They'll be demonstrating high-flying kicks and breaking boards with their fists, but for a group of Branford kids, national taekwondo success may come down to something less tangible.
A select group of top students from are heading to the National Junior Olympic Championships in Dallas this weekend (June 28 - July 5.) And led by Master Han, a Korean-born instructor with 25 years of experience, hopes are high for a showing that would rank them among the top competitors in the country.
Teams compete in three categories: form, sparring and board-breaking. And Master Han says he has complete faith in his team -- not just in these categories, but in their overall demeanor and mastery of their art.
"Taekwondo is a martial art," Han says. "So I'm looking for good skill, but more than that, I'm looking for their attitudes and their respect. Good attitude of students is what makes a big player, a national player. I check their spirit and mentality about respect, courtesy and determination. When I teach, they learn and they're going in the right direction."
Five students will be competing in Dallas: Ethan Piazza, 8; A.J. Robinson, 9; Sofia Campbell, 12; Caroline Fowler, 14; and Chris Altavilla, 14. The team qualified for the Junior Olympics after a great showing at the state level in March, winning the championship for form and performing well all-around.
Philip Piazza is the father of Ethan, the youngest member of the team. He spoke to Patch Wednesday night, already en route to Dallas. He's proud of the progress the team has made -- and excited about the trip.
"Ethan's just eight, and he's going to Dallas. I had to wait until i was 40!" he laughs. His son is a blue belt and took a bronze medal in form and board-breaking at State.
"The whole team functions really well together," Piazza says. "Caroline is the veteran of the group, and she and chris have been good teachers to the younger kids like Ethan. It's a great group of kids."
The group has trained together for years, according to Master Han. Students at World Champion Taekwondo normally train twice a week, but with these students, Han has raised the level of training to three hours a day, three times a week -- and for the past week, students have trained together every day.
Han is optimistic -- and ambitious.
"I have big goals," he says. "Our students have state championships. We will compete for a national championship. In the future, I have the goal of bringing the world championship."