Some have been training their entire lives, and some didn’t start training until they were adults. Regardless of when they started, they learned at Red Tiger Taekwon-Do center in Bustleton, and they represented the United States at a worldwide Taekwon-Do championship.
Eight of the 48 competitors selected nationwide to represent Team USA at the International Taekwon-Do World Championships train at Red Tiger, located at 1912 Welsh Road. Ranging in age from 14 to their 40s, the students traveled to Inzell, Germany to compete in the ITF Taekwon-Do World Championships, which ran from April 23 to 28.
The selected competitors were John Smythe, Frantz Bataille, Juliya Ayzman, Bryan Eng, siblings Jeremy and Analise Bottinger and mother and son Suzanna and Alex Aloian. Red Tiger also sent coach Tyler Dooley.
“We’ve had a long track record of sending people on the team,” said Master Marcello Cancelliere. Cancelliere himself attended his first ITF world championship in 1994, and has been sending students to the biyearly championships ever since. There are 21 medals earned from students displayed on the wall of the building’s basement gym.
The championship is split into divisions such as sparring, patterns, prearranged sparring, special techniques, power breaking and team patterns.
Red Tiger donated about $2,500 raised from biweekly black belt classes to go toward the students, which helped cover the competition fee, sweatsuits and more.
Meet the competitors:
This was Eng’s fourth time participating in the championship, and he wears the confidence of someone who has been there before.
“I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone, just be the best version of me,” he said.
Eng prepared by working out 12 times a week, which included yoga, strength and conditioning and Taekwon-Do. He also coached some of the Team USA members.
Besides competition, Eng enjoys the experience of being in a new country.
“You get to meet so many new people and talk to people from countries you’ve never even had the opportunity to come in contact with,” he said.
Eng advanced three rounds in the sparring division, coming just one round short of the semifinals. Previously, he brought home a silver and bronze medal from the 2013 championships.
Alex and Suzanna Aloian
Alex may be Suzanna’s son, but he was the one who got her into martial arts.
Alex started at 5 years old, and after bringing him to practices for several years, Suzanna joined him on the mat. He’s been practicing for 16 years and she has for 12.
Suzanna has attended the championship since 2009, and has competed in sparring, power breaking and patterns. Alex has also been around the block, bringing back a bronze medal in sparring from a previous championship.
“I always try do something I’m not feeling confident in, so little by little I learn,” Suzanna said. She was sick as a child and did not have good balance, and always wanted to fuse her mind and body and practice her skills.
“It was time for me to retire a long time ago but I just can’t do it yet,” she added with a laugh.
For Alex, though, it is time to retire – at least temporarily. A premed student at Temple University, he’s taking a break to focus on his studies, but wanted to go out on a high note.
“I have high standards, but I’m always ready for any situation. I’m just planning on going in and doing the best I can no matter what,” he said.
Suzanna competed on the senior female power team that brought home the silver medal.
Despite studying martial arts for only four and a half years, Bataille qualified to compete in the senior male patterns division for the first time in his career.
“Growing up I was always into books, but never really into sports,” he said. When he moved to Philadelphia from Florida, he set out to discover something new. Martial arts had always been something he was interested in but never got to practice.
As a visual learner, Bataille said he is most excited to see his competitors perform.
“To me in my head, it’s like going to the Olympics,” he said.
At only 14, Juliya is the youngest member who represented Red Tiger – but that doesn’t mean she should be underestimated. She’s been studying martial arts almost her entire life, and has been a student at Red Tiger since she was just 4.
“To me it was shocking because this is just going to be my first time,” she said. At 14, she is the youngest age you can be to participate. She was most excited to see how she can perform and improve in her first outing to the competition.
Ayzman competed in the junior female sparring division.
Jeremy and Analise Bottinger
Jeremy, 17, and Analise, 15, may be siblings, but that only helps them motivate each other. Their parents signed Jeremy up for lessons when he was about 5, and he quickly started to take the hobby seriously. Inspired by her brother, Analise soon joined him in the dojo.
Neither had been to Germany before, so going to the competition was somewhat of a family trip.
“I’m really excited about meeting people from different countries and competing and learning about the culture, too,” Analise said.
Analise competed in the patterns and sparring divisions, and Jeremy competed in the patterns, sparring and specialty breaking divisions. ••