ESSEX, N.C. (WNCN) — Christian Buffaloe trains with his father, Kenny. It’s a routine the two of them have been doing for nearly two decades.

Christian is the 2020 U.S. Kyokushin Karate champion. Two months after his win, the pandemic hit and everything closed down. Christian has not fought since.

“It’s slightly frustrating,” Buffaloe admitted. “Not even so much of me being the winner but just the fact that I couldn’t keep the momentum or couldn’t keep competing.

While other training facilities were forced to shut down, Christian’s routine was unaffected. At the age of three, he began working out with his father in their dojo in the back yard. Kenny never pushed his son to fight, but when he saw his son had an interest there was no turning back.

“I was very hard on him and it put a strain on our relationship sometimes,” said Kenny. “It’s hard to differentiate sometimes, the line get blurred. But I had to be tough, mainly because we are isolated here in rural North Carolina.”

Less than 3,000 people live in the town of Essex in Halifax County. There are not many distractions to deal with so Christian put all his energy into training to become a champion.

“That is part of the training itself and part of our style is to take hardships and make them make you better,” said Christian. “It is hard but that’s what makes me tougher for these events because there are plenty of times in fighting when people will want to give up. It’s way easier to give up than to keep fighting. But you have to keep fighting.”

Kyokushin karate is unlike any other in martial arts. There is no weight class and no gloves. You win when your opponent is subdued.

“We do full-contact bare knuckle knock down,” said Kenny. “It’s very taxing and damaging to the body. You take a tremendous amount of damage in matches even when you win.”

And Christian knows all about winning. He is a seven-time youth and teen champion who, right from the start, had his sights set on the ultimate prize.

“I’m hoping to win the world tournament one day,” said a then-10 year old Christian.

But first thing’s first — in February Christian will defend his U.S. title when he travels to Los Angeles for his first competition in more than three years. If his competitors didn’t know about him then, they sure do now.

“It’s a mentality, I still think I’m gunning for them even though they might be looking at me as the last person who won,” said Christian. “My mentality is still, I’m gunning for them. As long as I keep that mentality in training and in the tournament everything should be OK.”