When Cierra and Mika Brassfield’s mother introduced the 11-year-old twins to martial arts in 2009, she made a deal with them: If either of her girls ever won a gold in competition, she would sign herself up.
Now three and a half years later, Cierra holds three gold medals in world tournaments, Mika holds two silvers on the state level and their mother is baffled.
“I just would never have thought — he tells them to go with no expectations,” she said, referring to the twins’ Master Instructor Bud Draper.
When Cierra and Mika became Tang Soo Do students at Draper’s Soldotna Martial Arts Studio, Mika began six months earlier than her sister; her sister’s left foot was in a cast healing from surgery.
Cierra was born with a disabled foot. Every year she has had two surgeries to correct her foot, and this is the first year she has been surgery-free.
“It’s great,” she said.
Her parents, Lois and Jay, of Kasilof, said she had a hard time when she started.
But she struggles a lot less now, Lois said.
“She’s come a long way,” she said. “This has been great therapy.”
The twins returned a month ago from the 14th Tang Soo Do World Championship in Greensboro, N.C., where Cierra won her recent gold.
She is the second in their studio to bring home three, her sister said.
At the July 20-22 competition roughly 2,000 students competed, and many were from overseas.
The competition was held in an arena with coliseum seating, Draper said, and drums echoed from the Puerto Rican students.
It was a cultural adventure for Cierra and Mika, they said.
Mika said she tried speaking with a student from Mozambique but they didn’t understand English.
“And I noticed when the Great Britain people were talking, they had the accent like our grandfather,” she said. Their grandfather is British.
Neither of the twins had ever been immersed in such a foreign culture.
“One thing that I really wanted to see was the Jamaican team,” Cierra said. “In their creative (form) they would be doing flips. They would be flipping over other people and their motions would be quick an fluid then be slow and graceful then quickly speed up.”
Unfortunately the Jamaicans didn’t make it, Cierra said, but Master Strong demonstrated a similar style, accelerating his movements, then reducing his speed.
“It just looked really cool how he blended it all together,” Mika said.
She said this was part of a demonstration to honor the recent death of Grandmaster Jae Chul Shin, founder of the U.S. Tang Soo Do Federation.
For the demonstration the lights were shut off, and Mika said a spotlight followed him as he swept through his motions, casting him in a white globe.
In the darkness around him she said they could hear the other black belts sparing.
“And over in this corner there’d be people fighting and then they’d switch to this corner and there’d be one doing sword form,” Mika said.
Enthralled, the twins waited on the floor with the other students.
When they competed in their 11-13 year-old category, Cierra said she made a few mistakes.
“I noticed I started leaning at the end, but I felt pretty good,” she said.
Despite the self-criticism, she scored high in the three forms — open hand, staff technique and sparring.
Cierra said she prefers hand-to-hand forms and has trouble with staff techniques because she often bumps her leg with sweeping motions.
Mika said she is the opposite of her sister; it’s the hand-to-hand forms that give her trouble at the competition.
“It’s not very easy when you have 12- to 13-year-olds against an 11-year-old,” she said.
A few of the older students in their age category were nearly five and a half feet tall, she said.
Now they’re back home in Kasilof and they’ve resumed their training at Draper’s studio.
Cierra is currently working for her blue belt. She is going to test for it in October.
Mika is a blue belt, one belt above her sister, and she will be testing for her black in the Spring. She’s very excited.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.