Just before the 2016 Olympic games began in Rio, Ryan Wong returned from competing in the 2016 Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Taekwondo Nationals in Fort Lauderdale. The 11-year-old, who graduated from Lakeville Elementary in June, won gold in his division, which earned him a spot on the 2017 AAU 10–11 Youth National Team.
“As part of being on the national team, Ryan will be training with some of the top student athletes in the country,” said his father, Allen Wong. “Ryan will have an opportunity to represent our country—and Great Neck—at an international competition next spring. Ryan will be traveling to Hamburg, Germany, to compete in the 2017 German Open.”
Wong, who will be attending Great Neck South Middle School this September, is ranked No. 1 in the United States in the 10 to 11 age division of the AAU. Reaching this milestone has required discipline and determination.
“Ryan started taking Taekwondo lessons at age 5 and has been competing since the age of 7,” said his father. “During competition season, you will find him training at the dojang [formal training hall] three to four times a week.”
With so many activities to chose from, how did Wong become interested in Taekwondo at such a young age?
“I started Taekwondo with my friends when I was 5 years old,” said Wong. “A year later many of my friends had stopped, but I continued because I enjoy learning new sparring and weapons techniques. I especially love competing in tournaments. I’m currently working on my second-degree black belt.”
Taekwondo, the Korean art of unarmed self-defense characterized by the extensive use of kicks, was developed during the 1940s and ’50s by various martial artists by incorporating elements of Karate and Chinese martial arts with indigenous Korean martial arts traditions, such as Taekkyeon, Subak and Gwonbeop.
“Our parents wanted us to learn Taekwondo for self-discipline and self-defense,” said Wong. “It’s different from the other forms of martial arts because there is a lot kicking.”
The discipline of any sport can translate to other life lessons and skills. “Taekwondo has taught me that you have to work hard to achieve your goals,” said Wong. “As an athlete, you need to be healthy and take care of your body.”
At 11, Wong has already accomplished so much, but he’s seeing beyond Germany next spring. “My hopes for the future are to do well in school and become an Olympic champion in the sport of Taekwondo,” said Wong. “I hope to continue Taekwondo for as long as possible. Since training competitively takes a lot of time and commitment, I will need to balance Taekwondo with my school work and other activities.”