Karate, judo, pankration. Martial arts have been a part of the Olympic games for centuries. Crowds cheer as athletes climb to the top of championships, gold medals and trophies shining among the stars.
One art, in particular, has been around since the 1950s. Taekwondo was developed by Korean martial artists and was officially founded in 1972. The International Olympic Committee made taekwondo an official Olympic sport in 1994, and it was introduced for the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia in 2000.
It is a form of art that translates to “kicking”, “punching”, and “the way”. And one man in North Central Florida has mastered martial art since he was 5 years old: Master Angelito Ong of Ocala.
According to the World Taekwondo Federation, taekwondo is a traditional Korean martial art that not only enhances an individual’s physical fighting skills but also builds discipline, and trains spirit and mind to be united.
Ong, 52, was born and raised in the Philippines, encouraged by his father and uncle to be trained in taekwondo.
“I was very interested in martial arts,” Ong said. “Despite it having many challenges.”
Growing up, Ong watched plenty of martial art movies. Over the years, he has trained in judo, karate, arnis, and taekwondo. Going to training camps has helped him practice these martial art skills, and learned from various masters in the sport.
“Martial art is not an ordinary sport,” Ong said. “You not only have to prepare the physical body but mentality; you have to prepare it.”
Master Ong would always tell his students both in the Philippines and in the United States that, while it is fun to learn taekwondo and become a champion, winning is not the end goal. The real goal is to understand self-control, discipline and respect. Of course, students must not be too hard on themselves. There is always room for some fun.
But with Angelito Ong, he challenged himself to become a great master of taekwondo and other martial arts. Yes, there were, and still are, difficult days of practice and perfecting the art, but Ong never gave up.
“If I wanted to get something,” Ong said, “I have to accomplish it!”
And so that spark of passion became a flaming dream that turned into reality. In 1996, Master Ong was competing with the Filipino team in the United States. Seeing that there was a great opportunity to expand his instruction and training, he immigrated to the United States in 2008.
But before the official move, he and his brothers, Master Tony and Master Angel Jr., established a family-owned business with multiple studios in Chicago, in the early 2000s, and soon after the Florida studio in 2006.
Staying in a colder state like Illinois with Master Tony wasn’t his cup of tea. So Ong said he decided to move to the East Coast to expand the family business, which could become an opportunity to compete and train in martial arts.
The decision to teach in Florida proved to be worth it. Students can enroll from the age of 3 to adulthood. There are currently over 100 students enrolled in the program from a variety of backgrounds who all are passionate about taekwondo.
This was the beginning of Ong’s Taekwondo Academy in Ocala.
The academy has a variety of classes at every level. But before students can be accepted in the studio, they have to go to a trial class.
Ong, as well as other masters and assistants, analyze each student to assess their level and see if they are capable of taking taekwondo. Students need to be both physically and mentally prepared to commit to the martial art. They also must understand how to be both disciplined and have little fun.
“The good thing about our martial art school is we set a good example,” Ong said. “The parents can see if the kids are in the right school. We’re the role models”
Ong’s Taekwondo Academy emphasizes the importance of discipline. But it’s not the typical strict “Do this and keep your head down” rule.
Ronnie Lee, a parent whose two children take classes at Ong’s Taekwondo, said her students grow into their culture and become more connected to their Korean side when taking the sport.
“It’s teaching them self-confidence,” Lee said. “It’s the reason why I picked this martial art.”
And from day one, Liam and Emma Martin fell in love with Taekwondo. Halfway toward the journey of earning a black belt, these two purple belts have kicked and punched their way into success — even earning gold medals.
“It’s just really fun for me to learn new things in taekwondo,” Liam, 11, said.
“I love poomsae.” Emma, 9, said. “It’s basically martial art’s version of dance.”
Poomsae is a technique that shows a participant’s multiple attack forms, whereas sparring, a favorite among students, is more contact fighting with protective gear.
Madeline Rivette, 16, had her mother put her into taekwondo when she was 4 to 5 years old. Since then, it has been an art she has enjoyed over the years. She recalls the competitions she participated in, and how she grew to learn from her peers and masters. Even competing against a pair of twins in a sparring match, she still enjoyed herself.
“I didn’t win any medals,” Rivette said, recalling a more recent competition. “But I have met a lot of great people, and I saw how my score had improved in poomsae. It was a great experience.”
Carson Oliver, 7, has been doing taekwondo for three years, but has already shown skillful techniques and form as well as won medals.
“I wanted to learn about the martial art,” Oliver said, “and also protect family and friends.”
Master Ong said he has to consider the students’ future. Every student has special skills that serve either the traditional martial art or the Olympic style. Instructors have to learn the newer techniques of taekwondo to get their students ready for the Olympic sport or more modernized championships. Sending a student without proper preparation sets them up for failure.
“All taekwondo techniques are difficult,” Master Ong said. “If you don’t practice, you are back to zero again.”
Ong reminds his students to keep moving forward, whether they are competing or training in taekwondo. That is why he pushes them to have the mental and physical skills to shine in the ring.
Last month, Angelito Ong joined other masters and taekwondo students in Jacksonville, where they competed at the U.S. Taekwondo National Championships. Children and adults both competed either in sparring, poomsae and board breaking to earn the title of champion.
Ong participated in his poomsae demonstrations, and while it took some time to finish, the results were pretty good in his eyes.
For his poomsae wins that Friday, Master Ong won third place in “Individual under 60” and got gold in “Pairs over 50 alongside Eleanor Thompson. Although he and Thompson lost in “Pairs over 30”, they still walked out with pride.
The rest of the day resulted in board kicking, performances by professional martial artists and more. In the end, Master Ong was glad to have the support of his family and continues to travel to both America and Asia for martial art training, to instruct others, and of course to compete.
“The good thing in martial arts is we teach our students perseverance,” Ong said. “When you start, you finish. Don’t quit, don’t give up!”