By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
Steiner Ranch resident and recent Vandegrift High School graduate Antonio Cordova was awarded the $3,500 Grand Master William Clark scholarship in July, one of ten American Taekwondo National Scholarships awarded every year.
The ceremony took place as part of the Taekwondo World Expo hosted annually by the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) in Little Rock, Ark., the organization’s home. Scholarships are made possible by the H.U. Lee Foundation. Lee, now deceased, founded the ATA.
Applying for the scholarship involved a vigorous application process. Criteria include exemplary academics, including GPA and SAT/ACT scores, letters of recommendation from teachers and instructors, and several essays about the values of taekwondo.
Cordova, a third degree taekwondo black belt, has been a member of the ATA for ten years. As a kid, he tried every sport.
“And taekwondo is the one that stuck. I just really liked the individuality of the sport. It’s a lot of self-focused training… there was a lot of discipline and respect that came from that,” he said.
Cordova credits martial arts for helping him to become the person he is today.
“The biggest thing for me has always been the leadership program,” which teaches critical thinking, social skills and leadership. “I feel like a lot of the qualities of respect and discipline and self-control and confidence, that all came from learning martial arts,” he said.
Cordova currently trains with taekwondo Master CJ Barrett in Cedar Park and also works at her studio as an instructor, summer camp leader and tournament judge for competitions around Texas.
Luckily, because ATA studios work as an international network, Cordova’s training can continue seamlessly when he attends Texas A&M University in the fall to study biomedical engineering. Besides joining the school’s taekwondo team, he will also be able to train with an instructor he used to work with here in Austin.
This tight-knit network is part of what Cordova enjoys most about taekwondo.
“I love the community… There’s people that we only see once, maybe two, three times a year tops… and you just hit it off the moment you see them again… everybody’s just so friendly in the organization,” he said.
There are nine different color belts that must be earned before becoming a black belt, which Cordova completed within his first two years in the sport. “I like to learn. I just soaked it all up,” he said.
He held his first degree black belt for two years before testing to advance, then his second degree for three, achieving his third degree belt in 2012. Already qualified to test for his fourth, he is no longer in a hurry to advance through the nine degrees.
“I’m looking forward in the next couple of years to go back and get my fourth degree and see where that takes me,” he said.
Cordova emphasizes, too, that, “It’s not a violent sport. It’s not very aggressive. It’s more about learning for the technical knowledge in case you ever are in the situation, god forbid, that you need to use it.” He’s thankful that he’s never had to.
That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy the fighting aspect of martial arts, he grins when describing the feeling that, “you get to be the action star for a little bit,” during the sparring portion of competitions.
Taekwondo has become a family affair for Cordova. His dad, Emilio, got involved in the sport three years ago, though he hid it from his son for the first couple of months. Cordova was surprised when he was assigned a student to test for his orange belt who turned out to be Emilio. “It’s awesome to have him with me. He’s trying to play catch up now!”
Despite dad’s involvement, Cordova hasn’t been able to get his mom or sister involved — yet. “I got one out of three. Eventually maybe my sister, we’ll see… my mom might. It’ll take some prodding.”
Without his parents, Cordova knows he would never have been able to participate to the extent he has. “My mom and my dad were so supportive,” about taekwondo from the beginning, he said. When they first moved to Texas, Cordova’s parents had to drive him to Pflugerville for his training two to three times a week.
“My mom and my dad hauled me every single time. And I don’t think they even complained about it once,” he said. He’s also thankful for all the instructors who have pushed him to grow and improve year after year.
The effort has all been worth it for his dad and mom, Ileana. “We are very proud of Antonio’s accomplishment,” said Emilio Cordova. “His dedication to his academics and taekwondo has given him the necessary tools to succeed as he enters his college years.”
Whatever happens next in life, the younger Cordova’s love of taekwondo will continue to inspire and guide him. “It’s a lot of different challenges that you have to go through, but everything is really interesting and rewarding for me,” he explained with characteristic enthusiasm. “I’ve always enjoyed it. I’m always learning new things. Your cup is never full.”