Riverton Taekwondo Demonstration Team takes gold at International ExpoNov 03, 2022 06:56PM ● By Justin Adams
By Dylan Wilcox | [email protected]
The World Marial Arts taekwondo studio sent a 25-member team that represented the state of Utah in the 15th International Taekwondo Expo in South Korea this past summer where several members of the team took home 15 gold medals.
Yong Jae Kim, known as Master Dragon, is the general director of World Martial Arts taekwondo school in Riverton. Kim is a 7th degree Kukkiwon Black Belt, former professor of sports medicine at JeonJu University, and a seasoned physical trainer at numerous demonstrations around the world. Kim made his way to Utah by way of Virginia, where he entered the United States to pursue a graduate program five years ago. Since then, he assisted in the opening of the taekwondo studio in 2019 and has been slowly adding more students to his roster. The International Taekwondo competition was a way to help students learn the origin of the martial art.
“I was very honored and very excited to represent Utah in the expo. It was a special experience to give my students the opportunity to visit my mother country of Korea. I really want people to experience another country, another experience outside of Utah through taekwondo,” Kim said.
During the competition, which was attended by over 2,000 athletes representing dozens of countries, Kim’s team participated in the sparring section, which is an Olympic-style demonstration giving competitors the opportunity to show the culmination of their training.
It was the first time for everyone competing in the taekwondo expo and according to Master Kim “it was a great experience.” He said that although most of his students were not as experienced as other competitors, they performed well. “Our team came first place many times, my students competed very well,” Kim said. “When it comes to sparring, it’s very aggressive. Usually, many schools are engaged in sparring because it’s exciting and it doesn't require a strict mentality. If someone has a fast, aggressive mind, they can do it. It comes down to mindset. When we competed in sparring with other countries, I was very nervous, I realize there were parts we needed to focus,” he added.
Pyper Marriott, a freshman at Summit Academy High School, competed with the team. She said the experience was both unexpected and exhilarating.
“When we first signed up to go to Korea, I didn’t know I was going to compete. I was so scared and so nervous. It wasn’t for the whole entire tournament. It was fun, I really liked it,” Pyper said. Pyper’s mom, Jennifer, said that the expo was worth it because it allowed Pyper to experience a new place and put her training to the test. At first, Pyper did not feel her skills were up to the task, but encouragement from her friends and family changed her mind.
“I had strongly encouraged her to change her attitude and compete because it’s not every day a girl from Riverton, Utah competes with 128 other countries in Korea for taekwondo. She left on the plane thinking she was not going to get up in front of complete strangers and compete. Master Dragon had said that anyone who goes on this trip was going to compete. She did not realize that until she got over there,” Jennifer said.
Pyper, who has been training with Master Dragon for a year now, said the expo was “like a dream” and that she “did not feel it was real.” Being in South Korea for the first time was a culture shock, but she was most impressed with how respectful and encouraging everyone was being to her and her team. She competed in the sparring form division where she was tested on her abilities and form of taekwondo. She ended up taking gold for her weight division.
“It was really cool because I competed against someone that was twice my size. I did not expect it at all. Right after the competition, I was told I won first place,” she recalled. Pyper was very proud of her results and surprised herself.
Another competitor on the team, Elizabeth Miller, competed in the sparring division where she took gold. She learned about taekwondo through a friend.
“I had a friend from church introduce me to the school. I met Master Dragon, I got along with him because he has a background in film, which I studied. I wanted something that was about self-defense and fitness, so I felt taekwondo was the perfect thing for me,” Miller said.
When Miller attended the expo with her team, she described the experience as “excellent, it was pretty much a life-changing experience. The cultural exchange [at the expo] was excellent,” she said. Miller said that she had been practicing consistently with Master Dragon for a year before she entered the competition. She admitted that she “felt out of place” but was able to quickly keep up and adapt with veterans of the martial art.
“Compared to those who have been practicing for years, decades even, I felt out of place,” Miller recalled. “But it is inspiring to see how global taekwondo is throughout the world. There was enough [camaraderie] to break down barriers, and it was impressive to see the breadth of the competition,” she added.
According to Miller, she competed against an opponent from Qatar in forms and sparring competition. Miller ended up performing better than she had expected and surprised herself and her teammates. “It went well enough,” she said. Citing her teammates’ uniting spirit, she was able to borrow some sparring equipment to continue competing in extra rounds of competition.
There were 15 winners of gold from the Utah team, including Miller. “I remember when [Master Dragon] said we can all win gold, but I thought it was a lofty goal. It surprised me to see how much we won,” she said. “It wasn’t on my bucket list to say I won gold at an international taekwondo competition, but I did it and it was fun.”
Miller describes the training with Master Dragon as rigorous but rewarding. She said that working with him is a challenge but reaps great rewards.
“You have the option to come in when you want, I went in for three times a week. In preparation for the competition we had extra training on Saturdays. It ate up a lot of my spare time, but we developed camaraderie with our team. It made it an enjoyable social activity as well,” Miller shared.
Miller said she wants to continue in her quest for a black belt in taekwondo – a goal that isn’t too far away. “I want the black belt and for it to be mine. Just by attending this school, I have learned more about pushing myself beyond my limits. Taekwondo has opened up a new world to me. It’s definitely something I have found a new community that helps me to better myself,” Miller said.
The Utah team was able to secure more gold than they had anticipated. Based on their success from the expo, the team is considering competing in more expos in the future. Master Dragon said that seeing his students succeed is one of the greatest rewards in teaching taekwondo.
“I can teach any skill and any student can learn those skills. Our vibe is very harmonic, and the students will follow me. We have great teamwork and I appreciate my team because they trust and follow me. We prove this through the result of the competition. I believe we can be a strong team in Utah state,” he said.