While some Penn State students watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters to fulfill their appetite for martial arts action, only a handful head to the White Building on a weekly basis to participate in “the way of foot and fist.”
With more than 70 million practitioners, taekwondo is the most practiced martial art in the world and has progressively attracted more students into joining the Penn State Taekwondo club.
Although half of the team has earned black belts, club President Chris Wolden encourages all students who are interested in the sport to come to practices and competitions.
“We teach everybody taekwondo, regardless if they are black belts or have no martial arts experience,” Wolden said.
Practices are held four times a week and consist of a combination of kicking, sparring, and paddle drills, along with stamina and endurance training to prepare for competitions.
With a consistent increase in membership in recent years, the team now brings a high amount of competitors to tournaments throughout the Eastern Collegiate Taekwondo Conference. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tournament two weeks ago, Penn State was represented by 33 fighters, accounting for 10 percent of all registered entrants, according to Wolden.
Just a few years ago, this statistic seemed unimaginable to some team members.
“About three years ago, club taekwondo did not exist as a sport. It was run into the ground. But through hard work and dedication, it has grown into one of the largest club sports teams on campus with 50 active members,” Wolden said.
According to Daniel Rueda, the club’s competition chair, it takes more than just attending practices to be successful at tournaments.
“I spend a lot of my own personal time studying film of my fights or other fights, working cardio, or doing other activities like stretching,” said Rueda, who won a bronze medal at the MIT tournament in sparring.
While the club strives to do well in competitions, community and campus enrichment is also emphasized to its members. The team is planning a charity event for later in the year.
“We want to be the difference makers,” Wolden said. “We’re out there supporting THON and want to show [Penn State] we’re helping out.”
The team’s commitment to Penn State resulted in a top-three finish for Club Sport of the Year Award for 2011-2012, but Rueda envisions greater success in the future.
“This year, I want PSU to win Division II and hopefully qualify for Division I [taekwondo],” Rueda said.
Wolden has high aspirations for Penn State Taekwondo, as well, hoping to eventually have gold medalists in Collegiate Nationals and be club sport of the year on a consistent basis. But for the club president, taekwondo is more than an activity in college.
“It’s a sport and art at the same time, which makes it very special.”