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Confident he’s the one

G. Sean Kelly

On the wall of the Bushidokan Academy of Martial Arts in downtown Glenwood Springs, a framed photo shows Kris Harrison showing off one of his first black eyes.

The color photo brings out the deep purple puffed up around Harrison’s eye. The smile on Harrison’s face makes him look like he’s rather proud of his first battle scar.

Black eyes – even bruised ribs and the occasional broken bone – are commonplace in the world of competitive karate. What sets the photo apart, is the black eye and the ear-to-ear grin are on the face of a 2-year-boy.

That 2-year-old is now 30, and his timing couldn’t be better. Harrison, the youngest man in the Ju-Jitsu North American Union ever to attain Godan, or fifth-degree black belt, was selected for the U.S. National Ju-Jitsu Team recently and will represent the United States at the World Championships in Punta del Este, Uruguay, Nov. 22-24.

As important, assuming he maintains his spot on the team – and Harrison is confident he will – he will compete in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, where Ju-Jitsu makes its debut as a demonstration sport.

“It’s a chance to compete in the world arena with competitors from everywhere,” Harrison said. “How often do you get to do that?”

Although it’s a demonstration sport, he said, “for the competitors, we’re still going for the gold.”

The son of International Karate Hall of Fame inductee Jim Harrison, Kris Harrison was essentially born into the sport. His mother and father both graced the same magazine pages that held Chuck Norris and other karate stars in the 1970s and ’80s.

“There was a lot of working out,” Harrison said of his childhood. “We basically woke up. Went to school, got out. Went to the dojo, got out and went to bed.”

Harrison admits, however, there existed a love-hate relationship with karate at times.

“I burnt out a couple of times,” Harrison said. “I wanted to go hang out with girls and go skiing.”

Harrison’s father, who still owns a dojo, or karate studio, in Missoula, Mont., wouldn’t let him leave the sport. Harrison also began to mix up his training, practicing and competing in kickboxing and no-holds-barred mixed karate competitions akin to the Ultimate Fighting Championships seen on pay-per-view.

The variety kept him in the martial arts and ultimately helped with his sport Ju-Jitsu performance.

“It helps the confidence, because there is nowhere near the contact in sport Ju-Jitsu as there is in full contact kickboxing and no-holds-barred,” Harrison said.

And he is obviously not burnt out now. Harrison – a middleweight who competes around 167 pounds – trains roughly six hours a day, six days a week. He currently carries about 9.7 percent body fat, but plans on entering worlds with 5 percent body fat, so he can be “as strong as I can possibly be.”

A typical day has Harrison lifting weights for 1 1/2 hours, working cardio (30 minutes of skipping rope, five 3-minute drills on the punching bag, 500 kicks with each leg on the heavy bag, 10 3-minute rounds on the sparring bag, rope workouts and plyometrics) and then he actually gets into the Ju-Jitsu specific training. He wraps up his day with the grappling portion of his workout.

“The grappling portion is all about repetitions,” Harrison said. “It takes about 5,000 reps of one technique to get it perfect.”

And technique is important in Ju-Jitsu, referred to as the “gentle art.” Although Harrison points out it’s anything but gentle, particularly at the elite levels.

“Basically, the opponent works themselves into a technique and you use position and leverage rather than strength,” he said. “But when you get to a certain level, strength and endurance does become a factor.”

His lifelong involvement in competitive karate, as well as his training regimen, have given Harrison a wealth of confidence. The United States has never won a medal at the World Championships, but that may be because Harrison has never competed in the Worlds before.

Harrison won the Am-Can Judo Championships three times as a youth and plans to be the first medalist at Worlds.

“I never go anywhere to lose,” he said. “I’m going to medal.”

After returning from the U.S. National Ju-Jitsu Team Trial he said: “There really isn’t anybody that I can’t beat right now.”

The attitude served him well at the Trials in Wisconsin July 13-14, where he earned the national team spot by beating out current team member Rick Parish.

And Harrison, the father of 3-year-old daughter Amala and 1 1/2-year-old son Liam, shares his confidence with the rest of the family.

“I don’t really worry about him,” Harrison’s wife, Lisa, said. “He grew up doing this. He has enough confidence for both of us.”

And Harrison has another edge over the rest of the competition. Lisa is a massage therapist, which always comes in handy. Win, lose or just training, there are always some bumps and bruises.


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