September 22, 2018
School & Youth
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  • After sparring in six events during the 2018 WEKFAF World Championships in Hawaii, Jelani Sykes walked away with three gold medals, a silver and a bronze.
    Photo Provided
    After sparring in six events during the 2018 WEKFAF World Championships in Hawaii, Jelani Sykes walked away with three gold medals, a silver and a bronze.
  • After sparring in six events during the 2018 WEKFAF World Championships in Hawaii, Jelani Sykes walked away with three gold medals, a silver and a bronze.
    Photo Provided
    After sparring in six events during the 2018 WEKFAF World Championships in Hawaii, Jelani Sykes walked away with three gold medals, a silver and a bronze.

Local Boy Excels At WEKAF World Championships

Kerrigan Stern
Kerrigan Stern's picture
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August 21, 2018

Pasadena 9-year-old Jelani Sykes knows about gold medals from more than just watching the Olympics. In July, he competed in the 2018 WEKFAF World Championships in Maui, Hawaii, where he battled other contestants in several martial arts competitions. After sparring in six events, Jelani proudly walked away with three gold medals, a silver medal and a bronze medal.

While most children haven’t discovered their full physical capabilities at 3 years old, Jelani wanted to practice martial arts. Although his favorite style is mixed martial arts, he has a black belt in taekwondo.

“He puts his [energy into] taekwondo … and eskrima tournaments,” said his father, Kevin Sykes. “Eskrima is the Filipino martial art of stick fighting. They call it eskrima kali or they call it arnis.”

At the world championships, Jelani battled his opponents in several forms of eskrima. “I did single and double [stick],” said Jelani. “[To prepare,] I mostly focused on just moving the sticks.”

But the stick fighting didn’t just involve physical prowess. Jelani had to incorporate creativity into these events as well.

“They have single-stick and double-stick competitions, and he had to do a musical pattern that he taught himself, and then they have a padded stick and a padded knife competition,” explained Kevin.

The padded stick event was Jelani’s favorite competition, earning him one of his three gold medals during the tournament. To prepare for that challenge and other events, he focused on the martial arts style for about three days a week.

He said, “[I’ve] learned that you have to train more, get in shape, get better, start practicing on the stuff that you need to and get stronger mentally and, kind of what like [the Marvel supervillain] Killmonger said, ‘Beat your opponent at their own game.’”

Becoming stronger mentally meant having the right attitude both inside and outside the ring.

“I learned a lot in the beginning … [like how] to respect my parents more,” he stated. “I’m beginning to focus more. I’m learning a lot, getting stronger and learning to defend myself if really anybody did something.”

Even though Jelani has learned so much about martial arts and eskrima over the years, he was still surprised how well he did at the world championships. “I felt really good. I was mostly shocked,” he said.

When asked if he expected to win as many medals as he did, he replied, “Not really at all. I was expecting to win two bronze, two silvers and a belt...not really that [many] golds.”

But luckily for him, “I mostly had golds. That’s all I had basically.”

According to his Kevin, Jelani plans to continue competing in taekwondo competitions and learning more from the instructors at Golden Dragons Defense. For now, he uses his strength while playing for the Pasadena Panthers 9U football team.


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