World-class taekwondo athlete and Howard County native Gregory Shepherd made the transition to kickboxing in an effort to expand his talents to as many fields of martial arts as he could.
After capturing the annual North American Kickboxing Championship title over the weekend of March 21-23, the 26-year old may be solidifying himself as a crossover star.
"It felt good. There were some things I've been used to, since I've been competing (in martial arts) for a long time," Shepherd said. "It wasn't that hard of a transition."
Shepherd, a 2005 graduate of Wilde Lake High School, said he wants to eventually fight professionally.
As an amateur, winning the World Kickboxing Association event — comprised of 500 competitors, where he collected all three victories by decision — draws him one step closer to his ultimate goal.
"Taekwondo helped me mature as an athlete. Kickboxing is a lot more brutal. It's a battle of attrition," Shepherd said of the differences between the two spots. "There's a lot more toughness to bring to the table."
Inspired by Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Muscles from Brussels," as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Shepherd said he wanted to be involved with martial arts in some capacity for as long as he could remember.
A student at Jang's Tae Kwon Do in Ellicott City, the fifth degree black belt had a chance to take multiple trips to Korea in his early teens to further his knowledge of the sport. In his second visit, at age 15, he was lucky enough to spend 90 days training with the national team, where he "got exposure to the elite side of taekwondo."
Shepherd has not been one to shy away from a challenge. Upon graduation from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, which provided the opportunity to compete abroad.
As a part of the All-Army Sports Program, Shepherd represented his country and the U.S. Army at the world class level in taekwondo, and participated in the Military Award Championships.
Between military obligations and competitions, he's traveled to over 30 countries and has become well versed in Spanish, Portuguese, French and Korean.
"You're like an ambassador for your sport," he said of his time jet setting around the globe. "We are trying to promote peace through the sport."
With plans for a full slate of kickboxing this year, Shepherd strives to become one of the first taekwondo athletes to successfully make the switch. Also the owner of GS Health and Performance, a fitness company that provides training, group fitness and martial arts instruction, he is looking forward to that next step.
Shepherd is a fan of Glory, an international kickboxing organization similar to UFC. In the coming years, he said he hopes to compete in the series as a professional.
"It's a competitive sport. You have to deal with all types of fighters," he said. "I have to be prepared for everything, and have a sense of humility. I can't just sit on a victory. I have to keep improving, because there's always someone better."