A quartet of Merritt athletes from the Sen-i Martial Arts Club in town won a total of nine medals at the Tiger Balm International tournament in North Vancouver on the March 19 weekend.

Head instructor Kim Carlton, 46, competed in the two-day event at Capilano University, along with 32-year-old club member Matt Wycotte and his two children — seven-year-old Kasey and Angel, age four.

Between them, the talented foursome from the Nicola Valley brought home five golds, three silvers and a bronze. The 31st annual tournament attracted close to 500 competitors from throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alberta and even from overseas.

Carlton, a fifth-degree black belt, was a winner in the full-contact weapons fighting class as well as in the NBL65 open breaking division. The latter event saw Carlton break over 600 pounds of concrete with various elbow, forearm and knee strikes, shatter an ash baseball bat with his shin and crush a coconut with the palm of his hand in a carefully choreographed three-minute routine.

Matt Wycotte, a white belt in his first-ever competition, won a gold medal in points sparring and a silver in mixed martial arts.

“He fought for five minutes, then had a second fight with only two minutes rest in between,” Carlton said. “He fought so hard. His adrenaline was really going.”

Kasey, a yellow belt, was a gold-medal winner in MMA. He also picked up silvers in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and continuous kick boxing, and a bronze in SKIL (sport karate international league).

“I was pretty proud of Kasey in the jiu-jitsu final,” Carlton said. “He lost the gold medal to a world champion.”

As for Angel, the petite white belt had no one to compete against in her own age group, so tournament organizers arranged for an exhibition bout in submission grappling against an older male competitor — and she won!

“Before her event, I had Angel practise a double-leg takedown, mount and armbar, just like she does in class back home,” Carlton said. “Then I told her, ‘Now, go do it to him.’ The referee started the match. Angel ran in and did it. Just like that. It was awesome.”

The Wycotte family are all relative newcomers to the mixed martial arts scene.

“My son joined last August,” Matt said. “He was really interested in the sport, and I thought that it would be a good way to channel his energy.”

After only two months of practice, Kasey entered his first competition at BCIT in Vancouver and won a gold medal in points sparring. He won the same event this past February at the Alberta championships in Calgary.

Shortly after Kasey began training, Angel signed up because she didn’t want to be left out of the picture, her dad said. Matt was the last to enroll a few months later, at the urging of his son.

“We’re really enjoying the fact that it’s a family activity, and I like the discipline and self-control that it teaches,” Matt said.

All one-on-one combat at martial arts events like the Tiger Balm International is highly regulated, with strictly-controlled contact in effect, especially with the youngsters.

Carlton, for his part, is delighted with the progress of his students, and really enjoying Merritt since moving here about a year ago. His story is an interesting one.

“I’ve beeen martial arts training since I was five years old,” he said. “My dad was an armed and unarmed combat instructor in the Canadian military while I was growing up. I’ve lived and travelled all over the world.”

From ages 12 to 30, Carlton resided and trained in the Abbotsford area. During a part of that time, he was a member of Canada’s national jiu-jitsu team. He moved to 100 Mile House at the age of 30 and became a trainer of exotic animals, a movie stuntman and owner of a tattoo studio.

The father of five children, Carlton saw one of his sons win a World Championship in mixed martial arts in Las Vegas at the age of six.

About 18 months ago, Carlton closed up shop in 100 Mile, loaded  up his fifth-wheel, and embarked on a seven-month road trip to Nova Scotia and back. En route, he dropped in on numerous martial arts and tattoo events and conventions.

“When I got back to B.C., I stopped in Merritt to see my brother, Andrew, who lives here. I liked the city and decided to stay.”

Carlton wasted little time in getting a couple of businesses going. In addition to the his Sen-i mixed martial arts dojo, he also operates Studio 13 Tattoos and Piercings next door.

Carlton was in the news a few weeks back, when he foiled a robbery attempt at the Coldwater Beer and Wine Store across the road from his businesses. Carlton tackled the would-be thief and held him until police arrived on the scene.

Carlton has lots planned for his up-and-coming cadre of combatants. He hopes to have several members attend the Calgary Open and BC Open in April, and the 37th Annual Can-Am International Championships and 5th Canada International Martial Arts Festival at the Richmond Olympic Oval from May 13 to 15.

Carlton runs a Ninja Turtle class for youngsters like Angel on Saturday mornings, while older students and adults practise on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For more information, you can contact Carlton at 250-280-0451 or visit his facility at 1938 Quilchena Ave.