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Martial Arts academy continues sparring success

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By Sam Draut

Wherever Kentucky Tae Kwon Do Fitness Academy goes for the U.S. National Championship, it brings back medals.

The martial arts academy, which has been in business in Crestwood for 20 years, led by Master Sean Ramey, brought back six medals at the U.S. National Championship, the largest martial arts tournament in the world. Hosted in Salt Lake City from July 2 to 9 with over 4,000 competitors, nine members of the academy traveled to the national meet after qualifying at state competitions. Seven of the nine were ranked in the top-5 of their sparring divisions.

Dana DeYoung won her fourth straight national championship in sparring in the 41 to 50 year old age group. Jackson Turner, Dylan Prijatelj and Logan Osisek all won silver medals in sparring in their respective weight classes in the 12 to 14 year old age group. Wyatt Prijatelj and Norah Redmon won bronze medals in sparring.

DeYoung, an assistant instructor at the academy and a black belt, fought through three rounds to win another gold medal. Ramey said DeYoung was in phenomenal shape, allowing her to handle the strenuous physical elements of the match. The combination of physical conditioning and experience allowed DeYoung to win again.

“She [DeYoung] is our MVP, not only is it amazing for her to get her fourth straight national championship gold medal, but also, to win it in an age where most people think it’s time to retire,” Ramey said.

For the academy’s younger competitors, experience from last year helped performances this year. Most events in the Midwest usually have four competition rings, whereas the national competition has 20.

A year after competing at the national level for the first time, Turner won a silver medal.

“He fought well, experience helps,” Ramey said.

Like Turner, Osisek competed at the national championship for the first time last year. He earned a silver medal.

Redmon was a newcomer to the national scene in 2017, winning a silver medal in the blue belt division. She won a bronze medal in the black belt division this year, losing to the eventual gold medalist.

Brothers Dylan and Wyatt Prijatelj fought against each other in the semi-finals of the lightweight black belt division.

Camden Chee, the academy’s only competitor fighting for the first time at the national championship, fought in the blue belt division. Competing in the 8 to 9 year old blue belt heavy weight division, Chee became a fan favorite, Ramey said.

Early in the match, Chee was kicked in the neck by an illegal technic, but continued to fight. He took a one-point lead late in the match, but ended up losing by two points.

“He was the shortest competitor in the division, and he ended up fighting the tallest in the division,” Ramey said. “People came up to him telling him how inspiring he was to watch, there was no quit, even though he was the smallest. Even though it was a loss, I consider it to be one of his best wins.”

As the only full-time Tae Kwon Do academy in the state of Kentucky, Ramey’s Do Jang specializes in sparring. He competed in sparring during his career and believes its best for instructors to teach what they do well.

With medals in the U.S. Open and U.S. National Championship during his career, Ramey can relate to the athletes competing in the ring. He understands the challenges, anxiety and mental anguish that his students face. Ramey also credited the academy’s continued success to the training partners that compete in class.

Sparring is included in the Olympics, unlike forms and breaking boards.

“We like to consider this a stepping stone for the Olympic games, you cannot get to the Olympics without winning a national competition,” Ramey said.

The academy isn’t just about winning medals.

Ramey emphasizes mental strength that pairs with physical strength.

“We practice the six tenants of Tae Kwon Do all the time. It is courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit,” Ramey said. “And then, when you have all five of those, when you start to practice and understand them, that’s the only way you can achieve victory, the last tenant. Victory is not just winning over an opponent, it is winning over yourself.”

The six tenants translate to the classroom, other sports and the work world for the academy’s students.

“That’s the important thing about martial arts, are you a better person leaving the Do Jang? That’s what you should be,” Ramey said. “We hope our students are champions in the ring, but that’s not our first concern, it’s about creating champions in life.”