Local Dad to Lead the US Karate Team in the 2022 Maccabiah Games

The Buckley, Washington black belt, father, and grandfather will coach the US delegation next summer.

Pacific Northwest Jews don’t seem to know much about the Maccabiah Games, Israel’s version of the Olympics held every four years — at least that’s the impression David Munden gets.

“Most of the competitors come from Chicago, New York, Florida, Philadelphia — mostly East Coast,” he says. “You get to Israel, everyone is into it. In larger Jewish communities more people know and are into it. You get out here by us, and no one’s even heard of it.”

Next summer will be the third time the Buckley, Washington, dad of six will be coaching the US karate team. Munden, the head instructor at the Japan Karate Federation NW in Auburn, has been to Israel twice before, in 2013 and 2017, as head coach for the US junior/cadet karate team. He will coach the entire US delegation in 2022.

Between now and then, Munden will be busy building out the delegation and checking in with American athletes. When they get to Israel next summer, he’ll lead an in-person training camp and coach them through the games. “Karate’s an individual sport for the most part, but it’s still important to have that camaraderie among the competitors,” he says.

Maccabiah is as much about sports as it is about building Jewish pride and a connection to the land of Israel. Maccabiah traces its origins to two sources: one, Maccabi sports clubs that formed around the turn of the century in Europe, when Jews weren’t allowed to participate in sports leagues; two, Yosef Yekutieli, a young Russian émigré in Palestine, who was inspired by the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and proposed the idea of a Jewish Olympics to the Jewish National Fund in 1928. Incredibly, the British high commissioner for Palestine approved of the idea, so long as British mandate and Arab athletes could participate. With the greenlight, two motorbike caravans left Tel Aviv toward Antwerp and London to spread the news to Jewish communities across Europe. The first Maccabiah Games took place in 1932 and again in 1935. The focus on sports reinforced the concept of the “muscular Jew” and promoted Jewish nationalism — indeed, the Maccabiah Games served as an illegal immigration system for many Jews seeking a new life in pre-state Israel. This activity, plus the rise of the Nazis and violence in Mandatory Palestine, put a hold on games until 1950, after Israel declared statehood.

Munden hadn’t traveled to Israel before 2013, and the trip invigorated his connection to the Jewish people. “To use sports, which are universal, to bring people from all over the world and mingle and see Israel, I think it’s a great program. As a coach, of course we care about the competition, but then we’re also there to see Israel and meet other Jews.” The experience is surreal, he says, from the Olympic-level opening ceremonies at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium to people asking them to pose for photos. Munden’s son, who won a silver medal for sparring in 2013, forged a relationship with a religious athlete, with whom he spent hours in discussion. “He just loved it,” Munden says. “He thought it was the greatest thing ever. That, I think, is an example of meeting people and learning from one another and getting to make those connections.”

Munden practiced martial arts as a teenager but didn’t pick it back up until his son became interested in it as a form of self-defense. The entire family got into it, including all six kids and his wife. One of Munden’s daughters has also competed. Karate is an established sport in Maccabiah, unlike the Olympics, where it is being included for the first time this year, at the behest of Tokyo. (Judo was introduced in 1964, also by Tokyo, and taekwondo debuted at the 1988 Seoul games.)

And even though it’s an individual sport, Munden is eager to give credit to all the people who have supported him, from the Japan Karate Federation NW to the Maccabi karate co-chairs, Dr. Alex Sternberg and Caren Lesser, and former head coach Avi Azoulay.

Munden hopes he can help raise awareness for the games, especially on the West Coast. “There’s actually a larger US delegation that goes to Maccabiah than the Olympics,” he says. “You’d think more people would know about it.”

You can support David’s trip to Maccabiah (athletes and coaches pay their own way) via this link.

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