The path to the top: Ivey brings world junior taekwondo championship home

Ashburn native Brandon Ivey excels in the sport of taekwondo, winning a world junior championship in March. The 17-year-old has an eye on the 2020 Olympic Games.--Courtesy Photo

2014 World Junior Taekwondo Champion

-Brandon Ivey

-Age: 17

-School: Briar Woods

-GPA: 4.2

-Sport: Taekwondo

-Level: 3rd degree black belt

-Goals: Win World Senior Championship; Earn Ivy League scholarship; Medal in 2020 Olympic Games

The young Jordanian aimed a kick directly at the midsection of his challenger, an even younger American. A split second before the strike could register against the sensor-laden chest protector, the American's hands flew up to block, squarely catching the oncoming foot.

The Jordanian's attempted blow briefly exposed his right side, an opening the American immediately, almost instinctively, took advantage of. With power and balance learned from a decade of practice, the American fired his left leg suddenly upward, whipping it a full quarter-circle before the other fighter could respond, landing his foot directly on the Jordanian's protected side.

The kick was solid, hard. Surely the electronic sensor would detect its force and put a number on the scoreboard correspondingly. The American drew back from his foe and issued a yell, his face contorting into an expression of exhausted exhilaration. He didn't look at the scoreboard to see if the point took. Instead, he looked skyward from his knees and raised his arms. He knew he had won.

By a 6-5 score, Brandon Ivey, a 17-year-old native of Ashburn, won the World Junior Taekwondo Championship March 21 in Taiwan, becoming the first American male in 16 years to do so.

His come-from-behind overtime victory over Hamza Kattan in the gold-medal match was his fifth bout that day. Previously he'd vanquished competitors from Spain, Russia, Azerbaijan and the Philippines, all in close contests.

"All these emotions just flooded into me. I'd been working so hard, going to my limits and beyond to get ready for this," said Ivey, who'd earned the title a month before his birthday.

He has since learned that his achievement merited a promotion from first-degree to third-degree black belt, an exceedingly rare two-level jump.

Ivey has studied the taekwondo art since he was 7, learning "the way of the fist and the foot" and its tenets of discipline and respect from Master Dennis Kim.

"He wants to win so bad, he's willing to go that extra mile to make it happen," said Kim, owner of the US Tigers school and a coach for USA Taekwondo, the sport's governing body in this country. "His desire to win is greater than anyone else I've ever trained."

Ivey has enjoyed other athletic outlets: basketball, soccer, baseball, roller hockey, a little karate as a little kid, a freshman year on the vaunted varsity football squad at Briar Woods. But his dedication, and his love, go to taekwondo.

"Obviously school comes first, but the passion of my life is taekwondo. I couldn't imagine myself without it," he said.

Finding his way

It was a fortuitous stop at a local filling station that changed Brandon Ivey's young life.

"My mom was pumping gas, so my sister and I just walked around this new shopping center and there was a taekwondo school there. We went in and fell in love with the place," Ivey remembered.

He'd always been a fan of kung fu films, so "we begged our parents to let us try it."

That was 10 years ago. Parents Angela and Randolph gave consent and support, and thus the curious kid with rolls of baby fat started learning the basics of an ancient Korean martial art.

His fascination grew as his body did. Attracted to the sport's rigid discipline and extraordinary feats of athleticism, at age 12 he began a weekly 19-hour training regimen, a schedule he has maintained since. By keeping at it, he's become very good.

"Taekwondo teaches that you can't just quit," Ivey said. "When school gets tough, you can't quit because you won't get the grades you want. When training gets tough, you can't quit because you won't get the results you want."

At age 14, Ivey earned a coveted spot on the United States' world junior team, an accomplishment made remarkable by his youth versus the preponderance of 17-year-olds. At age 16, he was invited to work out with the top American 18-and-over competitors.

"He isn't the most athletic kid I've ever had," said Kim of the trim, muscular 6-foot-2, 185-pound Ivey. "But he's probably the smartest. Of all people I've ever trained, he probably executes better the things I tell him."

Ivey's skill has taken him all over the United States, plus Germany, Mexico, China, Egypt, Turkey and Russia, among others. He was featured as a Face In The Crowd in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated. He's been interviewed by major media outlets in nations where taekwondo enjoys large popularity. He's currently angling to attract a scholarship from an Ivy League institution.

Meanwhile, Ivey and Kim have immediate plans in mind. The young man wants to defend his world junior crown next year, along with beginning his integration into the senior ranks. In July, he will compete for the National Junior Championship. A stint at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs is likely on the horizon too.

"We're really targeting 2020," said Kim, referring to the Olympic Games in Tokyo where just three American men will compete for taekwondo gold. "We need to start jockeying for that position right now."

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