Friday, November 13, 2009

Kick harder

Interesting stories fall into your lap all the time as a journalist. This guy walked into the office one day to tell us he had won the state championship, but then there was this whole other story behind it. Fun stuff.

Published May 21, 2004 in the Keizertimes

When Charles Lewis' brother passed away, he began a search for a way to reconnect with his lost sibling.

A few months later he decided to join a local taekwondo school. He and his brother had taken judo lessons as teens, and Lewis had fond memories of their time learning the martial art.

"The school closed up shop, but I found that I really liked it," said Lewis.

Looking for an outlet for his new passion, Lewis, 38, cleared out his garage. He replaced tools with trophies he and his brother had won, installed some softer flooring and bought a stand-alone punching bag.

When Lewis decided to enter into a statewide taekwondo tournament last month, he looked forward to simply being able to say that he had tried.

But when he returned to Keizer, he brought home two gold medals and the right to call himself a state champion. Making his achievement even more remarkable is that he began training for the U.S. Taekwondo Union Oregon State Taekwondo Championship a mere two weeks prior to the competition.

"I wanted to be able to say that I had tried, I wasn't expecting what happened," he said.

When the opportunity arose to enter the statewide tournament, Lewis didn't give it much thought. He just signed up.

Then reality sank in.

"I realized that I didn't have much training other than what I had managed to do on my own," Lewis said.

He began searching for someone who could give him lessons and happened upon a former taekwondo instructor living in Keizer, Young Kim. Kim agreed to give him private lessons in two weeks left before the competition.

"I just about killed myself training every day. I lost a lot of weight, but I learned lot as well," said Lewis.

In addition to lessons with Kim, Lewis found an instructor in Gresham willing to put in a few hours of training with him before traveling to Portland to compete.

"I found out that there are a lot of people in the taekwondo community willing to help when needed," Lewis said.

He also expanded the depth of his training. Lewis had planned to limit his participation in the tournament to a single event, sparring, in which two fighters are awarded points for landing blows to their opponent's body. However, Kim recognized a knack for another event called Poomse, or form.

"It's like a solo dance where the artist goes through a series of moves that look like slow motion punches and blocks," Lewis said. "Young kept saying I should sign up for Poomse as well and eventually I did."

In addition to the intensive training, Lewis lost a lot of sleep in the nights leading up to the competition. He said that he repeatedly resolved that he would not be going to the competition, but that he always changed his mind.

"Right up until the night before the competition I was saying that I wouldn't go, but I had already invited friends to go to Portland and watch the competition. They planned on videotaping the entire thing and, in the end, I think that's what got me to go," he said.

Lewis said that the tournament was a crash course in everything he hadn't learned up till that point, from fighting etiquette to equipment.

"I wasn't sure when to bow and I wasn't sure what the calls were from the referee. During sparring he told us to go to our corners, but I was still amped from the fight. When I finally realized what we were supposed to do, the break was half over," Lewis said.

During his brief respite his coach offered him some sage advice, "Kick harder."

In Poomse, Lewis found himself competing against four yellow-belts, competitors of a higher rank than Lewis, who is still a white belt.

In sparring, Lewis's toughest challenge came in the form of an opponent who outweighed him by 100 pounds and had a longer reach.

"I thought I might be able to beat him with my speed, but he was amazingly quick. Much quicker than I had given him credit for," Lewis said. "And even a couple of inches makes a huge difference in the impact of a blow. I've got the bruises to prove it."

At tourney's end, Lewis topped the podium in both sparring and Poomse. He's looking forward to attempting some of the other events he was exposed to in Portland.

"I'm really interested in the creative forms competition and I think I'd like to try some of the breaking," he said.

Since the competition, Lewis, who owns LSI Film and Video Production Service in Keizer, has resumed a less strenuous training schedule of three times per week.

He said that he is looking forward to competing again in the future, but is looking for an instructor willing to help him advance through the ranks.

"We all need to push ourselves to do something we're afraid of and until you're in the middle of it you don't always understand what you've taken on. I think that makes the accomplishment that much sweeter," he said.

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