Kristal Maung taekwondo champion


Kendra Erickson

On a Thursday afternoon in summer, Soph. Kristal Maung and her opponent both bow before they walk onto the mat inside Chan’s Martial Arts. The two black belts shake hands before their match. Families of students sit on the chairs facing the mat near the entrance of the building. A group of students in red uniforms stand off to the side of the mat near the wall. Maung takes her fighting stance, and her opponent makes the first move. Maung dodges a kick to the head, and her opponent’s foot slices through the air. Maung delivers a roundhouse kick that hits her opponent’s side. Her opponent counters with a back kick that hits Maung in the torso. She stumbles back, but takes a forward stance and smacks her opponent in the head with a spinning hook kick. Maung completes a series of punches, and her opponent stumbles back defeated. After sparring for one minute, the timer buzzes. Maung wins the sparring match.


  Maung belongs to Chan’s Martial Arts, a martial arts studio located in Holland; two times a week she goes to 45 minute classes. On a Monday or Tuesday, students go to class to learn and practice specific taekwondo forms. On a Wednesday or Thursday, students work on a special skill, such as weapons, self-defense, or sparring.


  Every year, students have the opportunity to compete in a taekwondo tournament. Maung has entered in the tournament for the past three years; at the last two tournaments, Maung has placed first in open form. To compete in open form, participants must use their skills to create and execute their own form containing punches and kicks they have learned. The judges choose the form that was the most challenging, yet the best executed. “I used a lot of new and complicated forms. I had to practice my form a lot,” Maung said.


  Maung loves competing in tournaments to show off the skills she has learned. At the last tournament, Maung faced tougher competition than the year before. She took a deep breath and completed her form to the best of her ability. Anxiously, Maung waited for the results to be announced. When she heard that she placed first, Maung felt relieved and proud. “I achieved something I didn’t think I could,” Maung said.


  Maung found her love for taekwondo after watching Kickin’It on Disney XD. Her cousin, Kai Saenebouttarath, knew of a martial arts studio, so they decided to try taekwondo together. Maung continues with taekwondo because it is interesting to learn. Participating in Taekwondo has given Maung an opportunity to meet a lot of people; Maung has made more than 30 friends, and she considers some of them her closest friends. “My best friend does taekwondo with me. I also met two friends that I hang out with often through taekwondo,” Maung said. She gets to meet people from other schools that she wouldn’t have known without taekwondo.


  Maung has been training in taekwondo for around five years; in November of last year, Maung earned her first degree black belt. In order to earn the black belt, Maung had to complete a four month training camp. She had to go to regular class, demo team practice, and camp. The camp consisted of more intense workouts and new forms. Maung was extremely busy during camp. “It was a lot of hard work, but it was absolutely worth it,” Maung said. At the end of camp, Maung had to take the exam to earn her black belt. Then, the new black belts had a ceremony where they received their belts. Maung is currently working towards getting her second degree black belt. She hopes to get accepted into the next level camp and earn her belt by this time next year.


  On the fourth of July, the Chan’s Martial Arts Demonstration Team performed in Kollen Park. Maung had the opportunity to break three bricks. She says breaking bricks is thrilling and makes her feel powerful. She had been looking forward to that performance for a long time. A crowd of people waiting for the fireworks watched the demo team while waiting. Maung’s friends and family were cheering for her. Standing on the stage in front of them all, she lifted her hand and hit the bricks with power. The crowd cheered. A big smile formed on Maung’s face. She successfully broke all three bricks at once. “You feel unstoppable. I was so proud. I felt that I could do anything I set my mind to as long as I believed in myself,” Maung said.


  Taekwondo has benefitted Maung. Since taekwondo isn’t seasonal, unlike other sports, it helps keep Maung in shape all year long. Taekwondo has made Maung unique and more confident. She used to be very quiet and shy. After joining taekwondo, Maung has become more outgoing and social. Taekwondo has formed her personality and helped her figure out her identity. Maung feels more respected and safe. People are always impressed when she tells them she has a black belt. Sparring has helped as a stress reliever for Maung. She has a healthy way to take out her anger. She has gained useful skills that she can use in real life situations.


  Taekwondo has become a huge part of Maung’s life. It formed her into the person that she is today.