Taekwondo four-peats at Nationals with novice dominance

In addition to consistent national success, club provides members with camaraderie and support

Sports Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2014

Seniors in the Brown Taekwondo Club have never lost the overall title at Collegiate Nationals. The 35 students who journeyed to the national tournament at the University of California at Berkeley last weekend, defending three consecutive overall championships, returned to College Hill with another gold to add to their collection. BTKD’s sixth straight victory in the novice — color belt — division combined with its fourth place finish in the championship — black belt — division to earn the team its fourth straight tournament crown.

Primarily Brown students, the team includes a few athletes from Rhode Island School of Design and Johnson and Wales.

In tournaments, the scoring is broken up into belt color divisions within the two major categories of poomse and sparring. Poomse is “choreographed patterns of movement” and each belt level focuses on different forms, while sparring is split up by gender, belt level and weight to ensure fairness and safety as the matches entail actual combat, said Samantha Reback ’16, an assistant instructor on the team.

Each division earns points, so a win from a rookie is worth just as much as a win from a black belt, making talented newcomers a valuable asset.

“We typically train both groups together and focus on the basic techniques that win most matches. Things like footwork and timing can catapult our lower color belt members to the top of their divisions,” said Erica Thieleman ’15, the club president.

The Bears put on a show of strength at nationals this year, as the team amassed four gold medals, five silver medals and eleven bronze medals. Each of the gold medals was won in a different belt division, a testament to the team’s depth. Hassan Sufi ’17, Mamadou Alpha Diallo ’15, Geoffrey Trousdale ’15 and Danielle Harrison, a senior at Johnson and Wales, all earned the top spot in their respective sparring divisions. In the white/yellow belt division, composed of the athletes who have the least experience, Bruno picked up six sparring medals and two poomse medals. Both the men’s and women’s black belt poomse teams, with three members each, earned bronze medals.

The club trains under the guidance of sixth degree black belt Master Sung Park ’96, who also owns his own taekwondo school in East Providence. Park coaches alongside a team of student instructors who make up the club’s Instructor Board.

Most of the student instructors are black belts — many of whom had taekwondo experience before coming to Brown, though a large portion also began as first years. The team encourages any interested undergrads to join, including those without any experience in the sport.

“It’s really nice to learn from your peers,” Reback said. “It leads to a really collaborative team environment.”

The team keeps a high profile on campus, putting on demonstrations and showcasing its talent for the student body, as well as running weekly bake sales on Fridays in J. Walter Wilson.

“Taekwondo as a martial art is really powerful and beautiful, but it’s also a really great group of people. We’re always looking for people to join the family,” said Reback.

“Being in Brown taekwondo has been a great experience as a first-year,” wrote Hayley Siegel ’17 in an email to The Herald. “We all train together as a team, and they are some of the nicest and most welcoming people I have ever met. They go the extra mile to make sure the first years feel comfortable in BTKD and Brown in general.”

The club maintains both competitive and traditional training in mind. In a club of more than 120, not everyone chooses the competitive track. “Both types of people are equally part of the team,” Reback said. “It’s important to recognize the achievements of everyone.”

The team is fueled by a mentality of “let’s accomplish this together,” Reback said, adding that its members are supportive of each other in competition and are friends outside of the club. “It’s a really lively social club as well.”

“Taekwondo is a unique blend of an individual sport and a team sport,” Thieleman said. “Our emphasis on self-growth in a welcoming team environment is what makes most people stay.”

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