Turner, a 30 year practitioner of the martial arts, sees the event as a way of giving back and helping out.
“It’s obviously a way for me to give back to my community, and it’s also important that we’re supporting our youth, and we’re not just focusing on my area we’re focusing on other areas and giving kids a good outlet,” Turner said.
Turner’s head assistant instructor Evva Johnson held a similar view.
“It’s our baby, we’ve grown it from very small to huge,” Johnson said. “And helping kids giving them the opportunities and encouragement that they might not get at other tournaments. I’d consider Somer-Slam our Super Bowl.”
The tournament was held in Somerset at the Somerset Christian school and featured over 300 competitors from across the state and surrounding states. Several hundred were also in attendance to watch competitors young and old put their skills to the test against stiff competition.
Tournament events included weapon forms, traditional forms, point sparring, and grappling. Ages ranged from small children to matured adults. This tournament proved that everyone, regardless of age, can enjoy the many benefits the martial arts have to offer.
Competitors were rewarded just for their effort, as every competitor received a five foot high trophy, with those coming in first through fourth place receiving medals. London Karate Academy came out strong against the competition, a feat praised by Johnson.
“They’ve definitely stepped up in the divisions that they’re in, and the divisions were packed” Johnson said. “So far I’ve seen nothing but really smiley faces so, that’s a good thing. It’s not about ranks or even competition for myself. I really live through the compassion and soul of my students. So when they do good and achieve their goals, that’s really the best feeling in the world for me.”
Turner shared in Johnson’s sentiments.
“The students are doing fantastic, we’ve got a lot of new people trying it and they’ve been successful,” Turner said. “Some of our veterans have actually had real stiff competition, and they’ve responded well.”
There was also much praise for his staff from Turner, including Johnson.
“It’s total respect, without them nothing’s possible,” Turner said. “It takes a team to make it happen. We’ve run a successful tournament since 1999 and it’s allowed us to have a spring tournament and a fall tournament.”
Both Turner and Johnson have big plans for the future, and hope to expand martial arts in London and the surrounding area.
“We are definitely looking to improve our programs. We’re looking to implement more of a combat fitness approach for the non traditional martial artists, and an increase in our Judo and Jujitsu. We have big plans starting in May to expand our operations,” Turner said.
Johnson has a few plans of her own, including continuing with her MMA fighting career. “Hopefully I’ll be released medically in July and then start a new fight camp in August,” Johnson said. “I have several offers from Invicta FC and some other organizations. Maybe have one or two more amateur fights and then jump right in with the pro ranks and start making some money.”
The Ultimate Fighting Championship finally added women’s fighting to its ranks earlier this year, paving the way for a possible golden opportunity for Johnson.
“I’m totally stoked about that, hopefully they’ll add my weight class and I’ll be able to try for the UFC and bring more exposure to Somerset and London,” Johnson said.
Johnson is not the only one who is taking her talents to the cage. London Karate Academy and its sister school in Somerset have several fighters with upcoming bouts, including LKA’s assistant instructor Jonathan Byerly.
“Mr. Byerly has a fight coming up in May in Somerset,” Turner said. “I have a couple of new guys with fights coming up for the first time from both Somerset and London that are gonna be competing as well.”
For all the future plans in store for Master Turner and Ms. Johnson of London Karate Academy, if the success of Somer-Slam is any sort of indication, the future sure does look bright.