Christina Park was 10 years old when her parents introduced her to tae kwon do. Now, 11 years later, they can introduce her as a national collegiate champion in the sport.
The senior in mechanical engineering recently won two gold medals at the collegiate tae kwon do championships in Austin, Texas, competing as a member of the MIT Sport Taekwondo Club.
Park won the women's black belt third dan forms (a competition based on performing a series of required moves) in the middleweight division, and also took the title in the women's black belt sparring competition. The victory places her as the number one seed going into the collegiate team trials next spring in Kansas City, Mo. The 16 men and women who succeed at the trials will represent the US collegiate team at international competitions, such as the World University Tae Kwon Do Championships.
To win the sparring championship, Park had to win three consecutive matches. In her first match she had a 6-0 lead after the first round of a two-round bout. Her adversary from Oklahoma State University forfeited the second round. An opponent from George Washington University fell to Park by a 14-1 margin in her second bout.
The championship match with a woman from Kirtland Community College proved to be the toughest. "My opponent was last year's silver medalist in the heavyweight division. She was moving down a weight class and I was moving up in weight. I'm somewhat short for a middleweight," said the 5'6" 155-pound Park, "so it was an interesting challenge."
The match appeared to end in a 13-13 draw and would have gone to a referee's decision, but a flaw in the scoring system had erroneously deducted a point from Park's total. When the discrepancy was discovered, Park was awarded the black belt title.
Park grew up in California, where her parents urged her to take up tae kwan do at the age of eight. She resisted, but after a couple of years of gentle prodding, she relented.
"They wanted me to learn more about Korean culture, get more physically active and take advantage of the social aspect," Park said. "Tae kwon do is the national sport of Korea. My parents were each experienced in it and they felt that most Koreans try it at some point."
It didn't take Park long to become hooked. She began competing at age 13 and three times went to the junior nationals, where she twice won bronze medals. She said taekwondo gives her both a competitive outlet and a pleasant pastime.
"I like competition and think it has a lot to offer; it's fun, and the team aspect has been a great experience," she said. "I also learned a lot about discipline and respect."
When Park arrived at MIT she was aware of the Institute's Tae Kwon Do Club, but found that it didn't offer her either the style or competitive opportunities she was seeking.
Unable to find a competitive club in the Cambridge area, she didn't participate in the sport during her freshman year. In her sophomore year, she helped found a club at Harvard University and began to teach and train in the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) style, which was adopted when tae kwon do became an Olympic sport at the Sydney games in 2000.
After traveling back and forth to Harvard as many as seven days a week for a year, Park met Dan Chuang, a Cornell University alumnus who had competed collegiately and was interested in promoting the sport in area colleges. The two founded the MIT Sport Taekwondo Club to provide training and practice in the traditional form of the martial art, and to give its members access to competition.
The club has grown to more than 40 members, nearly half of whom are women. Park is president, captain and an instructor for the club.
She plans to compete in the US open in February and the US nationals in May.
"My goal is to some day make the US national team and represent our county in international competition," she said. "I like teaching and training, but I love to compete."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 28, 2001.