Taekwon-Do athletes go international

By Kevin Wilson

Some have been involved for decades, some more than half their lives. Some are eligible for the first time, some eligible for their last.
All are black belts, and all hope for a chance at world domination, starting this weekend in New Haven, Conn.
Five members of Eastern New Mexico Taekwon-Do are leaving Thursday for the country’s International Taekwon-Do Federation world qualifier in New Haven on Saturday and Sunday. The qualifier is open to any ITF black belt holder that feels able to compete against the country’s best.
“It’s going to be pretty tough competition,” said Steve Blakeley, the owner and senior instructor of ENMTKD, “but if they do what they can do, they’ll be fine.”
The group will compete in several different events, including sparring, patterns, power breaking and specialty breaking. The top three finishers in each event will qualify for the ITF World Championships in Dijon, South Korea in October.
Eastern New Mexico Taekwon-Do is part of the Yom Chi Taekwon-Do Association, one of four organizations at the qualifier. The five members representing ENMTKD are Mark Yoesting of Clovis, Nicole Frank and Audra Brown of Portales and Mark Hardage and Joshua Bullard of Tucumcari.
The members think they’re up for the challenge.
“The biggest thing is the experience,” Frank said. “I hope that each and every one of us will go (to the world championships) in something. With the quality of our juniors and overall, we’ve got a great chance.”
The group had its final workout Monday leading up to the weekend.
“We started out training on this about six, seven months ago — they’ve been going non-stop. If anything’s going to pull them through, it’s going to be their experience.”
The most experienced of the group is Hardage, who is a fourth-degree (or dan) black belt. Hardage, who teaches the Tucumcari branch of ENMTKD, plans to make the most of what could be his final chance to compete.
The biannual qualifier is open to fourth-degree black belts and below, and Hardage plans to test next year to be a fifth-degree black belt.
“I’ve always wanted to compete on a world level,” said Hardage, who has been involved with the sport since 1984. “To me, this is one of my last opportunities to go compete at a level I’ve dreamed of competing at.”
While Hardage is probably eligible for the final time, Brown (14 years old) and Bullard (15) are eligible for their first. The two are entering in the junior division, which has a minimum age of 13.
Bullard will be competing at the same events as his instructor, Hardage.
“It’s fun because you can see what you’ve got on him,” Bullard said. “Then you get to brag if you beat him.”
Does he think he will be able to brag a week from now?
“No,” he answered with a laugh.
The members enjoy taekwon-do for many different reasons, with Yoesting saying it’s “the only thing I’ve been better than good at.
“It has individual aspects, but it does have the team part,” Yoesting continued. “If one of us wins, we all win.”