Faunce filled with martial arts masters

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

For a school known for academic success rather than athletics, Brown has an impressive number of national title contenders, including the defending national champion women’s crew team, a top-ranked women’s rugby squad and the men’s soccer team this fall. But one of the Bears’ most consistent national contenders come from an unexpected source – the Brown Taekwondo club.

After placing third overall at the Collegiate Nationals a year ago, the Taekwondo club has cemented itself among the nation’s elite teams. Last weekend, the club took a large step towards repeating this feat, as it performed admirably at the NYU Invitiational in its last competition before nationals, which will be held on April 25 and 26.

While the competition did not have implications for the team’s national title aspirations, the competition was both good preparation and enjoyable, said club President Angela Yang ’09.

“This weekend, we wanted to go out and have a lot of fun, do our best and kick some butt,” Yang said.

Taekwondo matches are split into two parts: a form competition and a sparring competition. In the form portion, competitors score individually for the team, while in the sparring competition, teams of two or three are entered into a tournament in A, B, C or D divisions that correspond to belt colors.

The NYU Invitational hosted 20 schools from across the Northeast and included over 300 people, the most in its 17-year history. Brown brought 28 to the competition, slightly more than a third of the club’s 80-person membership. Brown’s best performance over the weekend was turned in by Clare Kim ’11, Anjali Rao ’10 and Caitlin Feehery ’10. The three-person team finished second in the sparring tournament for its division.

“I was really proud of how we did this weekend,” Yang said. “We performed really well in the sparring and had many of our teams advance.”

The club provides a team atmosphere that is apparent both at practices and at matches. Yang pointed to the team’s spirit as key to the weekend’s success.

“It was great to see the team’s camaraderie,” she said. “If people weren’t competing, they were cheering for their teammates.”

The team’s rigorous practice schedule engenders this team feeling. Those who compete in matches practice from 7 to 8 a.m. five days a week in Faunce House, along with additional sessions that take place at night.

As a Category III student group, the Taekwondo club receives funding from the Undergraduate Finance Board. While some of this goes to equipment and travel, a significant portion goes towards the hiring of Master Sung Park ’99, a professional instructor who regularly runs evening practice.

Students conduct much of the instruction, however. Yang commented that Head Instructor Michael Hoe ’08 “runs a pretty strict regimen,” as competitors are allowed to miss no more than three morning classes until nationals. Hoe pointed out that the large time commitment to the club has forced him to be disciplined in order to balance school and the club.

“I have to run a lot of (the) practices, so I take on most of the teaching,” Hoe said. “I feel like everyone who practices learns to manage time and be self-motivated.”

Because of limited funding, the squad competes in very few regional competitions and thus is never ranked high in the area, Yang said. Instead, the team saves its funds and prepares diligently for its annual trip to the Collegiate Nationals. Hoe emphasized that the key for the next two months is to remain healthy.

“In any contact sport, injuries are a concern,” Hoe said. “We need to stay healthy, which comes with staying motivated.”

But with a work ethic that has brought the Tae Kwon Do club to a nationally elite level, staying motivated will hardly be an issue.

“We’re in good shape right now because we always spend a lot of time on conditioning,” Hoe said. “We’ve got to focus on fine-tuning some things … and if we do that we’ll be fine for nationals.”

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