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In 2005, the UC Irvine taekwondo team started with a goal of being competitive at the collegiate level, and the club met that goal on Nov. 17, 2007. For the first time in a large competition, athletes from UCI traveled to UC Davis to participate in the Western Collegiate Taekwondo Championships, and returned home with a silver medal.
Anchoring the squad is team member Tom Vo Jr., an MBA student and fifth-dan black belt. He started taekwondo at two years old, under his father Grand Master Tom Vo (ninth dan) and currently owns two taekwondo dojangs. He is an experienced fighter who has won 67 gold medals at various state, national and international competitions.
There were many competitors in Vo’s flyweight division (135.5 pounds and under). Vo’s first fight was against UCLA, a memorable match that he won in the first round 8-0. He used a mix of flash and fury along with two jump spinning hook kicks to the face, the second of which ended the match.
His quarterfinal fight was with Stanford where the score was tied 2-2 at the end of the third round. It went into sudden death (overtime), and Vo won the match via superiority decision.
The semifinal fight was with UC San Diego, where Vo won by mercy rule in the second round with a score of 11-4. The final match with UC Davis did not go as well, but Vo ended up winning the silver medal in the flyweight division for UCI.
‘It was a privilege to represent UCI. Having a team supporting me gave a positive mindset going into my fights. I wish I could have brought home a gold, but I tried my best. I’ll get that gold next year,’ Vo said. He will be representing California in the U.S. nationals in Detroit later this year.
Club president Erik Rosenow, a third-year business economics major and second-dan black belt competed in the lightweight division (150.6-165.5 pounds) and left his mark on the tournament. Rosenow’s first fight was against UCSD where he used his butterfly and counter kicks to defeat UCSD 7-4.
His grueling quarterfinal fight with Stanford ended with Rosenow as the victor. He managed to throw the most devastating kick of the tournament, delivered a punishing right leg roundhouse kick to the head of the Stanford fighter, nearly knocking him out. The fighter fell to his knees after the blow, but somehow managed to stand up and continue. Unfortunately, that was not enough to win the match, as Stanford defeated UCI. Nevertheless, Rosenhow’s memorable roundhouse was a victory in and of itself.
‘That was probably the hardest I’ve ever kicked anyone,’ Rosenow said. ‘I thought he was really knocked out.’
The team trains with one of the best coaches on the west coast, Sam Sa, a UC Berkeley alumnus and former Army team member. Sa is a fourth-degree black belt who brings a great deal of training and competitive experience to the team.
‘Coach Sa brought a practical application to all of my taekwondo training with all the drills and free sparing,’ said Ricardo Cerros Jr., a third-year red belt.
‘You will never find a coach who has the dedication and love for the sport that Coach Sam has. We are lucky to have him here at UCI,’ Vo said.
Now that the taekwondo team has established itself as a competitive club sport, Sa and Vo aspire to develop the team so that it’s one of the best club sports at UCI.
To get a first-hand view of some live footage of the Western Collegiates, search ‘UCI Taekwondo’ on www.youtube.com.

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