Stoneybrook Karate claims top spots on national stage
| 10:11 p.m. August 12, 2015
WINTER GARDEN — West Orange youngsters representing Stoneybrook Karate recently brought home gold from the national and international levels.
Competing in the 2015 USA Open Championship in Las Vegas in April, six Stoneybrook athletes went up against some top competitors in their age group from around the world. The local delegation won many medals, including several Junior International Cup and U.S. Open Kumite champions.
In June, Stoneybrook Karate took 15 athletes to the AAU Karate National Championships in Raleigh, North Carolina. Among more than 400 competitors from the U.S., Stoneybrook brought back 13 national championships.
Giana Piccolotti, 12, has been involved with karate for about five years and is a junior black belt. Piccolotti competes at advanced levels at all of her competitions. With options of fighting, form or weapons, Piccolotti competes in them all.
“Fighting is my favorite; I’m more aggressive,” she said. “I just like doing that the best; it’s the most fun for me.”
At the AAU Karate National Championships, Piccolotti brought home two gold medals — one in Kobudo, which is a weapons event, and one in Kumite, a fighting event.
Arwen Bertrand, who competed in both the USA Open Championship and the AAU Karate National Championship, recently received her black belt.
“I feel really happy, but Sensei (Tim Hilgenberg) tells me (earning a black belt is) not the end of karate; it’s just the beginning,” Bertrand said.
With a bigger pool of competitors, Bertrand was happy because she would be facing more people and that the competition would be tougher.
“It was fun for me because I had more people,” she said. “All year, I’ve only had three people, including me. ... And I liked it because in kata, I had more of a challenge.”
Edgar Hernandez, who has been involved with karate for five years, enjoys the friendships he has forged through the international competitions. At his most recent competition in Las Vegas, he was able to reconnect with athletes he had met at other international competitions.
“It was super fun, because I got to meet with a couple of friends from internationals ... and hang out with them,” Hernandez said.
A unique aspect of the dojo at Stoneybrook Karate is that Hilgenberg lets older, more advanced students teach younger students. Hernandez enjoys this part of Stoneybrook Karate.
“It’s fun to teach the kids and be with everyone, because we’re a big family,” he said.
Hilgenberg, who opened the dojo in Winter Garden five years ago, studied karate extensively while he was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, while serving in the U.S. Air Force. Although he is proud of what his students accomplished at both of the recent competitions, he never lets them get comfortable with their position.
“They did a really good job,” Hilgenberg said. “Do I think they could do better? Yeah. That’s my job as a sensei — to push them and to think outside of their box, keep them going and let them know that there are people coming up and coming to get them.”
Along with the hard work that his students put in, Hilgenberg knows their parents put in even more to make success happen.
“There’s a lot of sacrifice and dedication that goes in with these parents,” Hilgenberg said. “They take a lot of time and self-sacrifice for the kids to do what they do.”