Taekwondo wins fifth straight national title

Bears exceed lofty expectations, place second in color belt division, third in black belt division

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, April 10, 2015

Last weekend, about 30 students from the defending national champion Brown Taekwondo Club traveled to the University of Delaware to compete in the 40th National Collegiate Taekwondo Association Championships. The team defended its title, tying Cornell for first place overall after finishing second in the color belt division and third in the black belt division. This year’s victories marked BTKD’s fifth consecutive national championship.

“We usually only bring home two trophies, but this time we got all three,” said Jake Shields ’16, one of BTKD’s student instructors. “It was a big deal for us and a strong showing for us as a club.”

The national tournament consists of two events: poomsae and sparring. Both categories have color and black belt divisions. In the sparring events, participants are further divided based on gender and weight class, as the competition features  a “big emphasis on safety,” said Julia Stevens ’15, another one of the team’s instructors.

Brown triumphed over colleges from across the country at the championship. Some of the schools even had slight advantages over BTKD in terms of recruitment and retention. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell both impose physical education requirements, and students can fulfill the requirement by joining the schools’ taekwondo teams.

“It’s a big deal that we do all of our school work, we recruit everybody, we do all of the training ourselves, and despite all those other schools having the advantages we can still manage to come out on top,” Shields said. “That really speaks to the quality of the club and the instruction. I think we have something special.”

The lack of a physical education requirement did not seem to set Brown back at all, as BTKD returned to College Hill with six medals from the poomsae competition —  five bronze and one silver. The team also raked in 18 medals from sparring. Sarah Deitch ’18, Nathan Malimban ’17, Chris Mescher ’16 and Cheyenne Morrin ’15 secured gold medals in each of their respective divisions. In addition, the team tallied 11 bronze medals and three silver medals.

While the medal winners rendered the team’s success readily apparent, several other team members participated in the tournament but did not manage to win a medal despite impressive demonstrations. Stevens, in one notable example, made it as far as the quarterfinals in the women’s black belt heavy division in the sparring event.

“For my fight at nationals, I got one point — the other girl got 13,” Stevens said, adding that her team still enthusiastically cheered for her and was proud of her simply for competing. “The sort of support is ridiculous for me. I’ve never felt anything like it.”

This type of camaraderie is almost inevitable for team members who spend so much time together. BTKD is a “huge commitment, but it’s completely worth it,” Shields said. The group starts preparing for the national tournament as early as September, when it gains new members. BTKD operates as a “blend” of a traditional taekwondo school with a curriculum and a competition team. While student instructors play a large role in the education of the club’s members, sixth degree black belt Master Sung Park ’96 also leads the team.

BTKD is a member of the Eastern Collegiate Taekwondo Conference, a regional conference that hosts five tournaments each year. Brown taekwondo uses these tournaments throughout the year as preparation for nationals, but training ramps up during the spring semester.

After winter break, the team returns to campus a week early and has three practices a day for the entire week. The practices usually last two to three hours each.

“It gets everyone’s spirits riled up because after that they’re like ‘these one-and-a-half hour practices are nothing,’” Shields said. Team members dedicate about eight to 10 hours to practicing taekwondo in the week before the national tournament.

For many members, BTKD serves as more than just an athletic pursuit. In addition to training, the team holds on-campus demonstrations, social gatherings and fundraisers for families with children fighting cancer.

For Stevens, her time as an instructor helped her discover her passion for teaching. After graduation, she will pursue a Masters of Education at Harvard.

“I’ve been doing this for four years now, and it’s really kind of a family for me,” Stevens said. “I live with three other members; we’re always together and supporting each other through whatever we need to do.”

“I’ve done a lot of sports teams before and I’ve never really felt that family aspect,” she added. “You know everyone here just wants the best for you.”

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  1. In the words of Michael Thiesmeyer, “Atta boy.”

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