Karate qualifiers

Savannah Saunders (left), Abbie Parry (center) and Gavin Cohen are headed to the USA Taekwondo National Championships June 25-July 1 at Minneapolis. Not pictured but also qualifying for nationals is Sophia Ramirez.

Four county Taekwondo students are set to take their martial arts abilities to the next level in a few weeks in Minneapolis.

Savannah Saunders, Sofia Ramirez, Abbie Parry and Gavin Cohen will compete in the USA Taekwondo National Championships June 25 through July 1. The foursome train at of Tucker’s Karate in Frederick.

They qualified by finishing among the top three in their respective age group and belt rank. Qualifying takes place at competitions around the state and region, said Michelle White, a master fourth-degree black belt and instructor at Tucker’s Karate.

Saunders, a 15-17 junior black belt, is the oldest of the group. She’s tried different sports over the years but lost interest over time. Her mother prodded her to keep searching for some kind of extracurricular activity, something with long-term benefits.

“My mom wanted me to get into something more physical,” Saunders said. “So I tried karate.”

It didn’t take long for Saunders to get hooked.

“I want to be able to defend myself,” Saunders said. “This has given me a lot more confidence.”

Taekwondo, geared around self-defense, gained popularity over the years thanks to the late Jhoon Rhee, who died last year. He became known as the father of American taekwondo.

Typically, students work out four to five hours per week, White said.

“It’s very disciplined,” she said. “You have to have the right mindset.”

Sparring, forms and breaking are examples of what takes place during actual competition. In sparring, individuals are in active competition with an opponent. In forms, individuals take various defensive stances with no actual opponent. This is where the mental aspects of the sport come into play.

“You have to approach forms as if you had an opponent in front of you,” White said.

Breaking involves breaking a wooden board with the hands.

Parry, who is in the 8-9 tiger-green belt division, likes the forms part of competition.

“It makes me feel stronger,” she said.

Cohen (8-9 tiger) likes active sparring. Ramirez also competes in the 8-9 tiger division.

For White, returning to Minneapolis is going to be special. Twenty-six years ago, she won a national age-group title at the same site.

“I’m going back, this time as a coach,” White said. “That’s pretty exciting.”

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