Leppos spread the joy of tae kwon do


For a Hampstead couple, the martial art of tae kwon do is not only a family affair, but also a way of life.

Joyce and Wayne Leppo took their daughter to a tae kwon do class some 17 years ago and have been in love with the sport and the lifestyle since.

"Getting into the martial arts was something I always wanted to do," said Wayne, 46, a resources teacher at Francis Scott Key High School for the past 20 years. "When the opportunity came around I liked it and started rising through the ranks."

Both of the Leppos are internationally recognized judges by the World Shrima, Kalic and Arnis Federation and were asked to go to the world championships this year.

Joyce is a rated competitor on the Karate World Circuit and was second in forms and sparring in 1990.

The love of the sport has translated not only into getting his and hers black belts, but black belts for son Erik, 19, and daughter, Stephanie, 25.

"It's given us something to do together," said Wayne. "We've trained together sometimes five and seven times a week. It gives us a common interest and weekends together."

The couple have been teaching Arnis -- a Filipino offshoot of tae kwon do -- for the last six years at Mechanicsville Elementary School three nights a week. Their school, part of the Deer Park Recreation Council, has produced nine black belts and could produce as many as five more in the next two years.

The most recent barometer of the school's success was the annual fall tournament at Frederick. Out of the six members of the Leppos' school who participated, the group came back with six first places and six second places.

The Leppos now are seeking a fourth degree for Wayne and a third degree for Joyce.

"Anybody that knew me in high school and college knew I was the original couch potato," said Joyce, 45, who teaches karate full-time. "It's made me appreciate physical conditioning more."

For Joyce the teachings and discipline of a martial art has meant more than just family cohesiveness. Last year the former North Carroll teacher was treated for breast cancer.

"One of the five tenets of tae kwon do is perseverance," said Joyce. "Going through the operation I had the self-confidence that nothing could defeat me."

The influence the Leppos have on their offspring is obvious as Erik is the president of his martial arts chapter at Loyola College, and Stephanie is working on her doctorate, but the Leppos have used their art for an extended family.

"They are patient, caring and no matter how long it takes to learn something they'll work with you," said State Trooper Rick Norman, who is going to test for a black belt soon. "It's kind of like a family. Everyone encourages everyone else."

The Leppos' students range in age from 5 to 55, and a concrete policy is established for the younger ages.

"Part of what we teach isn't just blocks and kicks," said Wayne. "We teach a proper attitude."

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