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THE KARATE KID

October 18, 2017

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

The original “Karate Kid” was released on June 22, 1984.

The popular teen film was almost as old – 16 years, four months and 13 days – as Hunter Carney is now – 16 years, 11 months and 14 days – when the Stewarts Creek High School junior was born November 4, 2000.

Carney was eight when he saw the film for the first time.

In the film, Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel, who takes up the sport after becoming tired of being bullied, the secret to karate actually lies in his mind and heart. Not his hands.

Carney’s parents were watching it on television when he walked in and saw “Teen Beat” star Ralph Macchio as Daniel competing at a karate tournament with his mentor and martial arts master Miyagi, played by the late Pat Morita, encouraging him.

“That’s what started it,” Carney recalled. “I thought that would be pretty cool to do.”

In real life, Carney, a 16-year-old junior at Stewarts Creek High School, is the reigning World Champion in the -75kg Division following the recent World Karate Union tournament in Ireland, in August.

One kilo equals 2.2 pounds meaning the 140-pound Carney fought up from his normal 143-pound class to take on opponents topping out at 165 pounds.

Carney typically fights in the -65kg Division.

However, this year, the two divisions were combined.

“That way you had to actually fight for it,” Carney said.

The others were bigger and stronger.

Carney was leaner and quicker.

Even though his opponents may have had a physical size advantage, he was able to tire them out by constantly moving around the ring.

“I just tried to hit them as hard as I can before they hit me, and if they do hit me, just act like nothing happened,” Carney said.

Carney’s career began shortly after seeing “The Karate Kid.”

He and his parents saw a flyer advertising karate lessons and decided to let him try it.

Initially he learned punches, kicks, defensive moves and four months in he started sparing after earning his yellow belt. Carney enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until he had been there about 10 months – when he got to fight in his first tournament – that he really began to excel.

“I was ready to go,” said Carney, who doesn’t remember much of anything from his first tournament. “But I remember the first time I won, it was my third tournament.”

He fought eight times.

However, what he remembers most is they were out of trophies, so “some guy just gave me his cause he was an adult and he didn’t really care.”

Carney didn’t care about the trophy either.

He’s driven more by a disdain for losing than he is a love of winning, so he wasn’t bothered when organizers had actually run out of trophies for the event.

“I don’t know how that happened,” Carney said. “I would have been OK without a trophy.”

That’s the mindset Carney still has today.

He’s not motivated by trophies or gold medals. He’s focused on each fight and regardless of the outcome he’s not one to brag about his accomplishments.

He rarely, if ever, talks about his career when he’s at school.

A few close friends know about it.

Most never ask about it.

He’s had his liver lacerated, but you should see the other guys.

He’s broken an opponent’s nose, ribs and cracked someone else’s forearm. He even kicked a guy in the thigh and broke his femur.

And still more than one teacher rolled their eyes when Todd Harris, a math teacher and ACT coordinator, told them a professionally trained fighter is sitting in their classroom. In fact, Carney said most people assume the large WKU sown on his jacket represents Western Kentucky University as opposed to World Karate Union.

Harris only knew about after Carney’s mother called to excuse her son from class because he was traveling to Spain for a world tournament as a freshman in 2015.

“He’s very humble and he’s not conceited about his talents,” Harris said. “As a matter of fact, I have probably said more about his talents than he has.”

That said, Carney has plenty to brag about.

At 11, he traveled to Italy and took home the first three bronze medals before he had even earned his black belt. Carney said it’s almost unheard of for someone to enter the world championship tournament without having earned a black belt.

His first time there he was a black belt with a brown stripe.

10 months later, he was a first degree black belt.

“I was used to fighting adults, who were a fifth degree black belt,” Carney said, “so it wasn’t that big of a deal.”

In addition to three bronze medals, he’s earned two silver medals and a gold medal.

The inspiration behind Carney’s success proves why “Entertainment Weekly” listed “The Karate Kid” among the 50 Greatest High School films of all-time.

That said, Carney has no idea Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Mr. Miyagi or that he had previously been on the television series “Happy Days.” In fact, he never even heard of it. Carney shrugged when asked.

As for Macchio, Carney replied, “No sir,” when it was mentioned he probably never heard of “The Outsiders” either.

Regardless of whether he knows the background of the actors, “The Karate Kid” definitely made an impact on his life.

PHOTOS PROVIDED
Main Photo: Hunter Carney (R), a junior at Stewarts Creek High, competes at the world championships in Ireland. Other Photos: The reigning world champion in karate, has been fighting for more than half his life. Carney will turn 17 in November and started fighting when he was eight.