WPF Heart of America Open
Tournament included the
"best pankration matches in the midwest, so far".
Containing what one observer called the "best pan- kration matches in the midwest so far", the 2002 WPF Heart of America Open was held February 24 at Total Martial Arts Fitness Center in Overland Park, Kansas.
Sanctioned as a level D tournament by the World Pankration Federation, the HOA Open was the first tournament of 2002 for which national points were awarded. The "ROAR" tournament held in January at the University of Missouri was supposed to have been a point-sanctioned tournament, but last minute changes demanded that alternate rules be implemented which did not meet WPF point-sanction requirements, and national points could not be awarded.
The new headgear required by the WPF, manufac- tured by TOP TEN, was introduced at the HOA, and pankratiasts got their first look at the newest gene- ration of protective gear the WPF requires in all amateur competition. The headgear adds an important element to amateuar pankration competition - head contact, which had not previously been allowed in the WPF.
WPF president Craig Smith said that because grappling gloves are worn instead of boxing gloves, it was necessary to find a headguard that would provide
proper safety for competitors - and TOP TEN does. The TOP TEN headguard is made of a special, patented material called Bayflex, which is the material used in the dashboards of Mercedes-Benz automobiles. It absorbes shock much better than other headguards, and has been the the required headguard for boxing in the last three Olympic Games, as well as the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) World Championships, the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) World Championships, the Goodwill Games, the World Military Games and numerous other boxing and kickboxing championships of over 100 nations worldwide.
The WPF also requires a TOP TEN clear face shield, which attaches to the head- guard and protects the face while allowing the fighter unimpaired vision.
Although only a few had worn the headguards prior to the tournament, competitors were pleased with the performance and the comfort of the guards, and were glad that head contact had been introduced into competition. "It's now what pankration is supposed to be", remarked one fighter.
Including competitors from Total Martial Arts, The Johnson County (Kansas) Judo Club, American Ju-Jitsu and others, the tournament was dominated by the University of Missouri Pankration Team, whose fighters won five divisions. Sli Beatha students, who were represented on both the Total Martial Arts and University of Missouri Pankration Team, won every division in which they competed.
"The headguards and new rules make all the difference", said Duane Hamacher, a Sli Beatha student and captain of the University of Missouri team. "They even it out for the strikers. Grapplers can't just charge in any more without worrying about strikes to the head, nor can they maintain a ground position without regard to strikes. It really brings it all together now."
Jason Cohen, co-owner of Total Martial Arts and a Krav Maga instructor, said, "This is awesome. It really gives fighters the opportunity to bring it all together in a full martial sport."
Smith agreed that the new rules make a big difference.
"To be honest, the older rules which pro- hibited head contact unfairly inhibited strikers from being able to benefit from the effects of their techniques", says Smith. "Grapplers, such as jujitsu, judo or wrestling practitioners, were able to use the majority of their techniques, and enjoyed the effects of those techniques as well as the points awarded for them. Strikers, however, were prohibited from using some of their most effective techniques - strikes to the head.
The new rules present an essentially level playing field for all martial athletes, and our competitive events can now truely be called pankration."
And what has been the effect of the new rules?
"Regardless of concerns that had been expressed by some prior to the tournament, we saw no injuries beyond a bloody nose and a small cut above an eye that evidently resulted from a finger nail", said Smith. "Also, and interestingly, we saw the matches being dominated by the strikers, as opposed to those who are primarily grapplers. This supports the contention that grappling is only effective as a primary discipline when striking to the head is absent."
Will this be the pattern in the future?
"It was said in the Ancient Olympics that the pankration champions were the best boxers of the wrestlers and the best wrestlers of the boxers," said Smith. "I think we will see the same thing in modern pankration - the champions will be those who develop abilities in all areas."
However it evolves, pankration is beginning to attract an increasing number of competitors, as well as spectators, who agree that pankration is indeed 'the ultimate combat sport".