Motoo Yasui, ’97, could not have foreseen that two decades after graduating he would be leading Lehigh’s club taekwondo team to compete in sparring tournaments across the Northeast.
When he was a Lehigh student, there was no team at all. But nonetheless, Yasui studied the martial arts persistently under the guidance of Lee Arnold, the head instructor at Lehigh Valley Taekwondo, and was able to compete on his own.
As a coach now, Yasui said he feels he is giving back to the students by providing them with the opportunity he never had — to compete as a team.
“This school is very unique in that we tend to form a lot of good bonds with each other,” Yasui said. “It’s really like a family here. Everybody is trying to help each other to become stronger.”
After being an instructor at Lehigh Valley Taekwondo for many years, Yasui recently became a master of the craft. He has coached Lehigh’s club team as it competes in the Eastern Collegiate Taekwondo Conference against schools such as Harvard, Cornell and MIT. The team’s most recent tournament was on Feb. 24 at Princeton University.
The league for competitions, Yasui said, is structured with teams instead of individual athletes. Each team consists of a light weight, middle weight and heavy weight sparer. Each person gets matched up with someone on the other team from the subsequent weight class. Two wins out of three allows the team to advance in the single elimination tournament.
Gaby Vinson, ’19, said she always wanted to do taekwondo, but never had the opportunity until coming to Lehigh. She decided to join the beginners class at Lehigh Valley Taekwondo and later, the sparring team.
“Everyone is training together all the time,” Vinson said. “Even though none of us are going to fight each other in the tournament, we’re trying to get ourselves as far along as possible.”
Joey Kawash, ’19, has been a part of Lehigh Taekwondo for three and a half years. He loves the team aspect of the sport and is the vice president of the club.
“You could win your fight, and then you’re immediately rooting for the next guy,” Kawash said.
Some tournaments have over 40 schools competing. He said the team has gone up against schools from relatively far away, such as Duke University and the University of Michigan.
While they hope to take home the gold, Kawash and Vinson said they really enjoy the atmosphere of the tournament.
It’s really just kind of the whole experience (of) just being there, supporting people,” Vinson said. “I’m mostly just excited to see how far our team gets.”
The university club was founded in the late ’70s, and the club’s training was turned over to Lehigh Valley Taekwondo when the martial arts school opened in 1984. Located on East Fourth Street in South Bethlehem, Lehigh Valley Taekwondo is the oldest World Taekwondo Federation-style school in the Lehigh Valley and the surrounding area, according to its website.
The traditional class, which meets on weekday evenings, is self-defense based. Yasui added a supplemental class on Saturdays for the students to work on sparring and focus on training for the tournaments.
“I decided that they need the competition knowledge, and so I’m giving them this time to specifically work on their competition things,” Yasui said.
Sparring has a lot of rules that are enforced so that no one gets hurt during competitions, such as not being able to hit someone else in the face. Vinson said if someone was assaulted, he or she would instead use the moves taught in the regular self-defense class.