By Bill Parry
Edge Tae Kwon Do Academy sent its 19-member traveling team to the National Championships in Austin, Texas and nine of them returned as national champions, winning in their respective categories. Three reached second place and returned to Woodside with silver medals.
“They came back with great results,” NYS Tae Kwon Do Federation President Andrew Oh said. “They certainly had the best results of all the teams in western Queens.”
Edge Academy opened just three years ago. Owner Sandy Arias, a Tae Kwon Do Master and instructor who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and now lives in Astoria, spent eight years teaching classes in Woodside and Flushing. When he realized most of his students were from the Sunnyside-Woodside area, he decided to open his own studio in a former 99-Cents store on 48th Avenue three years ago.
At the start he had several dozen students between the ages of 4 and 17, but what he lacked was space.
“Sometimes it was so crowded I didn’t have room to do a proper kick,” Arias said.
After the first year, a butcher shop next door at 44-12 48th Ave. closed down, and Arias and his wife, Norma Hernandez, were approached by the landlord, who owned both properties. Chris Vrettos, the president of Ionian Services LLC in Bayside, had an idea.
“He came to me and said, ‘Sandy, you need this space,’” Arias recalled. “I couldn’t believe it. He said he loves what we’re doing for the kids, so he gave us a break on the rent.”
The couple moved in next door and many of the parents helped with the renovation of the former La Casa de Carne, which had double the space. The expansion took Hernandez by surprise. “Around here you’re more likely to close down than expand,” she said at the time. “It would have been impossible to do without the parents. They offered to do the carpentry, the plumbing and lighting, even the windows.”
Now the school is thriving, with nearly 150 students in tae kwon do, jiu-jitsu, judo and kickboxing for all ages. One 11-year-old, David Deriel, lives in the Bronx and takes the subway two hours each way, three days a week, to train at the academy.
Tae Kwon Do originated in Korea more than 2,300 years ago and grew popular in the United States when it was made an Olympic sport in 2000. Children learn symmetrical body exercises for unarmed kicks, punches, jumping and dodging. It develops persistence and self-discipline as well as building social and character skills which have a positive effect in the classroom.
“They are such great kids and that makes their parents happy,” Arias said. “They don’t get into trouble because they’d rather be here training. If you don’t have discipline and good grades, you don’t get to be here.”
Now Jennifer Calle, Sameer Chaudry, Noah Quinones, Anthony Garcia, Andy Perez, Christian Fermin, Taha Choudry, Alexis Clavijo and Alexis Ramirez are all national champions.
The couple’s son, 17-year-old Matthew Madrid, has coached and served as a role model for the students since Edge Academy opened. This fall he will start college at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.
“I’m going to be really sad to leave the school because it’s like a big family around here,” Madrid said. “But I’m sure my dad will keep it going strong.”
Meanwhile, Arias has an interview for a coaching position with the U.S. Tae Kwon Do national team.
“They know what we’re doing here,” Arias said. “And that tells me that we’re on the map nationally.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr