Those who venture upstairs at the Methow Valley Community Center cannot help but notice the robust Taekwon Do presence in the building. It’s hard to miss a bunch of people dressed in belted white robes and loose white pants — the uniform known as “gi.” The members of Pasayten Taekwon Do, run by 4th-degree black belt Jody Love, who took over the Methow Valley Taekwon Do “dojo” (space) from Colin Fonda, are as young as 7 years old, and as old as — well, as old as a fair bit older than that. And one of these members, 17-year-old Cymone Van Marter, recently earned her first black belt.
Cymone started Taekwon Do — the systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial art form that enhances spirit and life through mind and body training — when she was 11. “I was in fifth grade,” she says, “and I had just given up horseback riding. I was looking around for another sport. A friend was doing Taekwon Do and my parents suggested I go watch him. So I did and it was fun, and I’ve been going ever since.”
That six-year practice led Cymone through nine levels and colors of belts up until this point, with her earning her tenth belt — the first black one — last week at Pasayten Taekwondo’s partner school in Edmonds. (Because Jody Love is a 4th-degree black belt, she can test all levels up to black belt. To earn black belts, Jody’s students must test with an even more advanced instructor.)
Cymone is certainly proud of earning her black belt, but even more rewarding is the practice of Taekwon Do itself, the name of which describes the form: Tae (jump or smash with the foot), Kwon (fight with the hand), Do (art or discipline). “I really like the fluidity,” Cymone says of the hand-foot art of fighting. “It makes you feel so powerful when you’re in your gi, and it’s really good exercise.” And the relationships Cymone has made through her dojo feel lifelong. “With adults and kids from all over our community in the dojo,” she says, “you get to know so many different people. I will never forget all these awesome new connections.”
When Cymone tested at Bailey’s Traditional Taekwon Do College last week, she had a single objective: to earn the black belt she had missed by a whisper three months prior. “It was my second test,” Cymone says. During Cymone’s first test last fall, she performed the nine required patterns and the one-on-one and one-on-three sparring admirably, but failed both chances to break four boards at once with her foot. They sent her away to train more and try again. “You have to wait three months between tests,” Cymone says, “so I used that time to train hard on everything I had been critiqued on, and I got to the point where I was breaking boards regularly.”
During the second test, Cymone says she was very nervous. Once again she passed the patterns and the sparring components, and then it was time for the board breaking. “I always do the foot first,” she says, “because breaking four boards with your foot is harder than breaking two boards with your hand.” On her first chance, Cymone didn’t break the board. Neither did she on her second try. “I was so disappointed,” she says, “but I did break the two boards with my hand after that.”
When Cymone’s test concluded, she noticed Jody talking to the testing instructor. “They talked for a long time,” she says, “and then Jody came over and set up the boards again. I couldn’t figure out what was happening.” Because Cymone had done so well on all other aspects of the test, and because she had shown so much focus and improvement in the three months between the two black belt tests, the testers had made the uncommon decision to let her try one more time. “The instructor came over and showed me the exact form to use, which emphasized using my hip,” she says. “And then he said to me, ‘Break these boards and make everybody happy.’” Cymone says she took several deep breaths and then stepped in and broke the boards. “Everybody started crying,” she says, “including me.”
Along with the others who successfully tested into the 1st-degree black belt level that day, Cymone stood in a line with her new black belt tied around her waist and recited the Taekwon Do oath, which pledges respect for one’s community, a commitment to help one’s community, and a promise to use Taekwon Do only in self-defense.
If you’re interested in practicing Taekwon Do, Cymone advises “Definitely go for it. It’s an experience you may never have again, with people you won’t forget. Go out and be a badass.”