This past week, the CSU East Bay Taekwondo team held a belt promotion test for new and current members of their squad.
Roughly 35 people descended upon room 201 in the gymnasium for a battery of skills demonstrations and competency drills. The objective was to show the necessary knowledge of their respective belt requirements.
Belt levels escalate in difficulty from white (beginner) to black (advanced). All who tested we’re of varying degrees of belts, so the testing required more from some than others.
As the different groups were called up they were put through a series of drills as the coaches looked on.
Coaches Ernest Kuo and Gilbert Martinez were both impressed with the turnout and the determination of their pupils. As students progressed through their drills, their colleagues cheered them on every step of the way. The two hour session was filled with energetic performances and it showed that the Taekwondo spirit was alive and well in the building.
As the quarter winds down, the belt promotions allow for some new members to consider joining the competitive side of things for the upcoming quarter.
Having access to current team members in competition and being able to spar with them throughout the testing phase adds another level of camaraderie which can only work to the advantage of those considering the transition.
“From the overall program standpoint, I would like to see our club participant numbers continue to grow each quarter and really build this program back up to its full potential,” said Kuo. “From our collegiate team standpoint, I would like to not only see us become more and more competitive in our Pac West Conference, but also become the conference champions. With each year I would like to see our athletes continue to develop their individual games and have the chance to not only win individual national championships, but have the change to go to Team Trials and eventually the opportunity to represent our country as a member of either the U.S. National Collegiate Team or us National Team.”
Since taking over operations last July, Kuo and Martinez’s shared vision and aspirations for the club are coming to fruition. There has been a noticeable increase in club’s size in the last two quarters.
“We had our largest belt promotion exam with 20 members testing for their next rank,” said Martinez. “I think that is a great sign of things to come. Competitively, we have had our ups and downs… We won some very tough matches during the stretch of the season and at Nationals and out of 10 competitors we had six medalists, including two National Champions. Our last competition was at the 42nd UC Open hosted by UC Berkeley where we had seven team members compete and returned with all our athletes winning medals in their respective divisions.”
The Taekwondo team competed against some big schools this past year, including USC, Cal Berkeley and most recently at the National Collegiate tournament, Stanford, UCLA, Texas, Iowa State, MIT, Harvard, and Brown University. With members placing really well and achieving medals in multiple events, the Taekwondo team is on a good path to continued success.
“Our team captain Ryan Young returned to competition this year after suffering a serious knee injury from years back that forced him to stop competing,” said Kuo. “Ryan has been an elite level athlete since his days as a junior competitor.
He is a former Junior National Team member and was training with Jason Han, (former U.S. National Team member) and the Cal Berkeley Team when he was 12. As his first year back competing, it doesn’t look like he has missed a step. He is just as fast as he was then and he hits even harder.”
Taekwondo has a long standing history at CSUEB and many fighters have come through the program. Even before his arrival at CSUEB, coach Kuo was aware of the program.
“I’ve known about the program at Cal State East bay since my start at Stanford University. The program itself dates back to when it started in 1970 and so it has a long standing tradition as one of the prominent collegiate programs, not only in California, but in the country,” said Kuo.
Both Kuo and Martinez have a breadth of expertise in martial arts as both grew up competing from a very young age. Seeking a new job opportunity and an escape from cold, Michigan winters, coach Kuo came to California after graduating college.
“My interest in the martial arts in general came from watching too many Kung Fu movies while growing up. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to be a ninja when they’re a kid?” said Kuo. “But in all seriousness, my training started under master Steve Shinn who was a 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials finalist. I fought in every tournament that I could from local to national and even some international.”
Under the guidance of coach Tim Ghormley at Stanford University, coach Kuo competed and then became a club member, club officer, team manager and eventually an assistant coach, before leaving to take on the role here at CSUEB.
Coach Martinez has more of a fighters background. Originally from Chicago, he started Taekwondo at the age of 12 in Walnut Creek. Living predominantly in the Bay Area, Martinez fought in many tournaments.
Martinez’s friendship with Kuo started when his older brother fought with Kuo at the Stanford program and other local events.
Both coach Kuo and Martinez hold Level One coaching certifications through USA Taekwondo, the U.S. Olympic governing body for the sport.
The Taekwondo team is currently winding things down slightly, but tournaments are still in order and will continue on through the summer. Up next for the Taekwondo team will be participating next in Stanford Spring Open at the end of May and will be attending the U.S. National Championships in July.