With her opponent’s primal scream and one sharp kick to her head, UC Davis’ Taekwondo team member Diana Cabrera was knocked flat on her back, unable to continue. Minutes later, a group of Davis firefighters strapped her to a backboard and carried her out of the arena.
A little less than 300 club athletes from universities across the country including Stanford, UC San Diego, University of Texas, Brown University and UC Davis competed in the Taekwondo Collegiate Nationals this past weekend at the UC Davis Pavilion.
With 27 total athletes, UC Davis tied for third overall, with Brown University winning the team national championship. Of the eight UC Davis black belt competitors, Thang Truong placed third in the bantamweight division, Courtney Shea was third in middleweight and Diana Cabrera was third in heavyweight.
The first four competitors in each of the six weight divisions qualified for the next national event. The silver medalist qualified for the Pan-American games and the gold medalist qualified for the World University Games in China. Featuring many competitors currently part of the USA National team, the tournament was very competitive.
Aaron Skilken, former UC Davis team captain and volunteer assistant coach, said some of the black belts performed below his expectations but the new-to-the-sport color belts placed well.
“We had a few color belts and they did pretty good. For a lot of them it’s their first stage ever and that can be overwhelming,” Skilken said.
In the PacWest Taekwondo Conference over the past season, UC Davis earned fourth place, while UC San Diego beat the eight other California teams for the team championship. Skilken said, however, that there is camaraderie between all the California programs as they competed in the Nationals. Competitors would even cheer for other athletes in PacWest conference.
Daniel Kim, a junior chemistry major and Taekwondo black belt, said hosting the National Championship meant most of the UC Davis Taekwondo team worked to set up and volunteer during the tournament.
“It means a lot to the club and it was pretty exciting setting the event up. It’s a lot of work, but we built up a very good championship,” Kim said.
Taekwondo competitors and boxers move in a similar fashion, but there are many differences, especially the dominance of kicking in Taekwondo. Unlike in boxing, Kim said the worst foul someone could make is a punch to the head.
“There’s a lot of kicking and you need to have a lot of stamina and explosiveness and confidence in general,” Kim said.
At the start of the contest, the referee declares “chung, hong,” after which the athletes enter the 8-by-8 meter foam mat and face each other. They make a standing bow at the referee’s commands of “char-yeot” (attention) and “kyeong-rye” (bow). Then, the referee says “joon-bi” (ready), and “shi-jak” (start).
There are three rounds of two minutes of sparring. Each round ends when the referee says “keu-man” (stop) or when the time limit has ended.
The officials award the most points for a clean kick to the head. They grant one point for a body shot, two points for a turning kick, three points for a kick to the head and four points for a turning kick to the head.
The referees declare a winner by knockout (KO), final score after all three rounds, a point gap of 12, a sudden death round, withdrawal or disqualification.
Skilken said Taekwondo-related injuries – such as Cabrera’s KO – are not common, but accidents do happen.
“[Injuries] are part of the sport because it’s a full contact sport. Serious injuries typically happen when an opponent is seriously outmatched [in skill level],” Skilken said.
Due to the dangers involved in the sport, each athlete must wear a white Taekwondo uniform, a helmet, a shin and forearm guard, a groin protector (male athletes), a mouth guard, a sensor hogus (chest protector) and electronic sock protectors (black belt athletes only).
Kim said he started Taekwondo when he was in first grade and has loved it ever since.
“I used to be scared, especially by sparring, but I love the sport. It’s very dynamic,” Kim said.
GRACE BENEFIELD can be reached at email@example.com.