PUNCHING UP: Fortville-based martial artists compete in international tournament

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Brody Daniel of Fortville ATA Black Belt Academy competes at the American Taekwondo Association World Championships in Phoenix.

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FORTVILLE – An international taekwondo tournament earlier this month featured some of the best martial artists from across the world, and students who train at a facility in Hancock County were among them.

The six competitors from the Fortville ATA Black Belt Academy ranged in age from 9 to 72. They participated in the American Taekwondo Association World Championships in Phoenix. It gave them an opportunity to test their skills in multiple aspects of taekwondo, a sport they derive a variety of benefits from.

The local band of black belts qualified to compete on the world stage after achieving success at earlier district and state tournaments.

World Championships contestants can compete in a variety of events. One is called forms, during which martial artists demonstrate their skills in combinations of taekwondo moves as judges keep score.

A similar event showcases competitors’ techniques with weapons, including swords, nunchakus, bo staffs and others. Fortville ATA Black Belt Academy’s Kennedy Parker, 24, won a bronze medal in the category.

Traditional sparring pits two fighters wearing protective equipment striving to score points by striking one another.

Then there’s combat sparring, which arms challengers with padded sticks.

An event dubbed creative calls for choreographed taekwondo moves to music. Another, titled extreme, takes that to the next level by permitting participants to engage in flips and other acrobatics. It’s popular among younger martial artists, explained Tammy Parker, a three-time World Championships sparrer who runs Fortville ATA Black Belt Academy.

“Kids love it,” she said. “It’s very action-packed.”

Aaron Albright, 15, competes in creative and extreme with nunchakus through a routine he developed to a song from a video game he plays. He enjoys those activities more than sparring, he said, particularly for the challenge of striving for precision.

“Especially with weapons and stuff, I find it a lot more fun to learn how to control this thing,” Albright said, referring to his nunchakus.

The diverse aspects of taekwondo add to the activity’s excitement, said Kennedy Parker, Tammy Parker’s son.

“With this sport you have so many different things that you can latch onto that can keep you constantly motivated and interested,” he said.

The international nature of the recent competition exposed the Fortville fighters to counterparts they had yet to come in contact with.

“Most sports — you know your competition pretty well; you face similar teams throughout the season,” Kennedy Parker said. “I didn’t face anyone at Worlds I had ever faced the whole season. We’ve got these rankings, but you don’t know what you’re going to show up to see.

“It was fun,” he continued. It was cool to kind of see how different areas of the world train, because they do have some different styles, for sure.”

It was also motivating, said Reginald Randolph, 56, who competed in forms, weapons, traditional sparring and combat sparring.

“The level of competition around the world was really nice to see, because it made you step up your game,” he said.

That’s an important quality to maintain, Tammy Parker added.

“A good competitor knows they want to compete with the best,” she said.

At age 9, Brody Daniel was one of the youngest representing Fortville ATA Black Belt Academy, demonstrating a unique aspect of taekwondo, Tammy Parker said.

“What other sport can a 9-year-old train alongside a 20, 50, 70-year-old guy?” she said.

Randolph agreed.

“We train, coach and encourage each other,” he said.

It’s part of their culture, Kennedy Parker added.

“It’s never about who’s better than each other,” he said. “It’s how can we make each other better every single day — that’s what it’s about.”

Taekwondo offers a variety of benefits, according to the martial artists.

“Some people do it for fitness, some people do it for self-defense or confidence,” Tammy Parker said. “A lot of parents put their kids in for discipline reasons; focus is a big one that parents put their kids in for. For a lot of parents, the martial arts is kind of secondary. It’s something that they can get those other benefits from.”

Motivations can range from purely recreational to something more ambitious.

“You can do it for a hobby, you can do it for fun, or you can do it for those reasons plus you can have your sport,” Tammy Parker said. “Adults who were athletes in school can still come in and still be competitive, still have that drive.”

That’s one of the qualities that draws Randolph.

“It’s the same thing you get when you’re in high school or college,” he said. “It’s the competition, and it’s fun to learn. You’re constantly testing yourself and growing.”

Participants also get to reap the benefits of their efforts.

“That’s a big across-the-board that I like to teach all of my students – that hard work pays off,” Tammy Parker said. “My goal is to teach more than kicking and punching.”

For the Fortville ATA Black Belt Academy members, taekwondo offers a camaraderie that extends beyond their fellow students to their competitors as well.

It’s like any other social activity, explained Randolph.

“Our ice-breaker just happens to be kicking each other in the head,” he added with a laugh.