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‘LawChampion’ becomes world champion

Mitchell Greenberg, right, poses with a fellow competitor at the WEKAF World Championships in Hawaii in July. (Courtesy of Mitchell Greenberg)

Mitchell Greenberg, right, poses with a fellow competitor at the WEKAF World Championships in Hawaii in July. (Courtesy of Mitchell Greenberg)

Mitchell Greenberg refers to himself on his website as the “LawChampion.” Now, he can also call himself a world champion — in Filipino martial arts.

In July, Greenberg won gold and silver medals for stick fighting at the world championships in Hawaii. Not bad for someone who took up the sport less than 18 months earlier.

Greenberg, a Glen Burnie solo practitioner, had been a swimmer and competitive runner but was forced to give up running after multiple injuries, including Achilles tendon surgery. He had studied martial arts while in college but could not physically perform judo or taekwondo last year.

“I had heard of Filipino stick fighting, and found that one of the few schools in Maryland was in Pasadena, very close to my office,” he said. “From the first day, I loved the challenge. I have never been dexterous and have the grace of a drunken water buffalo, so this was a phenomenal opportunity to push myself.”

He competed in a few small tournaments against competitors who were “younger, vastly more experienced and much bigger” but earned some wins and a silver medal. Earlier this year, he won four gold medals at the East Coast national championships, qualifying him for the worlds in Hawaii.

Greenberg arrived in Hawaii having not trained for a month because of a sore right elbow that required a cortisone shot. His last event was bangkaw, which involves a 5-foot staff. Greenberg had never competed in the event or even sparred; he qualified by default because no one else registered at nationals.

“Of all the events, this is the one where people get hurt,” he said. “My instructors told me many stories of people getting knocked out, so I would have been worried even if my right elbow had been working properly. Plus, everyone in my bangkaw division was Filipino, and Filipinos invented this art!”

But by focusing on blocking and countering, he said, Greenberg was able to defeat all his opponents on the way to a gold medal.

Had he not captured even a single medal, however, Greenberg still would have been a winner in Hawaii: he proposed to his girlfriend while on the islands.

“It was a big week!” he said.

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