Right Foot Turn, Left Foot Step

The Life of an International-Level Taekwondo Athlete


Photo Courtesy of TX TKD

I competed in the 2022 Texas State Championships and ended up placing 1st in both the Individual and Pair divisions for 15-17 year olds.

I take one last swig of water from my bottle, promptly closing it and putting it into my backpack. My coach waves me over to the right edge of the red and blue puzzle-mat ring, placing me in front of her before re-tying my belt and reminding me of what I need to do once I start. She pats me on the shoulder, nodding at me once the referee tells me to enter. Right foot turn, left foot step. I take my position in the middle of the ring, the red box beneath my feet. Attention, then bow. Ready stance, then start.

I’ve been practicing and competing in Taekwondo, a Korean martial art, since I was six years old. The reason why I even began this sport was because I wanted to be like those “ninjas” you see in movies or cartoons. However, I had no clue of what I was getting myself into when I first started.

There’s two aspects of Taekwondo: Poomsae and Sparring. Sparring is actual combat with gear such as chest guards, arm guards, knee pads, leg gear, and foot pads. The way you score is if you make contact with the chest guard or the helmet, and depending on the way you kick your score can increase. For example, turning kicks or “spinning” kicks have a multiplier effect on how many points you can earn. Turning head kicks usually count for even more.

There is always a flip-side to this, as there are also “penalties”, also called a “Gam-jeom”. A Gam-jeom is issued by a referee when an athlete goes out of the ring boundaries, falls, blocking with their leg, punching the head, attacking an opponent who fell, and grabbing the opponent. There are many more, however they’re all relative to the actual kicking and style of the fighter, so it’s not worth going over.

Sparring athletes also have different weight classes and divisions according to age in order to make sparring decently fair. That’s why, sometimes, when I go to check in the day before in order to get my credentials, almost all the sparring athletes are all working out in the sun to lose weight before their weigh-in. 

I used to be a sparring athlete, and even to this day, sometimes, I do it recreationally. However, I do the other aspect of Taekwondo called “Poomsae”. Many people regard “poomsae” to be like “patterns” or “forms”. Essentially it is, however it’s a much more complicated process than just kicking mid-air.

There are many basics and fundamentals to Taekwondo, such as the various stances and kicks we have to execute to near perfection. Every single thing has a deduction or process that has to be executed or we’ll be deducted. For example, a simple front kick. If your heel lifts off of the mat floor, you get a deduction. If your bottom leg is bent? Deduction. If you don’t look at where you’re kicking? Deduction. If you don’t make a clear chamber before kicking? Deduction. 

When you practice poomsae, every single detail counts. If your details aren’t executed to perfection, you’ll get deducted. There’s two aspects to scoring poomsae: Accuracy and Presentation. Accuracy is like the “method of execution” such as hand placement relative to the body, height of your kick, stances, where you start and where you end, and more. This counts for 4.0 of your score, and 4.0 being perfect (which has never been achieved might I add). The next aspect is presentation, which is like your “rhythm and flow” as well as “speed, power, and expression of energy”. For example, if you have more power and speed, your score will increase. This counts for 6.0 of your score, with the total amount of points (including accuracy) is 10.  

Recently, I’ve competed in many competitions starting from January including winning Texas State Championships as well as earning a spot on the Texas State Team. Being on the Texas State  Team was surreal, and I was so excited to join because the whole team is going to Fort Worth to compete at the PanAm Open representing Texas. I’ve never been on a state team before, so this is going to be super exciting for me! Not only that, I am currently ranked #7 in the Nation for Junior Females 15-17. Considering ranking points are pretty difficult to get, and the division itself is so difficult, I’m so proud of how hard I worked to make the top 7 in the nation. 

The biggest accomplishment I’ve ever made was making the USA National Team in 2018 when I was 12 years old. Honestly, it was the most surreal experience and the process of making the team was super difficult. It was so brutal: you had to win Nationals in order to make the team that year. My team and I – composed of 2 of my friends from my team – had to go through not just one, but 2 final rounds because we tied with another team. In the end, we ended up winning by a small margin but that was the day my life entirely changed.

Now, I’m part of the Texas State for Individual Junior Females as well as the Texas State Champion. It’s such an honor and a privilege to join the team, and I am so excited to compete at Pan Am Open for Texas while working with some of the people I look up to in the Taekwondo Community, one of which being Adaliz Munoz who has been such an inspiration due to her many accomplishments as part of the USAT National Team. I’ve been looking up to her for so many years, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fangirl at all when I heard she would be sitting in my chair as my coach.

In general, Taekwondo is a fun sport. You can choose a pathway, and depending on how hard you work, your results will reflect how much effort you put in. Training is so much fun after you initially get past the “I want to die” phase, especially with teammates who are all supportive of each other. I also teach at a school in Round Rock, and teaching Taekwondo and helping students is such a fun thing to do (despite how tiring it can be balancing high school and my already busy schedule). It teaches people values such as courtesy, integrity, perseverance, indomitable spirit, and self control. People who usually do this sport can find that it teaches a sense of discipline and is also a good stress reliever. 

In the future, I’m still going to be competing and being involved in the sport as much as possible. Nothing is for sure, but I want to continue to better myself in this sport and keep challenging myself to be better every single day.