By Carlotta Mohamed
Six local students from the Ultimate Champions Taekwondo martial arts school in Flushing will compete in Germany next year after qualifying for the 2019 AAU Taekwondo National team last weekend.
The students competed for their spots on the national team in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sept. 7-9 at the AAU Sport Sparring National Championship.
There are a total of 20 spots per age group on the national team. Ultimate Champions Taekwondo — located at 141-20 Northern Blvd. — has students competing with the national team in the 12-14 and 15-17 age groups, according to Master Michael Ro, who has been running the martial arts school for 12 years.
Students Jodie Gao, Michael Lantino, and Matthew Mancuso earned a spot on the A team, while Christopher Yook, Cory Dong, and Devin Lee qualified for the backup (B) team.
“All of the students maintain good grades in school and their parents are happy,” said Ro. “The kids are staying out of the streets and are doing something productive with their time and staying positive. It’s a great feeling as their teacher and great to have students like that as well.”
The students have been trained by Ro, and Master Andrew Oh, who is charge of the Bayside Ultimate Champions Taekwondo martial arts school located at 213-18 48th Ave.
To be eligible to compete at team trials, the students competed at the state championship in March at the Fitzgerald Gym in CUNY Queens College, and then advanced to the national championship in Florida, according to Ro.
“During the summer after nationals we had two months of three to five hours of training Monday through Saturday,” said Ro. “They had to maintain their weight and condition and train everyday to prepare for team trials.”
According to Ro, depending on their school schedule, the students will most likely average about three hours a day training for the German Open.
Gao, a sophomore at Townsend Harris High School, who won the 15-17 age group, has been practicing martial since she was eight years old. She made the national team last year and will be competing again in Germany next year.
“It feels really great. I’m really happy and grateful that I was able to make the team this year,” said Gao. “This year I lost my first two fights and thought I had lost my chance to make the team, but then I went into a tiebreaker and that brought me back up.”
Gao, who turned 15 in June, moved up an age group and entered this year’s competition as an underdog before earning a spot on the A team.
Gao said taekwondo has helped build her self confidence and respect toward others, as well as self discipline.
“Before I started taekwondo, I never had much confidence in myself. I never liked talking to other people,” she said. “It also gave me the discipline to study and actually care about school.” Another student who secured a spot on the B team, Cory Dong, 12, of JHS 185 in Flushing, said she felt nervous while fighting.
“In my mind, I’m saying to myself that I can do it and make the team,” said Dong, who started taking taekwondo classes when she was six years old.
Ro said his students are looking forward to competing in Germany, and of course, doing some sightseeing when off the mat.
“The goal is to get the gold medal,” said Ro. “This is an international championship and it’s a very elite high level competition, and the honorable thing is that they get to represent the United States.”
The 2019 AAU National Team will be competing in Germany at the German Open in April 2019.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha