Just for kicks: students participate in taekwondo


Photo courtesy of Micki Davis.

Junior Micki Davis kicks a piece of wood in half during her Taekwondo workout. Davis is a first degree black belt and has been doing Taekwondo since the fourth grade.

By Bennett Solomon

When senior Davis Gestiehr was five years old, he was obsessed with Power Rangers. As one of the shortest kids in school, Gestiehr said he wanted to replicate the leadership and self-defense of his favorite Ranger. So when he heard about Taekwondo––a sport that combines kicking and punching–– he jumped at the opportunity. Practicing up to six times a week at Bethesda’s Coles Martial Arts, he earned his first black belt when he was nine. He competed in national tournaments and won the United States Taekwondo National Championship in sparring for his weight class when he was only ten years old.

Though Gestiehr doesn’t compete anymore, he teaches students as a fourth degree black belt at Coles Martial Arts.

Taekwondo is an art involving punching, jumping kicks, blocks, dodges, and parrying actions with hands and feet. The sport is a martial art, like karate or jiu-jitsu, but its artistic merit goes beyond learning self-defense, Gestiehr said.

“It is a lot like dance when it comes to technique and flexibility,” Gestiehr said. “The forms are performed like an art form more than an actual fight.”

Inside the studio, Taekwondo fosters internal competition because martial arts students are constantly trying to earn the next belt. But students also compete in competitive events against each other, like the Junior Olympics held every four years.

Coles Martial Arts founder Michael Coles has been teaching since 1972. Coles said Taekwondo is different than other sports because it’s more individually goal-oriented.

“Taekwondo is more personal. You don’t have to be on a team,” Coles said. “You only rely on yourself and you’re constantly setting new goals trying to reach the next belt or master a move.”

The Coles Martial Arts studio offers several different styles of Taekwondo, including a musical form that’s one of the studio’s most popular. Sophomore Nancy Davis, who also belongs to Coles, said she enjoys performing techniques to classical or Grenadan music and the Exodus soundtrack.

“Not only do you have to memorize and perform every single move, but you have to time it to the music,” Nancy said. “When you time it perfectly it looks really cool.”

Many students choose to do Taekwondo to learn self-defense, which improves students’ confidence outside the studio, Coles said. At the same time, confidence is balanced with a sense of control.

“Some people feel they become a little too confident or start a fight,” Coles said.  “They don’t, though, because they also teach the importance of humility. The more powerful you are, the more humble you need to be.”