Corona martial arts teacher wins gold medal in Taekwondo tournament in Mexico

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Photo courtesy of the New York Black Belt Center

John Rodriguez, 46, who runs the New York Black Belt Center at 104-05 Northern Blvd. in Corona and teaches martial arts there, recently emerged victorious in a Taekwondo tournament in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.

Photo courtesy of John Rodriguez

In addition to participating in the tournament, Rodriguez also attended a seminar, which comprised of four to five sessions each day from Mar. 24-31. Close to 1,200 competitors were divided into different divisions based on age, with Rodriguez being among the nine in the “Ultra Division,” for those ages 33 years and older. Rodriguez was among the 32 members of the United States National Amateur Athletic Union Taekwondo team to participate in this tournament.

Photo courtesy of the New York Black Belt Center

Rodriguez said he has devoted a lot of time and effort towards training for competitions like this. Each week, he devotes four to five days training, doing so for an hour-and-a-half to two hours each morning, as well as another hour-and-a-half with his students in the evening. He also puts in extra training work on Saturdays. Even with all this training time, Rodriguez has made sure to always be available to teach classes to his students.

While Rodriguez has taken part in and won many national and international tournaments since becoming a black belt at the age of 22, this one held special meaning to him due to the connection between the venue and his students. Of the approximately 100 students that Rodriguez teaches, he said about half are of a Mexican background.

“Most of my student base is Mexican,” Rodriguez said. “They were very happy for me and they were very proud. One of my students brought me tacos [Tuesday night] and another brought me a little cake to celebrate. It’s one way that they show appreciation.”

Rodriguez has been practicing martial arts for 30 years, having started at 16 years old and learning from Joseph Lupo Sr. He ended up developing a friendship with Joseph Lupo Jr., and the two now work together as business partners, with Lupo operating the New York Black Belt Center at 216-03 Horace Harding Expwy. in Bayside and Rodriguez running the Corona location.

“It’s a big thing for John and the community,” Lupo said. “He’s in such a heavily South American and Mexican-based community. For him to go to their country, it’s very significant, both for himself and the general population that he teaches. He’s really cemented himself as [a member of the community].”

Rodriguez already has his eyes set on his next tournament in July. He will be looking to defend his national title then. Additionally, in November, he will be joining the U.S. Masters Team in Mexico City for another tournament there. He also expects to join the Masters Team for another tournament in Taipei in 2025.

“For me, Master Joe has always been an inspiration,” Rodriguez said. “He’s not only one of my best friends, he inspires me and I always want to do him proud. This past May, he went to Korea to fight in the Asia Pacific Masters Games and won gold. He’s one of those individuals who leads by example. We both pride ourselves in being masters who don’t just talk the talk, but also walk the walk.”

Lupo has been running the Bayside location of the New York Black Belt Center since it first opened in 2013. The Corona location was opened by Rodriguez in 2016.

“I always wanted to leave a legacy in life and be an inspiration to others,” Rodriguez said. “The school that I have now, thanks to Master Joe, has given me the opportunity to do so.”