The kids from the Cayman Islands Taekwondo Academy are taking their skills to another level.

A group of eight students competed in an international tournament in Honduras in late April and came home with new skills and accomplishments and a training bag full of medals.

Ronald Simpson, the senior instructor at the academy, said he is thrilled with the way the kids are learning their skills.

“It’s been excellent,” said Simpson. “The first two years was a little bit of a struggle because we didn’t have that many students. But the last few months, we’ve been progressing a lot.

“I had to move our training location to a bigger space. I’m quite impressed with what’s happening, and hopefully this exposure to international competition will entice other parents to send their kids. Taekwondo is great because it gives the kids discipline, self-control and perseverance.”

Simpson said he has kids ranging in age from 5 to 11, and he has also been instructing some local adults in the martial art. Taekwondo has been an official medal sport at the Summer Olympics since 2000, which means that the youngsters could have a chance to someday represent their country.

They got a head start on that ambition in the last weekend in April, when they traveled to La Ceiba, Honduras, to compete in the Il Copa Elite WTF tournament. David Henriquez Moran served as their coach to prepare them for the tournament, and he said he is really thrilled with their growth and maturation.

“I thought they were going to be afraid because they don’t know about external pressure,” he said. “Being there with everybody looking at you is a very different kind of pressure than training in front of your friends. We started training in the right process and they started grabbing it very quick.”

Henriquez Moran employs a training technique called ATR, which is short for Accumulation, Transformation, Realization. He hoped to teach them a lot of skills in a short amount of time, and then he wanted to introduce them to competition so they could see how much they’ve grown.

The kids trained for form and for sparring, and then they showed their skills in front of more than 100 people at Mega Plaza Mall in La Ceiba. All eight kids brought home medals, and the team took five golds in forms and two in sparring. For Henriquez Moran, it was a thrill to watch them progress.

“The most amazing thing in this sport is you’re really challenged,” he said. “You have to compete with your fears. It’s very difficult. You’re afraid to get hit. You get frustrated. There are so many external and internal factors that affect you during competition. Plus there’s the psychological factor that you might get properly hit in the face. But they all competed at an excellent level. There was no difference, even though they only trained for a month and a half, between them and the other kids.” The kids are now training for their next international competition in Costa Rica in September, and Simpson said that he hopes to get more local teenagers involved in taekwondo.

“My young ones won’t be old enough to participate in the next Olympics They’ll probably be ready for 2024,” he said. “But if I can get the attention of the high school students, we can have them prepared.”

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