The Shuman Center looked more like a dojo than a basketball court as participants at the third annual LCRD Taekwondo Championships kicked and sparred their way to victory Oct. 25.
LCRD Sport Taekwondo Center Instructor Rafael Medina guided his students as they competed in sparring and forms events in the daylong meet, pitting his students against Taekwondo fighters from 12 schools. Some schools were local, some came from as far as Boca Raton, Fla., and Winston-Salem, N.C.
“The first year we had 95 participants representing seven schools,” Medina said. “The second year we had 110 and this year we had 150 participants representing 12 schools.”
Medina, who competed in sport Taekwondo for the U.S. Army and is one of the few recognized Army coaches, said his career helped him meet many people who are still involved with the sport as instructors or coaches. He said this network has helped him grow the yearly tournament and he thinks it’s only going to get bigger and better.
“We called schools from California to New York,” he said. “Some were not able to make it because they had other tournaments, but it is growing. While competing in the Army I met several people and now I call them to invite them every year.”
Unlike other tournaments, medals are given to the winners of the competition but every fighter is recognized as a winner for participating.
“The challenge for the participants is they have the ability to challenge and test their skills,” Medina said. “At first, they feel timid because they are going to fight someone they don’t know. But in the end, they are like wow this was nothing. It was like being in class. It’s like everything in life — it’s a challenge. You never know how things would turn out.”
Participants ranging in age from 6 to 45 competed.
Medina explained sparring is like a basic fight and the LCRD Sport Taekwondo meet follows the Olympic Training Center rules. This traditional style scores points based on specific target hit areas on the body.
"Forms," Medina said, ìt's like dancing. It follows the traditional way the Martial Arts were performed from the day they started. It is the artistic interpretation of the martial arts movement that has been passed down from generation to generation. When performing forms you know what you have to do but sparring is reacting to what is being given to you and how to defend yourself. And at the level of black belt it's a little different. It's more competitive, their mind set is different."
Medina has developed seven students from white belt to black belt since he formed the LCRD team.
"At first I really didn't like it but as I progressed I like the way Master Medina taught me," nine year student and black belt Michael Conyers said. "This has helped me with my behavior. Before I used to be off the wall but know I can say no to a fight without hurting someone and this has changed me a lot."Conyers a senior and a member of the Bradwell Tiger football team said he wants to have his own school and become a grand master. Conyers, 18, took first place in sparring and forms at the tournament.
Natasha Meeks, the mother of Heaven Toussaint, 11, and Tayzsa Meeks 8, said she enrolled her girls in Taekwondo to give them something to do after school.
"I thought it was good discipline and something that they could do after class," she said. "Master Medina is really good with the kids. My youngest was always unruly and this has given her a lot of discipline and she has changed. My eldest is more confident in what she does."
Both girls took first place in sparring in their respective class and belt color.
"I'm super proud of the students," Medina said. "They are a part of me and whether they do well or not I'm happy that they try."
Conyers' dad Edmon participated in Taekwondo from 1979 until 1984 before taking a break. He said he and his family moved to Hinesville when he got stationed here in 1995. That is when he said his son found pictures of him competing in taekwondo.
"He became excited and that is when he enrolled with Master Medina," he said. Now an assistant coach to Master Medina's students Conyers said his son has developed discipline and supports his idea to become a grand master and have his own school.
"This sport teaches you discipline," he said. "It teaches you many other things but with Michael it was discipline."
Medina said he looks forward to next yearís event and recalls how never racking the first meet was.
"The first year I was scared because I didn't know if I was going to have everybody in place," he said. "I didn't know if I would have enough volunteers or participants. But now it's exciting to see everyone show up including the volunteers and crowd who support the event."
LCRD Sport Taekwondo Center, Hinesville, Ga.
World Martial Arts Academy, Hinesville, Ga.
Savannah Taekwondo, Savannah, Ga.
Atlantic United Taekwondo, Atlanta, Ga.
Georgia Southern Taekwondo, Statesboro, Ga.
Taekwondo Athletic Center, Boca Raton, Fla.
Fort Stewart Youth Service Taekwondo, Fort Stewart
Victory Taekwondo, Sugar Hill, Ga.
Team Atlanta, Atlanta, Ga.
Byrdís Korean Martial Arts, Savannah, Ga.
United Taekwondo Academy, Winston Salem, N.C.
Trinity Taekwondo Academy, Atlanta, Ga.
LCRD Sport Taekwondo Center medalists:
Michael Conyers, 18, black belt, first place sparring, first place forms
LaTonya Jones, 12, blue belt, first place sparring, first place forms
Armando Toledo, 12, blue belt, first place sparring first place forms
Austin Ray, 16, blue belt, second place sparring, first place forms
David Betts, 17, blue belt, first place sparring (fought against a black belt)
James Arnold, 45, blue belt, first place sparring, first place forms
Tyler Arnold, 12, blue belt, second place forms
Bethany Loomis, 11, green belt, first place sparring
Heaven Toussaint, 11, orange belt, first place sparring
Tayzsa Meeks, 8, orange belt, first place sparring
Alec Sutton, 8, orange, first place sparring, third place forms
Mark Hall Jr., 8, orange belt, second place sparring
Patrick Cochran, 9, orange, first place sparring
Chealsy Reaves, 12, white belt, first place in sparring, first place in forms
Tosia Frederick, 15, white belt, first place sparring
Andrew Carlson, 7, white belt, third place sparring
Camilo Lopez, 15, white belt, first place sparring, first place forms
Omiad Law, 8, yellow belt, first place sparring, first place forms