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In 2009, USAT signed a four-year contract with LaJust America to make LaJust the official electronic body protector of USAT. LaJust is an approved WTF system that electronically scores points on kicks to the hogu.
“The LaJust EBP system has greatly improved the fairness in Tae Kwon Do scoring,” Askinas said. “The system is the same for both athletes in a match and much of the subjectivity has been removed from the scoring. This is a great advance for our sport and we look forward to a productive partnership with LaJust over the next four years as we work together for the betterment of Tae Kwon Do.”
Austin, Texas, was a great success for USAT in 2009 as a host city for the Junior Olympics and Senior National Championships. Orlando, Florida, always a great tourist spot, looks to build on last year’s momentum as the 2010 host. Cities in the front running to host 2011 and 2012 Junior Olympics and Senior National Championships are San Jose and Dallas.
“It is no surprise that the choice of the right host city goes a long way toward the success of the event,” said Askinas. “We have refined the science of host selection to the point where we know the tangibles we need from a venue to make an event a success. We also know that California and Texas are strong USAT membership states and they loyally support our events.”
USAT is more than an elite athlete organization. It offers many recreational competition opportunities for those TKD students who do not aspire to the Olympics but enjoy friendly and spirited competition. USAT events feature many divisions of poomsae, weapons, board breaking and entry-level sparring, and the organization is looking at ways to increase those areas so that everyone in the dojang that enjoys travel, meeting new friends and healthy competition can find a category or division that appeals to them.
Poomsae continues to be a growing area of emphasis for USAT, which recently announced the formalization of a national team structure for poomsae. Jimmy Kim, 1988 Olympic gold medalist in sparring, has been appointed the first head coach in the new poomsae program. Capable administrators like Leslie Machado and Aline Salzburg will help work with Master Kim and USAT staff to enhance not only national team programs for poomsae but also overall competition and training opportunities for all poomsae practitioners.
“We believe this is a high growth area,” said Askinas. “We know that while we have no trouble attracting the elite-level fighters, we need to reach out to all Tae Kwon Do practitioners so they see the value of being a USAT member.”
While success on the mats and in the event operations area have been on the upswing for USAT, membership growth has been a challenge for the organization.
“We definitely want to be the first stop shop for all of Tae Kwon Do in the USA, but there have been significant obstacles and challenges facing us,” commented Askinas. “One of the major challenges is the fragmentation of the Tae Kwon Do market in this country. Not only are there competing disciplines such as International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) and American Taekwondo Association (ATA) schools that currently are not interested in WTF and Olympic-style Tae Kwon Do, but there are also multiple factions of Tae Kwon Do within our WTF discipline. Our goal is to provide a connection to the Olympic dream to all of their students. Whether a Tae Kwon Do student aspires to the Olympics or not, it would be great for them to share that connection to the Olympics so they can feel part of a bigger movement than just their local school. We want to unite as best we can all of the disparate factions of Tae Kwon Do under one banner because it is the right thing to do for Tae Kwon Do.”
Askinas is constantly reaching out to other TKD organizations in an attempt to build bridges between USAT and others. “I regularly communicate and meet with Tae Kwon Do leaders in our country to discuss ways we can work together,” he said. “We want ITF and ATA members to have access to the Olympic dream. It is no secret that the WTF and ITF are in discussions trying to find ways to offer ITF athletes the chance to compete in the Olympics. There are obvious political concerns between North and South Korea that make this difficult but USA Taekwondo will try to create a similar dialogue in this country to open those doors.”
The downturn in the economy hurt both the martial arts industry and USAT. A number of USAT’s smaller schools went out of business during this time. Membership numbers were disappointing in 2009 as people really felt the crunch. But the organization is happy to report an upsurge in membership in 2010 largely due to expansion of the state tournament system and the growing popularity of this grass roots initiative.
More time and resources need to be devoted to bringing some of the former USAT members back and attracting new clubs and organizations into the fold. To address that aspect, USAT Board Chair Kevin Padilla has appointed a blue ribbon task force to explore USAT’s organizational structure with relationship to membership development.