It seems that at some point in our young lives, we all dream of being professionals: rockstars, movie stars, championship athletes, and more. At Master Kim’s Taekwondo Education in Hickory Flat, a handful of students get to experience their dreams as a reality.

Master Sangduck Kim has supported a group of nine disciplined students through their martial arts learning process and now they are all headed to the World Taekwondo Championship in South Korea. Black belts Carter Birchwell, William Brooks, Aiden Hammontree, Kaylee Jones, Daniel Leon, Aidan Lewis, Rowan Lindh, Michael McCue, and Samantha Sands are all excited for this accomplishment and opportunity to expand their knowledge of taekwondo at the World Taekwondo Championship.

The prestigious tournament is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the students. It allows them to appreciate a new part of the world and simultaneously test their skills against the best of the best. When asked about the emotions he felt upon discovering the group had made it to the championship, Master Kim, a taekwondo instructor of eighteen years, described, “Korea is where taekwondo comes from, so I want to show them the hometown of their sport. It was a happy and exciting moment.”

To be welcomed into an invite-only style tournament is a blessing in its own. For a teacher who guides the students as they grow physically and emotionally and gets to witness them reach their goals, the achievement has its own special type of joy and fulfillment associated with it. Master Kim has instructed this specific group of teens for more than five years, with some of the students having trained with him for up to twelve.

Despite this being his first group to reach the World Taekwondo Championship, he does not plan for it to be the last.

Learning Individually and Growing Together

At Master Kim’s Taekwondo Education, a sense of family is felt among the students. They say that the friendships they have gained are the most valuable and beneficial aspect of their journey in their dojang, or training space.

Kaylee Jones, taekwondo student of twelve years, expresses, “We all had a goal that we made it to, and we didn’t probably think that we could at the age we started—five or six for most kids. It is kind of an ‘I made it’ moment for all of us.” When you start something new at such an early age and continue to polish and perfect your skills throughout many years of experience, there is no way to know your full potential. Each of these students has watched their peers grow and reach goals, big or small, and now they all get to attack this milestone challenge together.

Kaylee Jones | Photo Courtesy of Sherri Birchwell | Photo Credit: Chris Leon

Kaylee Jones (Photo Credit: Chris Leon)

Growing up in an environment where respect is constant, growth is celebrated, and goals are achieved, these nine teenagers know the joy of success and the heartbreak of failure. However, they are unfamiliar with the feeling of letting someone down, as Master Kim always meets his students where they are and then helps them move forward. When you are surrounded by such contagious encouragement, it becomes natural to help build up those around you in all aspects of your life. This experience has helped this group of young people learn they can do hard things and to be more confident in their everyday lives.

Now, as they embark on this journey of attending the World Taekwondo Championship together, they are all excited to cheer one another on and watch as they reach new heights in their athletic careers.

For the students, reaching the status of world champion contender was a very gradual process. Black belt student Samantha Sands explains, “There are a lot of little moments, such as my kick being better today than it was last week. It’s really exciting to see that kind of progress. It keeps going and each time you get something new, it feels even better.” Even a small accomplishment, such as improving your kick, means the world when your end goal is success to any degree. While this brand of success is applauded at Master Kim’s Taekwondo Education, it doesn’t stop there. On June 26, when the group departs for South Korea, the applause will be louder than ever.

Shooting for the Stars in South Korea

In every corner of the world, there is something new to experience. Whether it be delicious foods, captivating cultures, or varying perspectives on familiar ideas, Master Kim’s students are excited to enjoy it all. Based on their world-class abilities, these nine black belts clearly understand taekwondo the way they were taught the skill, and now they will be exposed to different teaching styles and forms of the familiar art as they compete against students from all over the world. Aiden Hammontree, proud black belt, shares that he is most excited for “the food, and also seeing how different countries and dojos go about teaching taekwondo” while in South Korea.

Learning taekwondo is anything but easy. These students have had to withstand struggles and difficulties while perfecting these previously unfamiliar abilities.

Daniel Leon, one of Master Kim’s most excited and energetic black belts, expresses that he feels “stronger, faster, smarter, and more athletic” due to this undertaking. Others embody more confidence, self-control, and leadership qualities due to their time at Master Kim’s Taekwondo Education. These newfound aspects of their personalities will only help them to blossom in the international competition. Being suddenly exposed to an abundance of things all at once can be overwhelming for anyone, especially a group of teenagers. However, they have learned how to adjust to new environments and situations quickly and will be forces to be reckoned with in South Korea.

Daniel Leon | Photo Courtesy of Sherri Birchwell | Photo Credit: Chris Leon

Daniel Leon (Photo Credit: Chris Leon)

As the reality of the trip begins to set in, the students, instructors, and parents are experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. While excitement is at the forefront, a few anxieties linger about venturing into such great unknowns. Even a local tournament can spark worries about the genuineness of your skill level, and a tournament the size of the World Taekwondo Championship has the potential to amplify these worries. While the student-athletes have known their environment for their whole lives—what to expect, feel, and avoid—the students have trained extensively to overcome unexpected obstacles and anxiety in order to compete to their highest ability. Master Kim has carefully prepared his students for this tournament by continually helping, teaching, and encouraging them to keep improving.

Believe in Yourself

“Believe in yourself” is a phrase that Master Kim has driven into every one of his students. The phrase—repeated often when his students are training and testing new abilities—will be key for the team’s trip as the nine competitors face new and challenging experiences. As these black belts expand their taekwondo horizons and world perspectives, they will learn more about their sport and themselves. An opportunity like this one only comes around so often for a community, and these nine young athletes are among the few in Cherokee County to experience this level of recognition. As they travel across the world to South Korea, adventure and success await them at the World Taekwondo Championship.




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