Members of a Soldotna martial arts school recently proved they belong to a world class outfit, traveling to Anaheim, Calif., Aug. 11 and 12 for the World Tang Soo Do Championship.
Certainly, the participants from the Soldotna Martial Arts studio came back to Alaska with their fair share of hardware. Instructor Bud Draper, a third-degree black belt, took a first place in forms, a first in fighting and a third in weapons in the 50-and-older division.
Brown belt Ron Rodgers was awarded third place in fighting in the 40- to 49-year-old division while his son Alex, also a brown belt, won firsts for forms, fighting and weapons in the 10- and 11-year-old division.
Red belt Michael Skinner was second in weapons among the 13- and 14-year-old participants and Darin Marker, also a red belt, was second in fighting in the 15- and 16-year-old division.
Viveca Draper, an orange belt, was third among women 40 to 48 in forms, and Tony Besse, an 11-year-old orange belt, was first in forms and first in fighting in that age group.
But for the all the members of the World Tang Soo Do Association, the event is about more than competition.
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Photo by M. Scott Moon
"The purpose of the championship is not to crown champions and see who the best martial artists are, but to get the family together," Draper said, explaining that the worldwide association has members on six continents. "This is our time that everyone can get together. The goal is to see that someone training in the Azores is doing the same things as you do.
"People are able to, from our small-town Alaska perspective, get a read on what our level of expertise is by competing."
Tang Soo Do is a traditional Korean form of martial arts, characterized by spectacular kicking moves and made popular in America by film and television star Chuck Norris.
If the World Championships are a way to bring a worldwide family together, then Draper's studio is bringing families together on a slightly smaller scale.
In fact, the group that earned laurels Anaheim included a husband and wife in Bud and Viveca Draper, and a father and son in Ron and Alex Rodgers.
Draper has whole families training together and the sport is serving as a medium for family bonding.
"We feel like we are a family oriented group," Draper said. "It brings families together because it's something that they're not just doing one time, but they're growing together over a period of years."
Rhea Johnson trains alongside her four children.
"It started because my younger two wanted to go and we got a family rate," Johnson said. "We're learning and quite often we're working together."
Johnson said she has noticed a difference in the way her children interact since they started studying martial arts.
Participating in a World Championship has elevated many of Draper's students' appreciation of Tang Soo Do, though.
"I was really nervous, but when I got there, there's 1,700 people out on the floor at the same time and all that energy is focused in the same direction," Viveca Draper said. "It's like a three-level chess game. You start thinking on all different levels. It's a really good mind exercise as well as an exercise for the body."
Bud Draper added that the Alaska studios are highly regarded in the World Tang Soo Do Association, a fact illustrated by the number of awards won by the Soldotna Martial Arts studio, and receive frequent visits from Grand Master Jae C Shin.
"He likes our spirit," Draper said. "We're centered. We don't swing to one extreme. We're not trying to be the most dominant martial artists, we're trying to show through our spirit what kind of people we are."
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