For Aiden Bartocci and Enzo LaFont, the trip to South Korea for the Cheongju World Martial Arts Masterships was a fact-finding mission.
The Vancouver teenagers spent the first week of September in South Korea as members of the first team to represent the United States in competitive hapkido. They were selected by Master Sung Lim of Vancouver’s King Tiger Martial Arts, who was one of two coaches for the first American team.
That they failed to advance beyond the second round of the hapkido competition was hardly a surprise. After training over the summer, they found themselves among competitors with decades of hapkido experience. The team from France that eliminated them placed second in the competition.
But their youth and enthusiasm was celebrated by opponents and spectators.
“We got the best applause from the crowd. That was our gold medal, the crowd cheering for us” LaFont said.
Lim said the support from the crowd was evidence of how quickly the teenagers made connections with other participants at the Olympics-style event, which included a wide range of martial arts.
“I think they were very competitive,” Lim said. “But our biggest triumph was the bonding with the global community.”
Teams from Iran and Spain, in fact, were surprised to hear that the Americans had only trained for a couple of months and complemented LaFont on their performance.
Hapkido is a martial art taught mainly for self defense and used by Korean police and military organizations. It emphasizes the use of leverage over strength to perform holds and throws. Bartocci and LaFont participated together in the demonstration competition, performing a choreographed sequence of skills.
They drew a bye into the second round, where the French team defeated the Americans based on judges scoring.
But they didn’t come home empty handed. The USA team claimed gold medals in an open speed-kicking contest. LaFont said he performed more than 100 kicks in a minute to win his flight. Bartocci performed more than 70 to win his. LaFont also participated in a high-jump kicking contest, reaching the semifinal round.
Performing and competing were fun, but the highlights were meeting martial arts athletes from around the world – and the food.
“It was very good,” Bartocci said.
The whole experience has LaFont and Bartocci motivated to go back to Korea in 2018 for the next world championships.
“It’s motivated me to train for these two years to be at a completely different skill level and to be able to compete for a medal,” LaFont said
For Master Lim, preparing for the next world championships in 2018 involves creating standards and process for selecting the next USA team. He noted that programs in Georgia, Texas and California have athletes who aspire to make Team USA in 2018. And there are more athletes from the Vancouver-Portland region who will push for spots on the team.
As a coach for the fledgling United States Hapkido Team, Lim said his first goal is to increasde awareness about competitive hapkido both locally and nationally.
“We hope that they’ll come out of the woodwork,” Lim said, inviting anyone who wants to learn about hapkido to contact him at his King Tiger Martial Arts in Salmon Creek. “We’re here to share information.”