Nine-year-old Eamonn Armstrong remembers each of the five taekwondo matches leading up to his silver medal finish at the 2011 Junior Olympics and U.S. National Championships.
His first opponent, a Maryland native, hung back, allowing Armstrong to rack up enough points to advance in the San Jose, Calif., tournament earlier this month. The second contender tired quickly, the third fought too aggressively and the fourth was overly defensive.
By the time Armstrong entered the ring for the championship match in his division, he had been competing for 13 hours straight. Armstrong, then a red belt, was running on four apples and adrenalin, according to his father, local restaurateur Cathal Armstrong.
Though punches earn fewer points than kicks in the sports scoring system, his final opponent did just that. He landed blows on Armstrong and then dodged back to safety. The strategy worked against Armstrong, who returned home with a silver medal instead of gold.But the defeat on the national stage has him more determined to go back and win gold next year, as a black belt.
Sitting in the trophy-studded lobby of Yoos Authentic Martial Arts studio where hes trained the past three years Armstrong is already tweaking his strategy.
I was kind of happy and kind of sad. I was happy that at least I got a medal, but sad I didnt get gold, he said, musing on the loss. If I fight him again, I would learn to watch out for his punches and movement. I would follow him and [kick].
Determination and perseverance are just a few of the virtues the 9-year-old has learned from Grandmaster Jun Saeng Yoo, his sons, Jason and Jonathan, and his daughter Joy, according to Cathal.
Since becoming an Olympic sport in 2000, taekwondo has exploded in popularity, said Joy Yoo. Before qualifying for the national tournament, the martial arts studios team battles through a seven-month season. Spots on the roster arent for the fair-weather athlete, theyre invitation only, Joy Yoo said.
Its a martial art first before its a sport, she said. Its a martial art thats rooted in key, core principals of courtesy, respect and discipline [The kids] are required to put in a couple of months in the regular class; its not until they show maturity that theyre invited to our team.
The Yoos have run their Richmond Highway studio for the past 35 years long before the Korean martial art gained its current popularity in the United States. Its paid off. Coming home from the national tournament with a collection of medals is nothing new to the Yoos. This year the team earned a hat trick of gold and bronze medals along with Armstrongs silver-medal finish.
But again, its a discipline first, a sport second, Yoo said. Though her father has coached competitive teams since 1992, the sporting side of taekwondo is just a means to an end, she said.
These accomplishments and medals are just another step along the process, she said. We always, always emphasize development as an individual first. Then its the development as a student with education as a priority, and then its development as an athlete. And thats something well always stay true to.
Even at 9 years old, Armstrong recognizes the changes his taekwondo training has wrought. Practicing five times a week under the watchful eyes of the Yoos and their instructors, Armstrong has learned patience, dedication and mental toughness as well as the moves of the ancient discipline.
Hes in it for the long haul no matter how many medals he wins.
Ive changed physically and mentally, because mentally I know not to give up and, [physically], how to last longer, he said. I love taekwondo, and I want to go all the way to get all the belts that there are.