Marissa Cruse walked by a tae kwon do class as someone was breaking a board.
“I had my mom sign me up to do it,” said the soft-spoken 14-year-old first-degree black belt who takes classes at Downtown Belleville YMCA. “It was the summer before sixth grade.”
She took to the Korean martial art in a big way. She liked its emphasis on fast kicking techniques, its head-height kicks, its jumping and spinning kicks — and breaking the boards.
“I was a little surprised because she’s so much more reserved than I am,” said her mom, Zina Cruse. “I was very excited about her competing. The last time, I cried a litttle bit because I was so proud.”
Zina is impressed by the rigorous fitness routine involved, but won’t be following in her daughter’s high-kicking footsteps.
“I decided to sit back and be her cheerleader.”
She has a lot to cheer about.
Recently, Marissa and fellow tae kwon do students Julia Wilcox, 12, and Bryce Maly, 9, competed at the USA Tae Kwon Do Missouri State Championship, a national qualifier for the next level, the U.S. National Championship, in Richmond, Va., July 4 to 10.
“This is a very big deal to tae kwon do practitioners,” said Tracey Ward, of Belleville, a 4th-degree Master instructor who teaches the YOSI Taekwondo Tigers their moves along with her husband, Dave. “Those who qualify to compete at the National Championship are competing to qualify for U.S. Team trials. ... I offer the opportunity to all students to compete. Marissa, Bryce and Julia stepped forward.”
Tracey works with them twice a week, sometimes three, if they take individual lessons.
“They have trained very hard to get up to the level they are today,” she said. “Throughout their progress, they have competed at various school tournaments, building their confidence, knowledge and performance to a higher level each time.”
Before class on a recent Tuesday, we asked them a few questions.
Marissa Cruse, 14, of Belleville
▪ Family: parents Mark and Zina and siblings Christopher, 17, and Stephen, 16 (“They make jokes and stuff,” Marissa said of her brothers, “but for the most part, I think they are pretty proud of me.”)
▪ School: freshman at Belleville West whose favorite subject is English
It’s kind of intimidating, but not as bad as it looks. Sometimes, I have to try a couple times.
Marissa Cruse on breaking boards
Q: What do you like about tae kwon do?
A: “I like getting the exercise. I am in the adult class for anyone over 13. I think it’s a good way to learn new things and put yourself out there. When I compete, I do forms (a pattern of self-defense movements. There is a different pattern of forms for every belt level which is required to advance in rank.) Some people spar.” Students wear protective gear for full-contact sparring.
Q: How do you know you are good?
A: “People tell me and I practice a lot. Everybody thought I was going to quit at first. I didn’t.”
Q: What makes you good?
A: “Practice. You have to practice at home and practice here. It’s about ... being able to execute when you perform it.”
Q: Other interests?
A: “In school, I do band and theater. I’ve played the clarinet since I was in fourth grade. I’m better at tae kwon do.”
Q: Your goal?
A: “To be part of the USA team, things like that, competing internationally.”
Q: Have you learned to break a piece of wood?
A: “Yes. It’s kind of intimidating, but not as bad as it looks. Sometimes, I have to try a couple times.”
Q: Does it hurt?
A: “Not if you do it right.”
Julia Wilcox, 12, of Swansea
Jack and Lucy Wilcox like the assertiveness and confidence tae kwon do gives their daughter, Julia.
“We look at it as life lesson where you are learning the discipline of how to defend yourself,” said Jack. “We really like that aspect. As you can see, it requires discipine ... (The teachers) give us a hard time. ‘Parents, get up here.’ It’s very tempting, but we will leave it to the experts.”
▪ Sibling: Younger sister, Maya, who also is learning tae kwon do
▪ School: sixth-grader at Wolf Branch Middle School
Q: How she got into it.
A: “My mom comes to the Y a lot to work out, and I saw people doing it and was interested. I started two years ago.”
Q: What do you like about tae kwon do?
A: “I like how we get to learn to have more self-esteem and I like knowing how to defend myself. When we move up belts, we test in front of parents and friends and do forms and kicks and break boards. We have to practice boards that are different colors.”
Q: What was it like the first time you tried?
A: “It was hard. You have to be strong enough to break it, but have to persevere. Sometimes, you don’t break it on the first try. ... You want to think you have a person in front of you like you are blocking their punch.”
It’s hard. It’s not just self-defense. It’s a workout. I practice for about 5 minutes a day and have classes three times a week if we come to Saturday classes.
Julia Wilcox on tae kwon do
Q: Is tae kwon do easy or hard to do?
A: “It’s hard. It’s not just self-defense. It’s a workout. I practice for about 5 minutes a day and have classes three times a week if we come to Saturday classes.”
Q: Favorite part?
A: “I like forms because I am not good at sparring. You wear a chest protector, arm guards, a helmet. You earn different points, depending on where you kick. The head is three points and the chest is one. And the different kicks you do. a spin kick or a jump kick. I don’t really like it that much, but it helps with stamina. It teaches you to keep going even though you are tired.”
Q: Do you ever not look forward to practicing?
A: “If I am tired, yes, or if I have a lot of homework. Sometimes, I have to get up early and do it.”
Q: Other interests?
A: “I really like reading. ‘The Testing’ (by Joelle Charbonneau) is a really good book. It’s kind of like ‘The Hunger Games.’ I play the clarinet in band and I am on the math team at school.”
Q: Favorite food:
A: “Spaghetti and salad.”
Bryce Maly, 9, of Swansea
Brian and Amy Maly were looking for an activity for their youngest son Bryce when Bryce peeked into a tae kwon do class.
“The kids looked like they were having a good time,” said Bryce. “I watched through the window. I thought, ‘I would like to do this.’”
“We wanted to get him into something,” said Brian. “He was not big into sports. We wanted him to do something other than sitting in front of TV watching video games. He’s really come along the last six to eight months. The first year, he was learning the discipline. That took some time. He has personalized instruction once a week. That definitely helps. The most I knew about it before was watching Bruce Lee on TV.”
▪ Family: parents Amy and Brian and five older siblings
▪ School: third-grader at Wolf Branch Elementary School
I just didn’t want to sit around doing nothing all day. I didn’t want to get fat. One day (about two years ago), we came here ... and had one girl showing us around. I decided it was what I wanted to do, that it was something I would be good at.
Bryce Maly on why he got into tae kwon do
Q: How did you get interested?
A: “I just didn’t want to sit around doing nothing all day. I didn’t want to get fat. One day (about two years ago), we came here ... and had one girl showing us around. I decided it was what I wanted to do, that it was something I would be good at.”
Q: What do you like most about it?
A: “I like sparring, getting to kick each other. You have gear on so you don’t get hurt, at least not that bad.”
Q: Ever been hurt?
A: “I have been hit in the head and knee really hard. You just have to go on with it.”
Q: Do you have a best move?
A: “Probably the roundhouse. It’s a kick where you turn you body around, have your foot on the side and kick out.”
Q: How did you get good at that one?
A: “Practice. And I have instructors who are good at teaching me.”
Q: Do you look forward to competing at the next level?
A: “I think it’s an absolute honor. Tracey and Mr. Dave (Ward, Tracey’s husband) picked me to go and compete in the state championship and go on to nationals.”
Q: Favorite subject?
Q: Favorite food?
Q: Other interest?
At a glance
Here’s what you need to know about the tae kwon do fundraiser
- When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 11
- What: Bake sale, raffle and kick-a-thon and other martial art activities to raise money for the trip to nationals. “Come out and break a board.”
- Where: Downtown Belleville YMCA, 200 S. Illinois St.
- Information: Contact the Y at 233-1243