Getting their kicks off
Local martial arts duo defend world titles in Vegas Las Vegas event
After 44 years of competing in martial arts, Ken Johnson continues to win world titles.
Johnson, of La Grande, won three world championships at the International Martial Arts Championships in Las Vegas, Nev., June 22-23, while his student, Arden Yundt, won two world titles.
Johnson, who is the owner and instructor of Grande Ronde Karate School, defended his title in the continuous heavyweight black belt kumite and the heavyweight black belt kickboxing division.
He also won the heavyweight black belt mixed martial arts world title for the first time.
“It was just a new challenge for me,” Johnson said of his pursuit of the MMA world title. “I teach kids MMA, so I figured it would be a good idea to go for a world title.”
Johnson said his biggest challenge isn’t his foes in the ring. It’s something that every competitor faces after a period of time.
“My age,” he said. “Fighting guys who are half my age is the challenge. I’m just trying to beat father time.”
Johnson has won world titles in six different decades, his first coming when he was 9 years old.
Johnson added a third-place finish in the heavyweight black belt point-fighting division where he suffered his only loss of the weekend.
“Going from MMA and continuous fighting to point fighting is difficult because the rules and strategies are so different,” Johnson said.
Point fighting is not full contact and the first fighter to throw a strike to a vital area is awarded a point.
Yundt, 23, is a graduate of La Grande High School and has been training with Johnson since he was a teenager.
He defended his under black belt heavyweight MMA title by submitting his final opponent with a rear-naked choke. Yundt went undefeated to take the under black belt heavyweight continuous kumite world title.
“It’s a great feeling,” Yundt said. “My training this year was pretty difficult. I was battling some injuries — I had a knee problem I had to work through.”
After a second-place finish in the continuous-fighting division last year, Yundt said winning the division this year was all the sweeter.
“It was really frustrating being that close to a world title last year,” he said.
Yundt was the defending world champion in the point-fighting division, but he was unable to defend his point-fighting title.
“Although he didn’t successfully defend his point title, taking the continuous was a much tougher challenge,” Johnson said. “I could not be more proud of how Arden competed and carried himself through the whole competition.”
Yundt said the experience from last year’s tournament helped him out tremendously this year.
“Last year I went in really scared. I was shaking before my first fight. But this year, I had seen it all before, I had been under the lights,” Yundt said.
Yundt is looking forward to returning to Las Vegas next year to defend his titles.
“I’m going to re-double my efforts and try to defend next year. I think having all three world titles at the same time would be pretty cool,” he said.
Johnson continues to teach at his school on Adams Avenue. He has classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, with children’s classes going from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Adult classes run from
Johnson said he currently has 14 children students and 12 adults.