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Club Sport Tae Kwon Do

Success Built on Beginners

By Brian Chase

No sport in recent MIT memory has had as meteoric and successful a run as the Sport Tae Kwon Do club. Founded about five years ago by Master Dan Chuang, the club has been winning league and national awards since gaining MIT recognition two years ago.

This remarkable run was built not on the backs of experienced martial artists, but rather on the strength of students who learned Tae Kwon Do at MIT. Most of the students on the squad fall in this category, making Sport Tae Kwon Do one of best sport clubs to join at MIT for someone who has not participated in a sport before and still wants to succeed against his peers.

Tae Kwon Do is a relatively new martial art that “emphasizes kicking a lot more than most other martial arts,” said Alicia Y. Zhou ’06, a senior on the Tae Kwon Do team. Sparring in a Tae Kwon Do competition is like “boxing with your feet,” she said.

The Sport Tae Kwon Do club teaches four different aspects of the art. The first of these aspects, poomse, or forms, which Master Chuang calls “body poetry,” is a series of choreographed moves using poses and stances performed in a specific manner.

The second aspect, sparring, involves fighting an opponent. The third aspect is self-defense, and the fourth is demonstration, which teaches students more difficult, visually impressive kicks and kick combos (sometimes involving breaking boards) designed to impress and entertain an audience. Chuang said that he hopes to expand the club’s demonstration offerings.

Tae Kwon Do is “really the perfect sport to come into in college, without any experience,” Chuang said, and the club is geared specifically to first-time Tae Kwon Do students.

There are no minimum physical requirements to join the club. Zhou said she played no sports before coming to MIT,
“so it’s definitely not one of those things that you have to be in shape for to start.”

In Tae Kwon Do, athletes do “things they never thought they could do before. People who never thought they could kick above their heads are kicking above their heads by the end of the first year,” Chuang said. He added that seeing that process was one of his favorite things about coaching Tae Kwon Do.

The structure of Tae Kwon Do competitions allows beginners to succeed. Divisions are limited to students of a certain belt, or rank. Beginners and those relatively new to the sport have their own division and compete against other newcomers.

MIT students have an advantage in this because sparring in practice against a large number of other dedicated students builds up valuable experience that pays off in meets and at national competition. This has contributed greatly to the club’s success at nationals, said Zhou.

The flexibility of the team structure and practice schedule also make joining easy. Tae Kwon Do practices four times a week for two hours, but because of its club status, it does not have to mandate attendance, and squad members can show up to as few as one practice a week.

A second benefit of its club sport status is that Tae Kwon Do does not have to limit its roster. There are no tryouts, and there is no intense pressure to stay ahead of peers. Additionally, because Sport Tae Kwon Do is the largest martial arts club on campus, it “harbors a really nice sense of community,” and friendships between members provide a support group, according to Zhou.

To spread instruction over a large number of students, 10 or 12 black belts, who may have attained the rank while at MIT, teach different subsections of the group.

Chuang rotates among the groups, Zhou said, so “it doesn’t matter what rank you are, you’ll get the same amount of face time with him as anyone else.”

Tae Kwon Do began with four or five black belts and many beginners, and has since grown immensely, Zhou said. From that day to this, the MIT Sport Tae Kwon Do club comprises and owes its success to students who had no experience in it at all before arriving at MIT.