Chandler resident wins gold for Team USA karate

Chandler resident Kelley Hutta recently won a gold medal at the 2023 Karate Open National Championships in Las Vegas April 9 in the 35- to 44-year-old age group. Along with competing, Hutta also is an instructor of karate at Chandler Martial Arts. (Courtesy Michael Hutta)

Kelley Hutta has been a resident of Chandler for the past 18 years, but some may not know that she is a chief instructor at Chandler Martial Arts where she has grown and shared her love for karate.

Hutta recently attended the 2023 USA Karate Open in Las Vegas, Nevada where she competed and took home a gold medal for Team USA. Her experience had her fighting in the 35- to 44-year-old age group, one step above where she normally competes.

“I actually was fighting up a division, I didn’t fight my age group,” Hutta said. “I fought in a younger age group and did well, which was shocking considering I haven’t really been in the ring.”

Hutta faced adversity in her semifinal and final matches when her opponent got senshu, which means the first unopposed point advantage in karate.

But she didn’t let that stop her from making a comeback.

“I was frustrated with myself in my finals match,” Hutta said. “I knew out of the gate she would move laterally really well, I knew that she liked to split, and I walked right into it.

“I was frustrated with myself knowing she was that great and a dynamic fighter and walking right into her strength instead of fighting my fight.”

Hutta then regathered herself and began to fight the way she had been training.

“I need to fight my fight and I need to use my distance,” she said. “I had a longer reach than she did and I needed to fight smarter. So, I made sure I had the outside advantage and started moving off the line.

“The next engagement, I swept her and got three points by her landing on the ground.”

Hutta won gold in the match. It was the moment she had worked hard for training in Chandler.

She credited much of her success in karate to her role as a referee. She said that has given her a new perspective to the sport and the technicality behind it.

That, along with her desire to continue to improve her craft, has made her a special martial artist.

“I find that sparring and fighting helps me be a better referee, so this is one of the ways I stay humble,” Hutta said. “Having the eyes for it, you have to be able to see things, and I don’t know how referees do it unless they’re fighting.

“It’s just part of being able to understand the fight science of it. Being on both sides of it is a critical part of my training in being a well-rounded martial artist myself.”

Over 20 different countries were represented at the 2023 USA Karate Open event in Las Vegas.

Hundreds of competitors from all over the world and in several different age groups competed. Hutta said that created an atmosphere unlike any other.

“It is such an electric environment, especially since this is our first real comeback after COVID,” Hutta said. “It was so fun to see all the teams that were represented. The crowd was incredible, so engaged. They’re cheering, they’re booing. There’s just so much going on, there’s 12 rings that are running at the same time.”

Hutta’s gold medal win came in the first competition she competed in of this caliber since she was a kid.

She started practicing karate at 12 years old when she moved to the Valley. She said she and her brothers started working out at a local dojo when one of her brothers was getting bullied. In their eyes, it was a way to defend themselves.

She continued with the sport through her junior year of high school before taking a step back in college.

A mother of four, one of her kids wanted to explore karate at age 5. Not only did that open the door for the sport in their family, but it opened the door for her to begin competing again.

During that time, she also became an instructor at the same facility she trained at as a kid. There, she teaches patience with the sport. Simply put, karate can’t be learned and perfected overnight.

“This is about patience and about being committed to a regiment, a discipline, an art,” Hutta said. “We’ve got people that have been training for five to ten years and still don’t have their black belt. This is just a matter of … it doesn’t matter the rank, it’s about learning and mastering the techniques.”

Hutta hopes to continue practicing karate even now after her gold medal win.

She aims to help others at Chandler Martial Arts achieve the same success she now has and encourages those who are thinking about practicing karate to do so, especially for women in need of learning self-defense.

“I really think that there are a lot of women that are afraid to fight,” Hutta said. “Anytime I’m able to bring women on to the mats that are not necessarily interested in karate, they have such a blast. It’s such a huge stress relief just to hit bags.

“That’s the first part of fighting, is just being able to walk in the doors. If you can do that, I’ll meet you there. We’ll go through the rest of it together because you don’t have to do it alone, but you have to walk in.”

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