White Phéonix athletes fly high in World Games | AspenTimes.com

White Phéonix athletes fly high in World Games

Jon Maletz

PAUL CONRAD/ASPEN TIMES WEEKLY

Brandon Briscoe charged across the platform.His visibly heavier and more muscular opponent in the full-contact sparring match attempted to perform a jump quick to thwart Briscoe’s rush. Briscoe instinctively countered with a kick to the stomach that knocked his competitor to the ground, and followed with five consecutive strikes to the head and torso. Briscoe, a 19-year-old White Phéonix kung fu protégé and former Aspen High School valedictorian, dictated the pace for the entire 90 seconds. He quelled potential attacks with well-rehearsed hand strikes from every direction. His competitor could not keep up.The three judges voted unanimously. Briscoe took the gold medal and, by virtue of his two silvers in the weapons and empty-hand form disciplines Oct. 7 at the U.S. Hawaii World Games, was crowned grand champion in the black belt division. Fellow White Phéonix student Monika Vass took gold in the intermediate category in the weapons and empty-hand hard forms. She then moved up to the black belt division to perform in a soft empty-handed form and bested all four competitors, including an instructor from Minneapolis.The win guarantees Briscoe a spot in next year’s Olympic trials. There, a berth in the Summer Olympics in Beijing will be on the line.”They got exactly what they deserved,” said Joel Castillo, Aspen’s kung fu grand master. “They presented Brandon with a champion belt much like you see in wrestling. He got a new belt buckle.”In the weapons discipline, Briscoe, wielding a straight sword, performed movements similar to tai chi, characterized by slow and deliberate movements of the arms and low leg stances. He said he momentarily lost his concentration during the middle of the form, but regained his focus to finish out and best nine of 10 competitors. The man who finished ahead of Briscoe was an instructor at a Hawaiian Shaolin kung fu school.”A weapon makes things difficult, because there’s more room for error,” Briscoe said Wednesday. “If the sword doesn’t look right it’s on the right angle, it’s easier to pick out little flaws. I lost my focus because I was thinking of too many things, but I recentered myself.”A slight bobble made the difference between gold and silver during Briscoe’s performance of his eagle form during the empty-hand discipline. One day earlier, he performed the sequence of movements without a hitch. During competition, however, he had some residual movements on the landing of a jump kick. Following a sequence of spinning moves, Briscoe momentarily lost his balance. The judges took notice. “I wasn’t completely rooted when I landed,” Briscoe said. “After the spinning moves, I lost my balance a little bit and took a small step. It wasn’t a big deal, but the judges realized the move didn’t fit in the form. That’s all it took.”Last came the sparring – Briscoe’s first full-contact bout in competition. Because the man ahead of him in the standings opted against competing in the final discipline, Briscoe’s hopes for a title remained. The pressure was on. It also didn’t help that the lone competitor standing between him and gold was physically intimidating. Castillo, who sparred briefly with Briscoe before the match, was anxious. “I was nervous for him. I didn’t want him to get his nose busted up,” Castillo said. “It was the highest, almost dangerous form of fighting. I had to remember that he’s my student, and I did just fine. It was time for him to stand on his own two feet and do this for himself.” The mentor’s angst dissipated in little more than a second. Briscoe charged and instantly seized all momentum. “You want to fight everyone like you’re in an alley and someone attacks you,” Castillo said. “You don’t want to know what a person does, or else you’ll think too much and change your gameplan. The real way of fighting is just to flow. I told him that when he walks in the ring, he should pretend the guy is Jason, a guy he spars with in Aspen. I told him not to worry about the other stuff. It worked.”His opponent had little answer for Briscoe’s fast-paced, unpredictable punches. Low. High. Side-to-side.The two competitors were supposed to go one more round. Judges decided, however, that they had seen enough.”I did exactly what I do in school,” Briscoe said. “I’ve sparred with some other people who are extremely fast. My opponent wasn’t moving at the same speed I’ve seen. I immediately took charge.”Took charge and took the podium’s top spot. It was a feat made more incredible given the adversity Briscoe has endured in past months. After a trip to India this summer, he battled illness for more than a month, which severely hindered training. Two weeks prior to traveling to Hawaii, he sprained his leg while attempting his first-ever jumping split kick. A berth in the Olympic qualifier should ease the discomfort.”He did everything he wanted to accomplish when he went there,” White Phéonix instructor Michael Frank said Thursday. “Brandon’s pretty laid back, and he wasn’t jumping up and down, but I’m sure he’s happy with his performance.”Briscoe sees gold in Hawaii as justification, proof he made the right decision to hold off on college for a year in order to pursue kung fu. Proof a goal and a dream are not out of reach. “It kind of verifies that I’ve been training right, and that taking a risk and taking a year off before school is justified,” he said. “Now, there’s no question whether I’m just screwing around or getting some things done.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com