29 September 2023

Illawarra martial artists fired up for friendly competition at Hong Kong's Gay Games

| Eileen Mulligan
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Zoe, Jye and Georgah with some of the medals they won at the Sydney World Pride Championships.

Zoe Anderson, Jye Gibson and Georgah Elchaar with some of their medal haul at the Sydney World Pride Championships. Photo: Nik Gibson.

Punching, kicking and immobilising someone with a joint lock – who would have thought these were ideal ways to make friends and influence people?

But that is what has happened for a team of “rainbow warriors” from Fire Phoenix Martial Arts in Corrimal.

This diverse group of martial artists blitzed the competition – in the nicest possible way – in February at the Sydney World Pride Championships, the friendliest and most supportive tournament they had entered.

Now some of those contestants are training for the Gay Games to be held in November in Hong Kong where they hope the message of inclusion will be embraced.

The Gay Games organisers were so impressed with the Fire Phoenix team members they have asked them to demonstrate their skills in a special presentation in front of a crowd of 2000 people.

The Fire Phoenix competitors range from beginners to battle-hardened black belts who have lost count of their trophies and medals.

Relative newcomer to the Korean martial art of hapkido, Aeron Masters, was nervous when he stepped onto the mat in February for his first event at Sydney World Pride – his first tournament.

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“It was in the extreme weapons event which is also the most intimidating. Extreme weapons is super-fast – but super fun,” Aeron said.

“It also was the first time I’d entered in the men’s competition. No one made a big deal of it (being trans).

“The judges were also really good with accommodating my disability. I have Tourette’s syndrome. I get vocal tics and motor tics – body tics – and can manage and suppress my tics for a while, but the judges were really good about not making it an issue.

“At the end I felt good, very much relieved.”

Aeron, a yellow belt at the time, won third place in extreme weapons, bringing home a total of six medals.

Fire Phoenix instructor Nik Gibson was pleasantly surprised when they performed their group formation – a synchronised pattern of martial arts moves – without any errors.

“They had never done it perfectly before,” Nik said.

Sensei Nik’s wife, head instructor Anneke Wright, was proud Fire Phoenix had entered the largest team in the tournament – 13 competitors from the LGBTQI community plus allies. Even straight white males joined.

“There were no exclusions,” Anneke said. “It’s nice to have an event that highlights the community but does not exclude others.”

Anneke, who is living with injuries from a motorcycle accident, said while she was at the Sydney championships, another martial artist saw the pain medication patch on her arm.

“He said to me: ‘Look I see that patch. I don’t know what your story is and I don’t need to know it but my wife has one of those. Respect to you for participating.’

“And I just thought that was really nice that he selected a time when other people weren’t around so it wasn’t a big fuss,” she said.

Second-dan black belt Georgah Elchaar said the Sydney championships was the friendliest tournament she had ever attended.

“The best thing was there was no ego. It was a true display of everyone enjoying martial arts,” Georgah said.

“I’ve been training since I was 10 and I’m now 24. I love the sport plus I love teaching. I get a real sense of joy from watching someone progress and achieve something.

“We have quite a few people here (at Fire Phoenix) with additional needs; we can support and watch them grow.”

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Red belt Zoe Anderson has been competing for more than four years.

“It was really good getting to compete with like-minded people who had less of the culture that is seen at other tournaments. Sometimes people can be overly competitive,” Zoe said.

Tournament veteran, black belt Jye Gibson, 19, said: “It’s fun. I like martial arts more than other sports because it is as collaborative as you want it to be. It has a community part to it while also being an individual sport.”

Now seven of that team of 13 are training hard for the Gay Games which will be held in Asia for the first time since their inception in 1982 in San Francisco.

The Gay Games’ motto is “unity through diversity” and all participants older than 18 are welcome, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or training level.

Aeron’s partner Rin Sherratt couldn’t enter the Sydney competition because she was pregnant with their second child. But she will be part of the team in Hong Kong.

“Tournaments have been mini holidays for us,” Rin said. “The whole family is going and we’ll also go to Hong Kong Disneyland and the museum of jellyfish. This will be my first holiday overseas.”

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