(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Last year was a week-long preparation.
This year, they've upped the ante.
In addition to their regular classes, Peak Performance Taekwondo of Sikeston recently finished a month's worth of training to help prepare four hopefuls for the 2012 AAU Taekwondo National Championships in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., which starts Monday and ends on July 7.
"It's a learning process going from one year to the next," Peak Performance Senior Instructor Josh Holmes said. "Last year I realized I wanted to get a lot done in a short amount of time which I hoped it would shock it in to them. I realized, although they were in good shape, they were a little more tired than I would have liked for them to be. We spread it out this year to give them a chance to spread themselves out a bit more."
Walter Lewis, Aaron Lewis, Collin Murphy and Steven Parker, all students of Peak Performance, will make the trek down south.
Those four, Holmes and two helpers, went through an array of challenging physical drills, conditioning drills and mental preparation to hopefully aid in their quest for gold.
"I basically pulled just about any drill from any sport that I could that would do us good," Holmes said. "We even had two personal trainers come and help me learn what we could do to build different types of muscles.
"These guys are explosive and fast, now."
Rip-cord training, sparring, perfecting their fighting forms and moves as well as simply running to build stamina was just some of what the month-long training camp consisted of.
"By the third week they were used to it," Holmes said. "Now, I can definitely tell they can go full matches with full sparring gear on full blast and still be fine. Obviously, their endurance is better."
Every day students ran a mile inside of the Peak Performance building. One day, however, they took to the Sikeston Public Stadium track.
"Probably the worst day was when we went out on the Sikeston football field. That was bad," Walter Lewis said.
Most, if not all, drills were done while wearing full protective gear over their chest and heads.
"At times, I was really sore," Walter Lewis said. "The last week of the camp was more of a mental week for us. But, through those other weeks, I was pretty tired."
On top of what most people see as just a 'hitting and kicking' sport, like most martial arts, taekwondo has a huge mental aspect as well. Knowing what move and when the right time to use it would be can be difficult for adults to master.
"The mental part of it can be pretty challenging because you have to think about what you have to do," Aaron Lewis said. "Sometimes you don't have long to think about your next move."
The biggest difference from this year to last that most students saw was their energy levels weren't so drained. With a full month to accomplish what they needed, not everything was crammed into five full days of training like last year.
"We got more out of it because we had more energy," 10-year old Collin Murphy said. "It was better for us this year because we could give it all we had. Last year, by the end of the second hour we were barely getting our feet up."
Since they had they time to do it, Holmes put his students through the same strength and conditioning skills as the United States Olympic team.
"The strength and conditioning that they have improved on is so drastic from what it was a month ago. It's night and day," said Holmes. "Most of them are black belts already, but they were able to work on so many other areas of conditioning and drills. We hit every part of fitness that they needed."
"I see a big difference from last year to this year's (camp)," 11-year old Steven Parker said. "I feel like I have a better chance than what I did have last year."
Parker and Murphy, along with Holmes, are the only students making a return trip to nationals. Both Walter and Aaron Lewis are making their first trips.
"This was my first time doing this and it was fun," 13-year old Aaron Lewis said. "I know a little bit on what to expect when I get down there because of the younger guys."
The National Tournament will include one on one sparring which will be watched by three judges. Electronic scoring will be in place to help score the Olympic style sparring. Most divisions will have 30-40 students.
Not only is Holmes trying to better his student's chances at personal success, they are all trying to buck a chip off their shoulder as one of the only Peak Performance associations in the region without a National Championship.
Cape Girardeau, Portageville and Scott City, who combine for 37 National Championships, all share successes.
Although, this is just Sikeston's second year participating on the big stage.
"Optimistically, I think we have excellent chances," Holmes said. "I want to try and bring back one for Sikeston."