First Maryland Governor's Cup taekwondo event coming to Bel Air

Bel Air will host the first Maryland Governor's Cup on March 25.

As president of the Maryland State Taekwondo Association, Yong Seong "CJ" Chang oversees each of the group's annual competitions. He has earned a reputation as someone who puts on "seamless" events, his wife, Julia, said, which naturally has meant even more hosting responsibilities at taekwondo events across the Mid-Atlantic.

"We have seen it all," he said Thursday. But the next week will test that premise.

There are the 40 or so referees to fly in to Maryland from across the United States and organize room and board for. There's the rental of hundreds of mats to house 8-by-8-foot taekwondo rings at Harford Community College's APG Federal Credit Union Arena. And, of course, there's the purchase of gold, silver and bronze medals for those good enough to place at next Saturday's first-ever Maryland Governor's Cup.

Hundreds from around the region are expected to compete, but there will be no bigger names than the pair who won't. The tournament name, after all, is not for nothing.

Gov. Larry Hogan will serve as an honorary chair of the Governor's Cup, and first lady Yumi Hogan will serve as honorary co-chair. The inaugural competition comes less than a year after Gov. Hogan designated April 5 as Taekwondo Day in Maryland. (April 5 is celebrated as Arbor Day in South Korea, where Yumi Hogan was born and the martial art originated.)

"To have a sport from Korea come and have this big event supported by a political figure, that's huge for the Korean community," said Julia Chang, the event's official registration committee chair. "The fact that we're just raising awareness to the Korean culture through the sport of taekwondo ... that's very exciting for us."

Julia, 35, was born and raised in cosmopolitan Northern Virginia, which, she acknowledged with a laugh, "is a little bit different" from her current home. She now resides in Bel Air with her husband. There are no Korean restaurants around, no Korean groceries. "So to have this in Harford County is a big deal," she said.

The daylong event, organized by the MSTA and the state's Korean Taekwondo Association, will honor the sport and its heritage. The consul general of South Korea's embassy to the United States is expected in attendance, as is the president of the Seoul-based World Taekwondo Headquarters. A member of the Washington Soloist Ensemble will sing the South Korean and American national anthems. Dancers will perform buchaechum, the Korean fan dance. And setting the tone for the day's competitions will be the Taekwondo Kukkiwon Demonstration Team, expected to break over 600 pinewood boards in 27 minutes.

All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Children's Cancer Foundation.

"This event is an opportunity to have fun and watch great taekwondo competitors, while supporting the Children's Cancer Foundation and the world-class research, patient services and education they provide to so many Maryland children and families struggling in the fight against cancer," Gov. Hogan said in a statement.

That the martial art Yong Seong Chang, 35, has practiced since age 3 could bring so many people together overjoys him. He learned from his father, a grandmaster in taekwondo who founded Bel Air's U.S. Taekwondo Academy over 40 years ago, and he seldom has strayed far from the dojang, or training hall.

A sixth-degree black belt, Chang has won gold at the sport's national championships, and he captained the 2003 U.S. team at the World University Games in Daegu, South Korea.

He'll need every bit of focus through Saturday. Participating in the tournament's three competitions — forms (choreographed patterns of movement), sparring and breaking (of boards) — are practitioners in age ranging from 4 or 5 to full-grown adults. Grand champions will be invited to a ceremony with Gov. Hogan and the first lady in Annapolis.

The date of that reception is no accident: April 5, Taekwondo Day. Yong Seong Chang hailed the Hogans' support as crucial, a "seed" that, when planted, would allow "for something as important as this martial-art discipline to flourish."

Maryland Governor's Cup

Where: APG Federal Credit Union Arena, Harford Community College, Bel Air

When: Saturday


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