Gov. Larry Hogan speaks during inaugural Maryland Governor's Cup Taekwondo Championship at Harford Community College. (David Anderson / BSMG)
David Kalthof, of Bel Air, lost his sparring match during the second annual Maryland Governor’s Cup Taekwondo Championship Saturday — the 12-year-old said he faced an opponent in their late teens — but the experience was still enjoyable for him.
“I like to spar different schools so I can challenge myself against new fighters,” David said.
The Bel Air Middle School sixth-grader is also a student at the U.S. Taekwondo Academy, which has schools in Bel Air and Baltimore. The second-degree black belt was among youth and adult competitors who traveled from around the eastern U.S. to take part in the tournament at the APG Federal Credit Union Arena on Harford Community College’s main Bel Air campus.
This year was David’s second competing in the Governor’s Cup.
“I like the [Taekwondo] training because you learn new things, and you learn about respect and self defense,” he said.
Gov. Larry Hogan and his wife, First Lady Yumi Hogan, were the honorary co-chairs for the tournament.
“We’re ready to see some Taekwondo, right?” Hogan asked the competitors, spectators and VIPs who gathered for the opening ceremony at noon.
The martial art originated in Korea, and First Lady Yumi Hogan is from South Korea. The governor has an honorary ninth-degree black belt. Taekwondo has become popular in the U.S. and around the world. It has been a medal sport in the Olympics since the 2000 summer games in Sydney, according to the World Taekwondo Federation website.
“It’s great for discipline, for mental and physical health and it teaches kids a lot of things, and it is also a good cultural exchange because it’s now a huge sport with 100 million people around the world involved,” Hogan said in a later interview.
Saturday’s tournament, which drew competitors from around the Mid-Atlantic region as well as the Northeast and the South, was coordinated by the Maryland State Taekwondo Association. Yong Seong “C.J.” Chang, senior master of the U.S. Taekwondo Academy and past president of the MSTA, was the master of ceremonies.
All proceeds from the tournament will go to the Children’s Cancer Foundation. The nonprofit foundation, which is headquartered in Columbia, provides grants to researchers, pediatric oncology centers and programs that support patients, according to its website.
“Thank you all for supporting this great cause,” Hogan said.
The competitors engaged in sparring matches, demonstrations of Taekwondo forms, known in Korean as poomsae, and they broke boards with kicks and punches.
Joel Kim, 11, of Ellicott City, awaited his first sparring match Saturday afternoon. The sixth-grader at Burleigh Manor Middle School is an orange belt at Alpha Martial Arts Academy Columbia.
“It’s really cool to see all the performances, and it’s really interesting how people spar and do forms,” he said.
Joel said he enjoys Taekwondo because “it teaches you discipline, and it helps you learn lifelong lessons like how to defend yourself.”
Arissa Coby, 13, of Street, is another U.S. Taekwondo Academy student. Chang, the senior master, said she is preparing for the 2018 USA Taekwondo National Championships, scheduled for July in Salt Lake City.
The high orange belt, who is in seventh grade at North Harford Middle School, had already sparred — which she won — and demonstrated poomsae. She was preparing for the board-breaking.
She said that, when sparring, competitors are trying to punch and kick each other, but “you’re still being careful, making sure you’re not hurting the person too bad.”
Competitors wore helmets and chest protectors, and each tried to score points during the match. They shook hands and bowed at the end and also shook the hand of the coach from the opposing school.
“It pushes people to try their absolute best,” Arissa said of competition.
She said Taekwondo “helps your flexibility and your discipline, but you can also have fun doing it.”
Welcome to Harford
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman welcomed the Hogans, saying “they have been great friends to Harford County for many years,” noted the “great community in Harford County that gives back” and welcomed the competitors.
“We certainly wish you all a successful tournament today,” Glassman said. “Be safe, enjoy yourself, God bless you and thank you for coming to Harford County.”
Glassman and others on the arena floor were sporting orange “We love our Gov!” stickers, with the “O” resembling the cursive “O” in the Baltimore Orioles logo.
Hogan, a Republican, is seeking re-election to a second term. Glassman and all seven members of the Harford County Council are Republican, and Hogan won Harford County with a strong lead when elected to his first term in 2014.
Dong Gi Kim, consul general of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Washington, D.C., also welcomed the governor and first lady. He talked about the values of Taekwondo, such as seeking harmony between human beings, nature and society and devotion to “the common good” of one’s community.
“Through today’s competition, I hope all of you have the opportunity to experience and share these values of Taekwondo,” he said.
The governor, first lady, county executive and other dignitaries were treated to several performances, such as music from members of the Han Pan Korean American Cultural Center, a Korean court dance from the Hee Kyung Lee Korean Traditional Dance Team and a martial arts demonstration by youth members of the International Police Martial Arts Federation.
Glassman praised the “great venue” of the HCC arena. He said the tournament “brings a lot of folks in for tourism, but it also brings an added piece of culture, sports activity, so I think it’s good for Harford County all the way around.”