This story is part of an on-going series spotlighting student-run clubs at FIU.
By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17
Any taekwondo athlete will tell you that their sport is more about strategy over strength, smarts over speed, and technique over aggression.
It’s about making a decision between executing a roundhouse kick to the chest or waiting for an opponent to strike first and making a single forearm block instead.
Likewise, senior sport and fitness studies major Chris Alvarez and his older brother, Ray, had to make a decision whether or not to act on an idea to start a taekwondo club on campus.
They ultimately decided to go on the offensive and established the FIU taekwondo club during the 2012 spring semester, becoming ambassadors for the sport on campus and looking to introduce taekwondo to the university community at large.
“We’ve been involved teaching taekwondo for about seven years, and we wanted to start a club at FIU mainly because we wanted to offer it to a wider community,” says Ray, who graduated from the FIU Honors College in 2010 in political science and serves as the club’s head assistant coach. “It’s never too late to start, and we wanted to make it accessible for students.”
Chris – the club’s head coach – trained at PEAK Performance Miami, a program designed to train and develop aspiring taekwondo athletes, prior to forming the club and approached taekwondo coach Jorge Bisbal about helping provide teaching for the upstart club.
Along with PEAK Performance’s founder and three-time Olympian Juan Moreno, Bisbal helps train the FIU taekwondo club once a week during the semester at their training facility.
The opportunity to train under Moreno, who served as head coach for the U.S. National Team in 2002 for the World Cup and Junior World Championships, has proven to be invaluable in helping train members to compete at the national level.
For Bisbal, helping train the FIU club was a perfect fit since he graduated from FIU in 1994 with a degree in international relations. He was even part of a short-lived taekwondo club on campus while taking classes in the early ’90s.
“It feels natural and great to participate and to give something back to FIU and be part of something that can be really great in the future,” Bisbal says.
ON THE RISE
After a rocky start in which the club struggled to gain momentum, 2013 has been a breakthrough season of growth for the club with a boom in membership (the club has approximately 28 members) and success at high levels of collegiate competition.
In April, several members of the club traveled to Orlando for the Florida State Championships and managed to bring back some hardware. Seven club members won a total of 15 medals, 10 of which were gold.
A week later, the club took five members up to Colorado Springs, Colo., to compete in the National Collegiate Championships and all five went on to win medals. The feat was particularly impressive since FIU brought one of the smallest contingents to the competition.
“The progress from the whole team has been amazing,” Bisbal says. “They’re bringing people in and inspiring them to take part. And the ones who have been competing have done a fantastic job. It’s amazing how well they’ve done.”
The club is a mix of members looking to compete at locally and nationally and those who are involved simply for recreation. It’s created a harmonious dynamic between experienced athletes and those who are relatively new to the sport.
“Our mission is to promote and spread the art of taekwondo,” Chris says. “We want to get more people involved, give people the opportunity to stay on campus and do something that’s both fun and a great way to stay in shape.”
The club was created with the idea of helping athletes develop and grow, regardless of their level.
“One of the biggest myths surrounding taekwondo is that you have to have experience or you have to already be a high-level athlete to join but nothing could be further from the truth,” Ray says. “The main thing we look for in anybody who joins the club is someone who is dedicated, consistent and has a passion for learning. What’s going to propel you to be successful is that attitude.”
“IT’S A LIFESTYLE”
Practitioners of the Korean martial art say taekwondo develops certain character traits that are useful not only in a competitive arena, but also in the classroom and in the workplace.
“Taekwondo is more than just fitness. It’s a lifestyle,” says club member Daniel Cuyun, a junior majoring in physical education. “It instills discipline in anyone who practices it.”
Bisbal began taekwondo at an early age and hasn’t stopped since he was 18. He notes that taekwondo has helped him deal with the stresses of college classes at FIU and with his jobs as a taekwondo coach and flower broker. He believes students can experience similar benefits as they take classes and prepare for life after college.
“Win or lose, it doesn’t really matter. It’s how they perform and how they’re able to manage themselves during the challenge,” Bisbal says. “The whole idea is for them to improve on performance and to be relaxed out there. That applies to everything in life, whether you’re working in a stressful environment or job. Learning to be cool and deal with difficult situations pertains not only to sports, but to life.”
He cites the five tenets of taekwondo – courtesy, perseverance, self-control, integrity and an indomitable spirit – as valuable qualities to have for life and come as a byproduct of practicing the sport.
“The perseverance a person has to have to stick with it and do it gives you mental strength,” Bisbal adds. “It also develops the mental tenacity of an ‘I can do it’ attitude – to stick to something you’re doing and keep on trying.”
To find out how to join or learn more about the FIU taekwondo club, email email@example.com.
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