Korea Taekwondo Center Competitors Heading to National Tournament

May 10, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy After snatching 65 medals in three tournaments during the past two months, most of Master Hee Sung Moon's competition team from Korea Taekwondo Center in Manahawkin are headed for the USA Taekwondo National Championships in Detroit June 29-July 6. Left to right, in the front, are Shahd Alhusni, Thomas Bunce, Michael Famelio, Gwen Mansfield, Marcus Liljeros and Elise Bunce. Left to right, in the back, are Ryan Burns, Olivia Liljeros, Sofia Antinora, Kai Aceto, Emily Wilczek, Simon Bunce and Kang Woo Jin. Not pictured: Michi Peribanez.

After spending part of his life competing in Toronto, Canada, with Team Ontario, Hee Sung Moon moved to the United States and began training American students in taekwondo. However, the school at which he helped train students didn’t focus much on competition.

About five years ago, Master Moon took over one of the spaces at McKinley Plaza in Manahawkin and developed his own school, Korea Taekwondo Center. From there, his vision for devising a competition team developed slowly.

“We started the competition team last summer, in August,” Moon said. “When I started the school, I tried to get that started. My teaching style is very open, and if students are interested in competition and they want to focus on that kind of training, I give it to them – but only if they really want that training.”

Well, the competition training seems to have resonated with a significant number of Moon’s 200 students, as 14 of them have qualified for the USA Taekwondo National Championships at Detroit’s Cobo Center, which are scheduled for June 29 through July 6.

“I taught at another school with 350 students, and three went to the national tournament,” Moon said. “We have 200 students here, so 14 going to the national tournament is very good.”

Throughout March and April, many of Moon’s students have competed in three qualifier tournaments, capturing an incredible 65 medals, including 38 gold. On March 11, the team competed in the New York National Qualifier at Queens College, and five of the eight who medaled in sparring took gold. In the New Jersey National Qualifier at Hillsborough High School on March 26, eight of Moon’s nine competitors medaled in sparring and breaking as the team brought home 16 gold medals. With 12 competitors in the mix at the Pennsylvania National Qualifier on April 29, 11 of them medaled in sparring, including eight snatching gold.

When the group competes in Detroit, they will test their skills against the nation’s best in four disciplines – sparring, breaking, weapons and poomsae (forms). The national tourney features some 4,000 athletes in 827 different divisions, and this year’s event serves as the Team USA trials for cadet and junior sparring and poomsae.

Among Moon’s top students, Sofia Antinora competes in the 10-11 red-belt division. The junior assistant instructor won sparring gold in all three qualifier tournaments and has yet to lose a bout.

“I love coming here and spending my afternoons training,” said Sofia, who is from the Mayetta section of Stafford Township. “I’m always training, and I’ve developed a lot of confidence in my ability. Everybody here is like my family.”

Besides Antinora, the group of students who qualified for the Detroit national tourney includes assistant coach and instructor Kang Woo Jin (17-32 black belt), Simon Bruce (15-17 red belt), Michi Peribanez (12-14 black belt), Ryan Burns (12-14 black belt), Emily Wilczek (10-11 black belt), Elise Bunce (10-11 red belt), Shahd Alhusni (10-11 red belt), Kai Aceto (8-9 black belt), Gwen Mansfield (8-9 black belt), Olivia Liljeros (8-9 red belt), Michael Famelio (8-9 red belt), Thomas Bunce (8-9 red belt) and Marcus Liljeros (6-7 yellow belt).

“They’re an extremely dedicated and talented group of kids,” said Aja Aceto, one of the team’s assistant coaches. “They really are like a family. They all stay in touch throughout the day, and they’re here training five to seven days a week for hours a day. And it’s not forced, either. This really is what they love.”

And while that passion comes out in competition, Moon most enjoys when his students progress in the mental aspects of taekwondo.

“The best part of teaching is when they develop discipline themselves,” he said. “It’s not the kicking, stepping and fighting. Everybody can do that. But when I see the student’s mind develop, that’s the best part.”

Now, Moon’s competition team will begin the process of fundraising for the upcoming national tourney. Because it’s an amateur sport, athletes need to raise their own funds to cover registration and lodging costs. Any individuals or businesses interested in supporting the team should contact the school at 609-597-0330 or info-manahawkin@mastermoons.com.

— David Biggy


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