Taikwondo students gain belts, achievementTwo tries without success led Rainee Johnson to her third attempt at breaking through a wooden board with her kick. Hair tied back in a lime green ponytail, the 7-year-old Wrenshall first-grader grounded through the small square, splitting it in two.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CLOQUET – Two tries without success led Rainee Johnson to her third attempt at breaking through a wooden board with her kick.
Hair tied back in a lime green ponytail, the 7-year-old Wrenshall first-grader grounded through the small square, splitting it in two.
Crammed into the Washington Elementary School cafeteria for Cloquet Taekwondo belt testing last Monday evening, the audience erupted in applause for the 4-foot Johnson, who was smiling from ear to ear.
“I’ve never broke a real board in my real life,” said Johnson, a first-year student. “I felt excited and happy. I’m going to show my mom, my sister, my dad and all kinds of my friends at school.”
Moments later, Johnson hoisted her snapped wood in one hand and a new black-striped belt in the other, like a champion.
“I’ve never done things like this in my life before,” Johnson told master instructor Chris Correia. “I’ve always wanted to get a belt.”
Correia handed out plenty of belts last week, as all 20 taekwondo artists passed their respective exams as an enthusiastic audience of nearly 50 watched from folding chairs in the cafeteria.
Correia, 52, started Cloquet Taekwondo nine years ago, following his initial involvement in Duluth. Running North Shore Taekwondo in Duluth as well, Correia – a certified fifth-degree black belt – teaches youth, teen and adult classes five nights a week.
He estimated 300 kids have participated in Cloquet over time.
“I’d like to think that we have one of the strongest programs in the area,” the Duluth-native said of his Cloquet program that runs Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings. “There are quite a few kids running around here who have been in taekwondo before.”
Correia began his taekwondo career in 1993 in Duluth, at 33 years old, along with his then 4-year-old son, Robb. Correia’s daughter, Tricia, like Robb, is a low-degree black belt. Tenth-degree black is the highest level of belt status, Correia said, noting only a handful have achieved that status.
Since his unplanned foray into the sport, Correia has earned certifications around the United States and even South Korea – the hub of taekwondo.
“The taekwondo headquarters is in Seoul,” said Correia, naming the South Korean capital city. “And all of that flashy stuff you see in the movies – much of it is based through Korean martial arts.”
Correia explained that taekwondo hit the USA hard in the 1960s and ’70s, and has since become the most practiced martial art around the globe.
His nightly classes are as traditional as they come.
“We still have uniforms, still award belts and still say ‘sir,’” Correia said after last Monday’s two-hour examination. “I’ve had 5-year-olds excel. Some kids have their junior black belt by [age] 8 or 9.”
“I plan on getting a black belt or maybe becoming a master,” said Moose Lake’s Austin Tomczak. “I just like [taekwondo] because you can always practice and learn how to defend yourself.”
Tomczak, an 11-year-old in his second year of the program, said he’s the only kid in his school involved in the often-overlooked sport. As the highest-belted youth at last week’s testing, he earned a purple-trim belt after a 15-minute series of patterns, kicking and board breaks.
His final break came when the 4-foot-10, 85-pound Tomczak tore through the air during his running flying sidekick. Splitting the timber on his sixth try, Tomczak got the loudest applause of the night.
“I was really nervous, but I love the flying kicks, especially,” said Tomczak, winded and out of breath following his solo performance. “[Taekwondo] is just awesome. I plan on doing it for a long time.”
With no time to spare last week, Tomczak left the school early.
“I have my brother’s choir concert,” he said, rushing out.
Tomczak exited before Cloquet’s Keagan Hall gave out Oreos to everyone for his seventh birthday. Hall – who earlier earned a yellow belt following his routine and initial board break – said he likes class and Correia’s teaching style.
“Master Chris is strong and knows a lot of stuff,” said Keagan, 7, Oreos in hand. “He gets on us, but he should – he’s a black belt.”
Keagan’s older brother, Brady, is junior black belt. Their mother, Jennifer Hall, said Brady’s involvement got Keagan hooked. Last week she spent time taking pictures of the testing with her camera, while Keagan’s father, brother, sister and grandparents observed proudly in the crowd.
“He loves it; he has no fear,” Jennifer said. “We were all here watching tonight. We had to get here early for a front row seat.
“Both of our kids are getting rewards from [taekwondo]; I highly recommend it,” she continued. “Master Chris is so good with the kids.”
Correia said more information is at www.cloquetmartialarts.com. Now in his 19th season, he added that he won’t be done anytime soon.
“Until I die,” Correia said. “The longer I’ve been in [taekwondo], the more humbled I get helping people and kids succeed. I wish I had this when I was a kid – I was chubby and unathletic. But I truly do say that anyone can do it, if they take one little step at a time.”
Or, like Rainee Johnson, one board break at a time, followed by a smile.