This summer senior Erika Lee and Rene Chen '07 of the MIT Sport Taekwondo Club qualified to represent the United States at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, as a part of the national collegiate Taekwondo team. The city of Shenzhen built Olympic-caliber venues for the games, which hosted more than 12,000 athletes from around the world. Also on the trip was the MIT Sport Taekwondo Club’s head instructor, Dan Chuang, who served as the Taekwondo poomsae for the U.S. team.
“Shenzhen was a really amazing opportunity to see the state of collegiate sport taekwondo in other countries. It was an eye-opening experience to meet athletes from such different places and backgrounds, and really inspiring to see us come together for an event that celebrates a common passion,” Lee says about her experience.
Chen and Lee were competing in the competitive discipline of Taekwondo poomsae. Poomsae (also called forms) are a series of predetermined moves that must be performed with accuracy, power and balance. Technical mistakes are penalized and performance quality is rewarded in a similar fashion to gymnastics or figure skating.
Chen competed in the female individual poomsae division and posted an impressive overall finish of eighth place, the best result ever for a U.S. female individual poomsae competitor at a world collegiate event. Chen also competed with partner Brandon DeSouza in the mixed pairs division, where they performed the poosmae Keumgang and Taebaek. The pair finished 13th overall, falling just shy of the finals round.
Chen began learning Taekwondo in the MIT Sport Taekwondo physical education class, and in just eight years has skyrocketed to her current rank of eighth in the world. She continues to live in the Boston area and train with the MIT club. "It was my great honor to be an ambassador for Sport Taekwondo, my school and my country. It wouldn't have been possible without the mental, physical and financial support of many people and organizations. These kinds of events really bring out the best of humanity," Chen says.
Chen and Lee represented the United States in the women's team poomsae division along with Carissa Fu, where they performed the poosmae Taeguek Pal Jang and Koryo. After a strong performance in the semifinals, they finished ninth, one place shy of the finals by a margin of just 0.08 points.
Lee was co-captain of the Sport Taekwondo Club team at MIT last year, and as of April 2011 was ranked second in the country for sparring at the National Collegiate Taekwondo Championships. She helped lead the team to a national second-place ranking and looks to continue that leadership as she begins her senior year at MIT.
MIT Sport Taekwondo Club, led by Chuang, who has medaled at the U.S. National Championships as well as earning international medals, began in 2001 and has since become one of MIT's largest club sports. Chuang has participated in the U.S. national team trials and U.S. collegiate national team trials and strives to coach “both experts and beginners to the sport with a world class mentality.”
About 80 percent of the club is made up of beginners to the sport, but the competitive league and great competition offered at MIT puts students in perfect position to quickly learn and grow. While some members of the club come from other athletic backgrounds, some are learning to become athletes for the first time. Chuang himself began seriously training in college and tries to bring the same experience he had during college to the MIT campus.