More than 150 competitors and spectators gathered at Kensington Elementary in Waxhaw on Saturday for the first-ever local Taekwondo competition circuit held by GTS: Grassroots Taekwondo Series. GTS was founded by local business owner Jonathan Fleming of WOW Taekwondo. He created GTS in hopes of bringing local taekwondo studios together to promote students’ self-confidence and establish a strong work ethic through sparring. And it seems like last weekend’s kickoff competition did just that.
Kicking off at 9 a.m., Fleming lead the large gathering with a motivational speech, saying, “No matter what, we keep our heads up! We teach our kids that if they don’t succeed, they just get up and try again. We are not defined by our medals, and if we win, we train as if we lost.” The inter-generational crowd cheered, eager to begin sparring on the three mats that were set up in the school’s gymnasium. Ranging from white belts to red belts, ages 6 to 17, taekwondo students from five local schools lined the mats to compete and cheer on their fellow athletes.
Masters from US Taekwondo Academy in Monroe, Steele Creek Martial Arts in Charlotte, Roar Taekwondo in Indian Trail, Carolina Kicks in Matthews and WOW Taekwondo in Waxhaw, coached and encouraged every student competing. “It’s the first time many of these students have ever sparred competitively,” Fleming said. “So it’s important to support them, help them learn from their mistakes, and provide them with the knowledge, courage and confidence to do their best on the mat, no matter the outcome.”
While winning isn’t the most important thing emphasized at GTS, it is celebrated. “Students need to have a goal, to work towards something,” Marelet Fleming, co-owner of WOW Taekwondo, said. “We don’t focus on winning, but children can be positively motivated to achieve their goals and be recognized for their accomplishments.” Proud parents, grandparents, siblings and friends applauded the more than 40 students who stood proudly on the 3-level podium, holding their first, second and third place medals in Olympic-sized fashion.
GTS competitors were not only coached by their Masters, but higher-level belts with competition experience provided welcome advice during matches to correct competitors, and after matches to help them improve for their second match. “I liked that my friends could coach me,” green belt William Kontakis said. “It was helpful because they have a lot of competition experience and they can tell me how to move better to land my kicks and punches.”
Each match lasted one minute, thirty seconds, giving students enough time to land punches and kicks to score against their opponents. The shorter match times also gave GTS referees a chance to put their new skills to work. High-level belts ages 16 and older were trained to referee GTS tournaments via a series of seminars and trainings held since January. Saturday marked many referee debuts, with experienced officials mentoring and explaining calls to the new referees. It was a collaborative and learning environment for everyone involved in the competition.
In addition to helping local kids grow through Taekwondo, GTS aims to help local organizations. Coffee was donated by 4th Corner Bakehouse in Waxhaw and martial-arts themed custom cookies were created by Lauren Fox Pardue. Proceeds from the day’s coffee and sweets sales were donated to the Missy Cann Scholarship, which supports students who show dedication and talent, and who want to take their taekwondo gifts to the next level in national competitions. Grandmaster Missy Cann, a 7th degree World Taekwondo Federation Black Belt, U.S. taekwondo leader and head of North Carolina AAU Taekwondo, passed away on February 10 and was a mentor to the GTS Masters, as well as director of Carolina Kicks in Matthews. The competition was partially sponsored by Fort Mill business Hot Tub Haven and Waxhaw business Mr. Tile and Home Improvements.
GTS is planning their second sparring series on June 8, and is hoping to show more local TKD students that healthy competition for kids at any level can be a positive force in their lives. To learn more about GTS, visit grassrootstkd.com.