Tonawanda News

November 18, 2012

Local youth taking on the world

BY JOE OLENICK
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — It’s been a long road for Brian Irr, one that has lead him to Paris this weekend.

The Newfane resident flew to Paris on Saturday for the 2012 Karate World Championships, where he will face the toughest karate players in the world next week. Irr will compete in the 84-kilogram division, which is about 184 pounds. To get to Paris, Irr competed at the U.S. national championship back in July in Florida. Irr finished in third place in his division, securing his spot in France. 

“It’s a new experience for me, something I’m really looking forward to,” Irr said. “This is kind of the culminating event everything has been building up to.” 

For Irr, 24, this will mark his first World Championships appearance. It’s also the result of a long journey that started when he was 8-years-old, when he first got into karate.

Since then, Irr has had a successful competitive career with accomplishments that include several U.S. national titles, the Amateur Athletic Union’s All American Award, as well as two silver and two bronze medals at the Pan American Championships. In 1996, he was ranked 5th in the world at the Junior World Championships in Cyprus. He has been competing on an international level since he was 14 years old.

Irr’s coach Eric Hill is one of nine U.S. National Team coaches, certified by USA Karate under the direction of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Over the last 20-plus years, Hill has trained numerous national and international champions, placing several on various U.S. national teams. He has trained with Irr since the beginning.

“We’ve been all over the world,” Hill said.

Throughout his college years, Irr was also selected to represent Canisius College at the World University Karate Championships. He also has a 3-0 record in full-contact kickboxing, including his last win in March which followed a karate event. Between the two events, Irr had a dozen fights in the span of a few days.

Irr’s last international competition was memorable. At the U.S. Open, held in April at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Irr was a major force on the U.S. team, which took gold, led by Irr’s numerous wins, one being a one-second knockout win.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, that is the fastest fight I have ever seen,” Hill said.

“The guy charged me right off the line, I guess I just caught him,” Irr said.

Recently, Irr attended a USA Karate National Team Training and Selection Camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Along with the national karate team, Irr participated in workshops with a sport psychologist and nutritionist, meetings with the USOC’s sports medicine professionals for discussions on injury prevention and weight management, working with the Olympic Committee’s strength and conditioning coaches, as well as technical training with the USA national team’s coaching staff.

The preparation is key for Paris. Getting the chance to compete for a world title is an exclusive position to be in and having a student do just that has also been a goal for Hill. Hill took over the Seishn-Kan Karate Club, based out of the Lockport Athletic and Fitness Club on South Transit Road in Lockport. Next year is the club’s 40th anniversary.

“It’s kind of a big deal for us,” Hill said. “We’re proud of him.”

“He’s put in as much hard work as I have,” Irr said.

Irr trains with Seishn-Kan about six days a week. It’s a regimen that consists of daily technical training and sparring, Olympic style weight lifting, plyometrics, with speed and agility training. Seeing Irr in the gym has been a familiar sight for Hill.

“I remember when he was a kid, when others were trick-or-treating, Brian and his brother were the only ones in the gym,” Hill said.

A 2006 Newfane graduate, ranked fourth in his class, Irr also substitute teaches in a number of local districts. With undergraduate and graduate degrees from Canisius, Irr is an example of how important school is to the Seishn-Kan club, Hill said. He also has done athletic training with the NCAA.

“Education is very important in our program,” Hill said.

The World Karate Federation, the governing body for the sport of karate, has a worldwide membership of 188 countries, all of which will be represented in Paris. The World Karate Championships are held every two years, with 2012’s being the 21st edition of the event. Irr’s division starts the competition Friday.

However, karate is not yet an Olympic event. But there is hope the sport will be added to the 2020 Games, so more of those in karate will have a chance to compete for their country, Hill said.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.