In the early 1970s, motion pictures took a new direction when Bruce Lee introduced martial arts cinema to the world. Since then, he has remained a film icon and influenced countless people to take up martial arts as a hobby. If it weren’t for Bruce Lee, 24-year-old UCF karate team coach Colton Woodard may have never found his passion for karate or have been selected to represent the United States at the World Karate Federation (WKF) championships in Okinawa, Japan.
When William Woodard, Colton’s father, got his ACL and MCL injured during high school while playing football in the early 70s, he was told by doctors he would never play any sport again but refused to obey those rules and was inspired while watching Bruce Lee to become a martial arts expert. At age 17, he began training, winning competitions and saw that even as a cripple, he could beat others and was in fact able to do a sport. Since then he has travelled internationally, taught karate for over 40 years and become the president of the National Karate Kobudo Federation (NKKF) as well as the vice president of Kuniba Kai International.
“I didn’t have to do karate but fell in love with it as well when I went to Okinawa as a teenager and watched my dad compete,” says Colton. That’s something that inspired me as an american. To perform at an olympic level and really step up my game and represent our country athletically.”
Colton got a real passion, greater respect and understanding for karate while in Japan seeing how it was different than in America. Since then, he has made it his mission as an american to be really good at karate and become a world competitor. He is ecstatic that karate is in the final approval process of being added to the Olympics for 2020 and hopes to be able to compete in the upcoming games.
On November 28-29, Colton will represent the US in the Karate 1 Premier League in Okinawa, Japan along with three other representatives from California. He first had to place in state representing Florida AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Karate and was then put into a national selection pool where he was selected.
Karate has been a part of Colton’s life since he was about two or three years old. He won his first world championship at age five and since has won AAU state championships multiple times competing in places such as Chicago, Las Vegas, North Carolina, New York and more.
“I’ve been competing every year and getting close you know, getting runner up but I got second place and then you get placed in a selection pool for the USA national team and I got placed in the selection pool a couple of times so when I actually got selected for the USA team this year, I was like ‘Wow, no way! This is finally coming true all these years later,” says Colton.
When he found out he made the USA team, he knew that nothing was going to hold him back and it had been something he was saving up for overtime. Selling possessions such as guitars, he says that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity because he never knows if he will qualify again. As a karate teacher in three different schools, this will also add to his resume and give him many great experiences he might not have otherwise. If Colton wins in the Male Kata (floor routine) and Kumite (fighting), he can never compete as an amateur again because WKF is a professional circuit.
“Money can’t buy that kind of experience. You can’t buy your way into qualifying for a tournament,” says Colton.
He knows money will always come back and many of his friends and family have helped him along the way as well as UCF’s OSI by paying his registration fee to compete.
Colton is going to Japan alone but is meeting with his coach, Soke Kozo Kuniba, whom he first met when he was eight. Although they have a bit of a communication barrier, they still understand each other well enough since Colton knows a bit of conversational Japanese and knows karate terms. Kozo Kuniba speaks a bit of English as well which helps them communicate.
Colton’s WKF competitors range from ages 19-35 and are the best of their countries.
“I might be the nicest guy in the world, but as soon as my feet step in that ring, it’s just business. I’m here to work. I got to do my job. Afterwards, man, I’ll shake your hand and we can be friends, I’ll buy you a beer but when we get in the ring, I got to do my job, you got to do yours and only one of us is going to win,” says Colton.
The competitions are always a challenge he says but it is very rewarding because when he wins, he realizes all the matches he had to overcome and there is a great comradery that comes with that realization as well.
While in Okinawa, Colton will train a few days before with Kozo Kuniba as well as be introduced to many grandmasters his coach knows.
With the Karate Team at UCF, he wants to do a seminar at UCF with the grandmasters he is meeting in Japan where all students can come meet them and get their autographs. There will hopefully also be a free clinic with them where attendees can learn first hand from masters of the art.
Colton aspires to make a competition team at UCF with avid athletes that will train seriously and compete in the AAU karate league traveling for state and national competitions. So far, there are 28 official members signed and he hopes to take about 12 competitors to the four state qualifying competitions held in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce.
As the founder of the Karate Team at UCF, he is happy showing the community different skills which many people charge for in places he likes to call McDojos. These places are workout kind of martial arts instead of the samurai art form that has been passed down from teacher to student over hundreds of years. He hopes to keep karate as original as possible and wants to inspire others to preserve the art but also strive for excellence and to focus on the competition aspect of karate.
Besides the Karate Team at UCF, Colton also teaches in Ocala Karate Dojo and Socrates Preparatory School. Collectively, he has 100 students ranging from ages four to 56.
“It really is a passion of mine because I get to see results. It’s not always a fast thing but this past year, our team from Ocala, we had 26 state champions, 16 national champions and named top 20 schools of the United States for the fifth year in a row,” says Colton. That’s a really big feat for us and i’m hoping to get that same level of competition, the same accomplishments, here at UCF this coming up year. Bring that same kind of training and dedication to our school.”
As a referee for the state of Florida competitions, he has gone through training where he has a good base knowing what judges are looking for. Training takes a lot of dedication and patience but shows overtime.
Growing up, Colton was never forced to do martial arts and neither was his brother, Dalton. They both still share the same love for karate although Dalton now lives as a blues guitarist in New York.
Even though he competed in multiple competitions throughout his life, Colton never missed school due to karate but says he truly lived like the real karate kid. After school, he would finish his homework and then train in the Dojo his father built behind their house. Sometimes he trained so hard and was so tired that he would pass out and wake up with a blanket on him that his parents placed.
“Colton has always been the Karate Kid. He trains for perfection. He is a dynamically motivated individual, and succeeds at whatever he sets out to do,” says William Woodward.
Now Colton is a junior at UCF studying pre-clinical health sciences with goals of becoming a surgeon and hopes of continuing graduate school right at UCF. Besides karate, he has always had a deep interest in the medical fields and was inspired to become a surgeon when he had to get five stitches on his finger after slicing it with a sword he was cleaning.
His main goal besides becoming a surgeon is to win a medal for USA and to compete well into his 30s until his body can’t take it anymore or doctor’s say he cannot.
“I feel like everything is finally coming together at the right point of my life,” says Colton. “I feel like i’m at the peak of my athletic abilities as well.”
Colton is one step closer to making his dreams a reality with the upcoming WKF competition and is not just going against the USA this time, but against the world.
“I loved going to tournaments as a kid and have competed my whole life. I loved the thrill of being there and having a crowd screaming and going against people that you knew were top quality martial artists. I still have that same excitement,” Colton says. “You know, you get those butterflies if you know the guy’s awesome. If you know he’s from Macau or Japan or China or Taiwan or he might be from Africa or Sweden or Iran and you know nothing about this competitor but you know he’s a black belt and he’s the very best of his country. Knowing that, I get this super excitement going and hey, I might not win but I’m going against the very best and that’s something I can always say for the rest of my life.”
Photos by Katrina Poggio.