They’re going to hit a lot harder from here on out.
Starting Jan. 19, when Menomonee Falls senior Jordan Bonenberger heads to Chicago for his first adult competition, Bonenberger will be competing outside the junior ranks in martial arts. But with the resume he brings to the table, nobody would be surprised if the gold medalist at the World Kickboxing Championships held his own.
“The professionals, the guys there are doing it for the money and because it’s a big deal to them,” Bonenberger said. “It’s not just fun and games anymore. I still do it for fun, but these guys take it to another level, so it will be interesting to see.”
The third-degree black belt — he’s had a black belt since before his 11th birthday — is also a wrestler and soccer player at Menomonee Falls High School, and what comes next could shape whether Bonenberger will pursue a spot on the United States Olympic Team for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“I haven’t put much thought into it yet because the style is different (kumate in the Olympics). It’s a little more taekwondo style but you can sweep the leg. That’s different from what I do now. It’s something where I’d have to find a different school to train. Once I’m able to try that out, I think it’s going to depend where I go to school.”
He’s in the process of choosing that destination now. It could be Whitewater or St. Thomas in Minnesota to play soccer; the latter institution has close proximity to a healthy martial arts community. It could also be Madison because of the right academic fit.
“When you start going to tournaments at the national level, that’s when you get to see different styles,” he said, providing the example of NASCA, a North American circuit that covers Canada and spans the United States. “You get to see people who do this differently.”
He also saw how competitors from around the world compete, and he came away leaving his own impression as he hauled away three gold medals, a silver and a bronze from Orlando, Florida, in November.
“I’ve never seen the sport martial arts aspect from other countries,” Bonenberger said. “I know how high of a level it is in America. America probably has probably the greatest level of sport martial arts in the world. … The creative division in the U.S. is by far surpassing what’s going on in other countries. That really prepared me going into this.”
His world titles in the 15- to 17-year-old age bracket came in “freestyle,” “creative” and “open/musical.” He added a silver in “extreme style,” fighting off a Charlie-horse cramp that popped up in the middle of his demonstration. He took bronze in the light-contact forms competition at his weight bracket, the lone medal in which he was sparring against other competitors.
He said the competition is as much about execution and form as it is winning and losing.
“Part of how it works is you have to do (each routine) twice,” Bonenberger said. “The first time, I won my extreme division and my creative division, and I also won my creative weapons and extreme weapons division. I would have had all the medals (before having to repeat the forms). I still won three of those medals and won my weapon, which was a huge relief. You get disqualified if you drop your weapon. I’m one of the fastest on the circuits; there’s not many people who can keep up with my weapon speed, so if I stuck to my form, I just had to hold onto it.”
He said a day seldom goes by when he hears a wisecrack about his fighting acumen.
“I hear stuff daily about it,” he said with a smile. “It’s part of my life.”
Overcoming hearing loss
He’s done all of it with significant hearing loss, though he doesn’t need his hearing aids on the field and has adapted.
“I have profound hearing loss at the mid to high frequencies,” he said. “What that means is when I’m on the field for soccer and there’re multiple fields, I can’t really differentiate between a whistle blown on my field or another field. I’ve had times where I’d hear a whistle and stop, so now I just tune that out and stop if I see everyone else stop.”
It’s not a problem in wrestling, either.
“If I hear my coaches shouting, I can kind of get a glimpse of them and tell what they’re saying,” he said. “It doesn’t hold me back in sports as much, which is why I love sports so much. In soccer, sometimes there will be people calling out, but at least I can look and acknowledge that something is going on.”
He took his first conference loss of the year in wrestling on Jan. 4, but just getting back on the mat has been rewarding after he missed his junior wrestling season with a torn tendon in his ankle.
“Competing is where you really figure stuff out,” Bonenberger said. “I learned a lot in wrestling by having a partner that pushed me, and then I pushed myself. In karate, I’ve had a great instructor and learned a little bit at every single tournament.”
Volunteer at Children’s Hospital
His week doesn’t end with wrestling practice, either. He spends two hours every Friday volunteering at Children’s Hospital, spending time with kids primarily in the epilepsy center.
“I help with kids that are just bored,” he said. “Some are stuck in their rooms, so having somebody else there with them makes it a lot easier. I’ve held babies and rocked them to sleep and played some games with little kids. Small stuff like that is rewarding to me. I think, ‘This kid is going through a lot right now; maybe I can help them out a little bit.’”
Even in a world of heavy hitters, Jordan Bonenberger has a soft side.