Not just for kicks

Roberts flips and kicks his way to national and international titles

Tina Harbuck

When his dad gave him the choice between tee ball and karate as a 5-year-old, Connor Roberts' answer was easy — karate.

And today as a 14-year-old Connor has never regretted that decision.

In the last three years, Connor, the son of Samuel and Jennifer Roberts Jr. of Fort Walton Beach, has won 11 national titles. Just last year on the international stage, he was able to secure two top 5s and two top 10s, winning four world top 10 black belts.

However, the type of karate that Connor does is different than what most people might picture.

“When people think of karate they think of the white gis … and really slow stuff,” Roberts said. “We do more of a flashy, flip-type of karate. I don’t do much of the heavy combat.”

The style Connor does is called American karate, passed down from the Joe Corley lineage, who was a professional kick boxer.

Connor trains at Resolute Martial Arts in Destin about three to four hours a day, five days a week.

“He’s been a hard worker,” said Master Instructor Hollie Hamm, who’s worked with him since age 5.

“He caught on real quickly … and he’s got a work ethic like you wouldn’t believe. He’s very respectful and a very mature young man,” she said, noting he’s on track to become an instructor at Resolute where he's an assistant instructor now.

When asked what he likes best about karate, Connor got a big smile across his face and said, “That’s like asking a parent to pick his favorite kid.”

He spoke highly of the school, his co-workers and being able to help teach classes.

“It’s always fun when you teach the kids something and they don’t get it and you can see disappointment in their eyes; but then when you give them a reason why they are doing it, that hope just kind of fires back up and you see them get way more excited,” he said.

Although karate came easy to Connor, he has had a few things to work through.

“The mental aspect has been the hardest,” he said. “Sometimes you just don’t want to get out of bed and go do karate. But I don’t regret it anytime I come here. It’s realizing that this is going to make me better in the long run, so I need to do this. That’s what keeps me going.”

As for the physical part, he said pain is a given and not fun, but a necessity to get him to where he needs to be.

After the training is done and it’s competition time, Connor has a couple of traditions he goes through.

First he almost always watches the movie “300,” which he says “gets him in the mood.”

And secondly, right before he takes the floor he yells as loud as he can.

“It just puts me in a mindset. That’s another reason I love this sport is that you can be loud,” he said.

The North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) circuit, which he competes in, has taken him all over the United States and other countries as well.

Next month, he will be competing in Quebec, Canada.

But when he’s not doing karate, he’s doing what most 14-year-old boys are doing — playing video games.

Connor's ultimate goal is to become a NASKA World Champion and eventually attend West Point Military Academy.

In the meantime, he will continue to pick out his music for competitions and hone his craft.