Turkey’s Servet Tazegul (L) kicks Britain’s Martin Stamper during their men’s -68kg semifinal taekwondo match at the ExCel venue during the London Olympic Games, August 9, 2012. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Two young men step onto a rubber mat, equipped in traditional Taekwondo dobok uniforms. On top of their uniforms, they wear electronic scoring pads strapped to their torsos, helmets and even their feet, updating points every time there is a hit. The two are dancing around the mat relaxed but only to react with a surprise attack to counter the opponents move. One spins and kicks, and the other moves to block the attack. On opposite sides, nearby coaches watch closely, shouting encouragement and instruction in order to guide their athletes through the fight. Both ends continue to fight hard in attempts to dominate the fight in order to be victorious. What I am explaining is what I see competitors go through and something I had experienced myself at the Pan American Taekwondo Championship in Spokane, Washington. With the experience I have gone through I’ve constantly learned something new through my opponents and from myself.

I have practiced the martial art of Teakwondo for nearly nine years, currently I am twenty-three and yet it is as if there’s no limits on what I can learn. Taekwondo is martial art that teaches self-defense but also has a high emphasis on kicks. I originally joined this martial art to learn self-defense after my mother said, “Youre about to ener high school and it is necessary you know how to stand up for yourself”. In the eyes of other people, within the Taekwondo community, Taekwondo is also seen as a competitive sport where two individuals fight using their feet. Allowing the two individuals to kick, contact is made to the body(trunk) and head, punches are allowed but are minimally used and are allowed only towards the trunk. Ultimately the opponent that accumulates the most points at the end of three rounds will be considered the winner. Points can be scored in different ways such as kicking to the head or body. Additional points are granted if these kicks are implemented with any sort of spin prior to making contact with the opponent.

Over time I began to be more vested in Taekwondo for the sport rather than self-defense. I had the urge to want more out of myself than just basic self-defense. By pushing myself through a tougher experience I was expanding my knowledge into something more. Therefore, I started to compete at local tournaments. Local Tournaments can be described as competitions that are near the competitors’ current location or at least from the same state. Team mates, family, coaches, and other athletes form other schools would complement me about my abilities. These compliments made me feel good about myself and I knew that I had a lot more potential in me. As a result, when my original dojang shut down, I had an opportunity to excel in my abilities by joining another that would guide and help me train in preparation for tournaments at international competitions. The ultimate goal for these competitions is to attend at enough tournaments in order to obtain sufficient points to qualify for the Olympics. Although this is not my personal goal, to be an Olympian, I still wanted to compete and be triumphant for the experience and title.

Prior to the tournament in Spokane, I would have considered myself as an experienced fighter, for I have fought in over twenty other tournaments in which the majority of the time my outcome would be triumphant. On the other hand, the Pan American Open in Spokane Washington was a different type of tournament from all the others I had been to before. Competitors at this competition were not local. These competitors were here to fight at the International level, which meant that they were athletes from other countries all with the objective of obtaining qualifying points. I had gone to this tournament with confidence that I would either win my fights and come at the top or at least close. Nonetheless, this was also the mindset of every other competitor that attended. As a result, my outcome was a lot lesser than I was anticipating. What I thought would be a long day full of success ended on my first fight within two rounds.

I sit by the holding area, waiting to be called up for my fight. As I wait, the presence of all the high-class athletes, that are well known, in the taekwondo community make me feel like a child who is in a room full of adults. To my right is the Brazilian team who been on the rise slowly making it to the top as the most dominant country in the game. In front of me is the Mexico team who are well known for the strong will. Even if they are losing by a large gap their fighters always fight as if their life depended on it. To my right are the rest of the other athletes all mixed from other countries, from the Dominican Republic to the Canadian team. The American teams is different from the rest of the countries. Since the tournament is held in the U.S there is not a specific team that is put together to compete, as a result, any athlete from the U.S who attends at this tournament will be considered as part of a U.S representative. At some points I thought to myself that I do not belong with them. But I’m here now, I can’t second guess myself or put myself down. If I am here now, my family, friends, coach believe in me and because I believe in myself as well.

Before I know it, during my warm up, I get called up from the holding area to get ready and put on the electronic hogu on. “Relax, stay focused, and do the moves we’ve been practicing” my coach instructed me as we were walking up to the rings.  To my luck, I had been paired up with the number one seed in my weight division. The fight was over quicker than I expected for this fighter was very talented and beat me through a point gap finish. Meaning that the score difference was too high for me to continue fighting onto a third round. Although my fight may have been one of the worse losses I’ve had, I would definitely consider it as one of the best experiences. Because of my loss at Spokane, I was driven to excel in my skills so I would never lose like that again. Challenges are often difficult to overcome but there is always lessons in failure.