Tanya Rogers has set up a Go Fund Me page for her twin daughters’ trip to the world championships to assist with costs such as Team USA uniforms, WKU tournament fees, travel and food expenses. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/285c3b3c.
Skylar and Aliyanah Rogers are two tough girls.
The 12-year-old twins were recently named to the U.S. Karate Team and will compete for the United States in the 2016 World Kickboxing and Karate Union’s World Championships in Orlando, Fla., later this month.
Aliyanah — or Ali, as she often goes by — made the team for traditional karate weapons and creative weapon, no music. She also earned a spot for sparring. Skylar earned a place for musical weapons with her fans and a spot for sparring.
Skylar described her events as using her body or form in a series of movements that show self-defense moves. Creative weapons is the same movement with the inclusion of traditional karate weapons. And the events are performed individually, which is different from sparring.
“Fighting or sparring is where you’re wearing pads and facing an opponent that you may or may not know,” Skylar said.
Musical weapons is a little more extreme, she said. Skylar includes tumbling, a front handspring and splits in her competitions.
“I was really happy,” Skylar said of making the team but admits thinking about the upcoming competition makes her a little nervous.
The girls competed against 12 others to earn spots on the team. They had to finish in the top two to secure their position.
If someone from last year’s world’s team medaled at the world tournament, they kept their place. That meant only a limited number of spots were available this year.
Short term, the girls’ goals include medaling at the world tournament this year. Long term, they’d like to make the Olympics.
Karate will be added to the Olympic sports lineup for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, but the Rogers girls may be too young at that time (only around 16 years old). They hope to someday make the team.
Both girls watched the Olympics this year, with Skylar favoring gymnastics and Gabby Douglas because of her love of tumbling. Ali prefers watching a non-Olympic sport, mixed martial arts fighting and says her favorite athlete to watch is Ronda Rousey.
Rousey won 12 consecutive MMA fights and was the former Ultimate Fighting Championships Women’s Bantamweight Champion, as well as the last Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion. She was the first U.S. woman to earn an Olympic medal in judo, winning a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The seventh-graders at North Hall Middle School started karate when they were 7 years old. Before moving to Georgia, they trained at Harris Holt Martial Arts in Clarksville, Tenn. They still travel back there about once every three months to test for their belts.
Ali started first as the sport was something she had always wanted to do. Skylar started a month later after seeing how much fun her sister was having.
Even though the girls are twins, they have adapted to the sport differently.
Ali is dyslexic, requiring her to be taught in a different format. Since she has trouble mirroring an instructor’s movements, she is taught with an instructor standing next to her.
Their preferences with the sport have also changed over time.
When Skylar saw the Japanese fans at a tournament, she fell in love with them. She wasn’t able to find anyone to teach her, so she went on YouTube and taught herself.
Skylar explains using the fans as a weapon comes from long ago when women put blades on the back of their fans to cut people.
However, the girls continue to train together at Next Level Martial Arts in Stone Mountain. Their coaches are Kodaq Wray and Chris Chastain, who coaches the Next Level South International Martial Arts Team, another team in which the girls compete.
Ali and Skylar typically practice several times a week. A regular week involves practicing at least Tuesdays and Thursdays with possible additional sessions on the weekends. Sometimes those weekend sessions run up to eight hours long. If they aren’t giving their training 110 percent, they say, that means they’ll be doing pushups.
“Their instructors’ goals for every tournament is the Rogers girls will place first and second in every tournament,” said Tanya Rogers, the girls’ mother.
During practice their coach likes to put them up against each other, the girls said. Having a sibling in the same sport not only pushes each other to do better but offers more opportunities to train as they always have a training partner at home.
Their steadfast allegiance to the sport for this length of time has surprised their mother.
“I don’t think we thought it would go this far,” Tanya said, noting when the girls started competing in tournaments it didn’t go too well.
“Everyone kept saying ‘Oh, they’re girls and martial arts really isn’t girl-related,’” she said.
So, sometimes the girls compete against girls and other times they fight boys.
The girls also faced critics early on. Tanya said people at competitions told her the girls just couldn’t do karate. She was told they were doing it wrong, especially Skylar with the fans.
But Skylar and Ali set out to prove everyone wrong.
After placing last, or near the bottom for several years, Tanya and the girls’ father, Army Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Rogers, began to ask the judges what Skylar could do different to get a better score. They were surprised by the answer.
Tanya said the judges told them Japanese fans were not a weapon. Plus, they didn’t know how to judge it.
Now, Skylar’s current instructor advocates for her with the judges. He lets them know fans are a weapon and asks for judges who know how to judge it.
“It’s all about finding people to advocate for her because it is her passion,” Tanya said.
And the sisters’ passions have proved successful. The Rogers girls have traveled around the country for several competitions, including to Chicago and Indiana. They hope to continue traveling next year, too.
This month, they will compete on the international level. Ali and Skylar said they’re excited to meet a lot of new people and compete against people from other countries.
The girls said they are grateful for their parents support and encouragement — and time spent driving — so they can follow their dreams. They also are thankful of the support they’ve received from their instructors in Georgia and Tennessee, as well as Northside Church for its encouragement and support.
They even have a little advice for other girls in the sport. While Ali and Skylar might be outnumbered by the boys in karate, they say it shouldn’t stop a girl from participating in the sport they love.
Finishing each other’s sentences, Ali and Skylar encourage other girls to give the sport a try.
Ali said it builds confidence while Skylar said it’s inspiring.
“Never stop believing in yourself,” Skylar said.
“Or second guess yourself,” added Ali.