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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

Florida Tae Kwon Do Open Tournament Report

Welcome back to the Rhetorical Roundhouse blog! It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted about the awesome Spartober event at US Tae Kwon Do in Wesley Chapel, so be sure to give that a look if your memory is a little fuzzy, This week I have the pleasure of updating you about the main event--the Florida Tae Kwon Do Open Tournament that took place Saturday, November 2nd.

For weeks our students have been sharpening their sparring, breaking, and pumsae skills to prepare for this event and it really showed. From our youngest color belt competitors to our highest ranking black belt students, everyone performed at their highest ability with the kind of indomitable spirit that inspires me to keep pushing myself in the art.

Pumsae and team pumsae competitions came first and I have to show off our black belt squad who performed Taebaek, the 3rd dan pumsae meaning "Sacred/Bright Mountain." This form is named after the Taebaek mountain range which connects North and South Korea, the ancient seat of power for Dangun (the mythological founder of ancient Korea). Taebaek is not so much a symbol of physical strength and stature, but of the unbreakable force of will that advanced Tae Kwon Do practitioners develop on their way to becoming a master. Watch these four young men perform as one mind, one body, and tell me that you can't see this unbreakable perseverance in their every movement.

These gentlemen competed so fiercely that that forced a tiebreaker performance against another team. Ultimately, the contest was settled by one tenth of a point. Unfortunately, our team didn't take home the gold for this performance, but as I re-watch the video, I can see more clearly each time that a first place finish is so far removed from what's important.

After pumsae came various breaking competitions. Competitors got to choose their own breaking techniques but were required to do six techniques total. After an amazing team pumsae performance, demo team captain Eduardo stepped up to the plate to amaze the crowd with his high flying acrobatic kicks. As cliche as it sounds, the air really was electric with excitement--I'm not sure the intensity carries over to the film but I sure am happy we got a recording of this.

Do I even need to tell you that he took home the gold for this?

After breaking came sparring. For some reason, despite a hectic stressful schedule for the past couple of months, despite my lack of sleep, regular exercise, and healthy eating habits, I decided that I should test my luck. What I really wasn't prepared for was the round structure at this tournament. Not only was each round a grueling two minutes long, but the winner was decided by best of 3 rounds. This means that, no matter the scores in round 1, fighters began round 2 with zero points each. So if the fighters each won a round then the winner had to be decided in round 3--a full six minutes of exhausting sparring. You can see how my stamina drains after each round below.

Round 1: I'm feeling spry, but losing :(

Round 2: I'm pretty drained. Master Vahid gave me a new strategy and I tried to follow it as best I could. It paid off!

Round 3: So tired I could barely stand. Tried to implement the same game plan but all my speed was gone and my opponent seemed to wake up. This is where things got dangerous because I was too slow to protect myself effectively.

So I didn't end up winning my match. What I'm impressed by, however, is the level of coaching and support I received. Back in the day, it was always just me and Dad driving long hours to tournaments for me to get beaten up. The last time I got my bell rung this hard I remember they wouldn't even let dad coach me because he wasn't registered as my instructor. I was all alone, exhausted, trying not to pass out. But that was then. Now, I have a Master instructor in my corner, one who gave me the tools I needed to perform the best I could that day and win a round. Just as importantly, I had a whole team behind me cheering me on. And believe me, in those moments where I felt the blood welling up in my mouth, the sweat dripping into my eyes, and my knees struggling to not buckle, hearing those people who I love and respect encourage me was the only thing that kept me moving forward. Thank you Master Vahid and all of the US Tae Kwon Do team who was with me in that ring Saturday--you've done more for me than you can ever know. Next time I'll get the gold for sure.

After my fight I had the pleasure of watching one of our younger more talented sparring competitors, slug through a gauntlet of his own. After Pedro won his first match in a single round (his opponent decided he didn't want to get kicked in the head anymore), he had to fight another opponent.

I may not be a gold medal fighter, but I'm an A+ corner man.

Pedro won his first round with ease but gave up the second. He found himself in my position. But, unlike me, Pedro was ready. I'm so proud to say that he handled himself with poise, precision, and grace to clench the match. Check out his third and final round.

Look at that first place smile! Congrats Pedro!

At the end of the day, I look at students like Pedro and Eduardo and feel inspired by this next generation of Tae Kwon Do competitors. Not only did they, and all of our students, perform at a high level, but they are good, kind, and respectful human beings. I may have lost my match, but no amount of first place trophies could ever make me feel the sense of pride that I do when I watch my students and teammates succeed. This tournament was a wake up call for me in a lot of ways. I need to make sure I'm outlining my goals more clearly and taking care of myself better so that I can be a part of experiences like this in the future--so I can help future students blossom into the martial artists whose humility, kindness, and indomitable spirit make this world a better place.

Also for victory nachos. Must keep training for victory nachos.

Thank you to the US Tae Kwon Do team for constantly reminding me of the beauty and excitement our art has to offer. I'm so proud of everyone who competed and can't wait to start training hard for the next one.

Until then, thanks for reading.


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