When it comes to karate, Johnston’s Fernandez has a leg up on competition

When it comes to karate, Johnston’s Fernandez has a leg up on competition

In karate circles, Ivan Fernandez is known as “The Wolf.”

His father came up with the nickname a few years ago when he noticed that his son’s strategic fighting style reminded him of the way a wolf relentlessly tracks and hunts down its prey.

The soft-spoken young Fernandez thinks the name fits him well.

“I like to think I embody a wolf’s fighting technique in a way,” he said. “Wolves like to fight with strategy in a pack. I also fight with strategies. Also, wolves when they attack are explosive, in the same way I, too, am explosive.”

“Everything he does, he just wants to win,” David Fernandez said of his 13-year-old son. “He’s very competitive. It doesn’t matter what it is. That’s his drive. In school, that’s what drives him, too.”

That fierce determination has already taken the Johnston teen far, both academically and athletically.

A high honors student at Ferri Middle School, where he is about to start the eighth grade, Fernandez was recognized by The Karate Nation as its 2013 Rookie of the Year. TKN also identified him as one of the top 50 competitors in the country, ranking him third among all junior athletes, both male and female.

Next month, Fernandez will compete at the XXV Pan American Junior Championships, Aug. 25-31 in Lima, Peru, where he will attempt to duplicate last year’s gold-medal performance in Kumite (sparring) at the Pan Am Junior Games in Colombia.

“I think he’s got great potential,” said Tokey Hill, USA Karate’s Director of Coaching and a gold medalist at the 1980 World Karate Federation World Championships.

“I think Ivan’s strongest attributes are that he’s a very strategic fighter, he’s very technical, and I think that, of course along with his physical attributes, are what make him the elite level that he is. He has a good support base at home, which is very critical, and I just think Ivan has a great work ethic. A great work ethic, supported by a good group behind him -- not only with his sensei and his dojo, but his family as well -- is a huge benefit.”

Fernandez was introduced to martial arts through the Bruce Lee movies that he watched as a little boy with his father. (He says “Enter the Dragon” is his favorite.) David and Ingrid Fernandez decided to enroll their 4-year-old son at the International Karate School on Broad Street in Providence, “and it just stuck,” said Ivan.

Before long, he earned his black belt in Shito-ryu, one of the world’s four major styles of karate, originating in Okinawa.

“I just love the sport,” said Fernandez, whose twin sisters, Jennelle and Gezzelle, are now working toward their black belts, too. “The contact, the excitement, the adrenaline, how it feels. And even though it gets me nervous, I love that, too.”

Fernandez enjoyed instant success on the competitive circuit, capturing two gold medals, a silver and a bronze at his first U.S. Open and Junior Olympic Championships. He has remained among the best in the country in his division ever since, each year collecting a slew of medals -- many of them gold -- at the USA Open, Junior Olympics, Junior International Cup and U.S. Championships and Team Trials.

Sensei Luis Briceno says he could see the potential in Fernandez even at a very young age, noting his “unbelievable memory,” as well as his exceptional speed and athleticism.

“He’s very focused on what he’s doing and knows what he wants,” said Briceno, a sixth-dan Shito-ryu and former competitor and then coach on Venezuela’s national team.

Last summer, Fernandez earned a spot on the USA Karate Junior National Team and with that, a trip to Medellin, Colombia to compete at the XXIV Pan American Junior Championships, a multi-sport event featuring competitors from the Americas and surrounding islands and territories. He took first in the 12-13 Male Kumite -40kg Division, and his gold medal -- the first of three won by the U.S. -- helped Team USA to a fifth-place overall finish.

“The first experience was amazing,” said Fernandez, who also competed in Kata (forms) but did not medal. “I knew a lot of the kids on the team because all of them are my friends, and winning the gold on top of that was like the icing on the cake.”

Fernandez returned to the USA National Championships and Team Trials, held earlier this month in Reno, Nevada, hoping to earn another spot on the U.S. team. This time competing in the 12-13 Male Elite -45kg Division at 95 pounds, he came up short of a medal in Kata, but rebounded with a first-place finish in Kumite.

Opening with an 8-0 win in the first of his three fights, Fernandez solidified a spot on the junior national team with his 6-0 semifinal win over Angel Ocampo of Seattle, then clinched the gold medal with a 6-1 victory over Ewan Albright of Colorado in the final match.

“After I lost in Kata, it was hard because I had wanted the extra cushion to know that I was on the team,” said Fernandez, who also went on to take the bronze in Advanced Short Weapons. “But since I lost, I knew the pressure was on that I had to win [in Kumite] to make the team. So that’s when I started really getting hyped up for it.”

Fernandez will be leaving for Peru in just a few weeks. In the meantime, he says he is training hard -- five days a week at International Karate, along with many more hours of conditioning with his father. He’s also trying to enjoy what’s left of his summer vacation and most importantly: “Just waiting for the moment.”

At an event of this magnitude, “all the stars have to align” in order for an athlete to come out on top, said Hill.

″(But) I think that he has the tools,” he said of Fernandez. “And as long as his preparation goes well both mentally and physically and the stars line up, he’s got a really good chance.”

By CAROLYN THORNTON ~ Providence Journal ~  Jul 29, 2014

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