As president of the Korean Student Association at UNC Charlotte, Kevin Kang says he is all about bringing people and cultures together. He acknowledges that there are cultural gaps not only between Koreans and Americans but between different generations of Korean-Americans.
An event on campus Jan. 19 may be a little unorthodox, but Kang thinks it’s just one of many things that can help bridge existing cultural riffs.
Through the Major League Armwrestling sanctioning body, Charlotte resident James Retarides is hosting an arm-wrestling tournament to raise money for a charity he founded called Allies in Arms. The charity’s sole purpose is to help fund travel expenses for some South Korean arm wrestlers who wish to compete in a tournament in the United States in March.
The Allies in Arms tournament will be in McKnight Hall inside the Cone University Center. The competition is open to both pros and novices, which means that even first-time arm wrestlers are welcome.
The fee is $20 and day-of registrations will be accepted until noon. Competition is scheduled to begin around 1 p.m.
All of the proceeds from registration fees, merchandise sales and raffles will be sent to the South Korean contingent participating in the annual Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic strength competition being held in Columbus, Ohio. Up to eight Korean athletes will be competing in the arm wrestling competition.
Retarides feels such a connection to South Korea because of the time he spent there last summer. A three-time U.S. Armwrestling Federation national champion and renowned ambassador of the sport, Retarides accepted an invitation to help train South Korean arm wrestlers on their home turf in September.
Making the invitation was a former UNC Chapel Hill student who Retarides befriended at a tournament about four years ago. Though Retarides is easing himself away from competition, he continues to coach on a freelance basis.
“He went back to Korea,” said Retarides, 35. “He called me up and said these guys will pay for your trip. Who am I to turn that down?”
Retarides was asked to conduct a workshop on arm wrestling as part of a seminar on strength sports training.
“It became the center of this thing (seminar),” said Retarides. “I learned so much being out there. It was probably the greatest experience of my life.”
Retarides learned of some of the participants’ wish to participate in “The Arnold,” as it is known. Including travel expenses, it will cost each of them about $1,500 to participate.
Wishing to return the favor provided to him by the Koreans, Retarides promised to help raise some of the money for their trip to the U.S.
Looking for support, Retarides contacted Kevin Kang, who was able to secure McKnight Hall. At the tournament, the Korean Student Association will provide assistance with weigh-ins and administering each division’s competitive bracket.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity,” said Kang, a 21-year old junior who graduated from Charlotte’s Independence High, “… because arm wrestling is a completely different culture. Being able to support it, and it being my homeland … pushing Korean athletes to go further is the ultimate opportunity.”
The tournament will host several levels of competition including pro, amateur and masters for men (all separated by weight classes), and one open division for women. Each classification is broken down into right-arm and left-arm competitions and will be a double-elimination.
Retarides says that he has commitments from arm wrestlers from as far away as Pennsylvania and Alabama. He is expecting the tournament to draw at least 100 competitors. As of Dec. 30, there were 60 signed up.
Retarides and Kang are hoping that competitors will buy into the cause. Because it is a charitable event, no pay-outs will be awarded.
“There will be a lot of out-of-state talent there,” said Mike Giannelli, a 31-year-old arm wrestler from Charlotte. “I’m looking forward to it. I love the cause. Bringing the Korean guys over to compete in the Arnold, that’s quite an honor to have.”