The young Ria Aggarwal who is only 11 years old, was selected as the best sports female in poomsae at the President’s Cup, and she share with us about her progress, her dreams and aspirations in Taekwondo.
Tell us a little bit, how did you start Taekwondo?
My interest in Taekwondo started when I was about six years old. I was inspired by the character Mulan from Disney’s Mulan movie and told my parents that I wanted to be like Mulan, a person who is independent and strong. Suddenly all I could dream about was becoming a person, who is confident and strong and someone who brings honor to the family. First it was only an interest and as time went by it became my passion. My initial days were more about just having fun, learning the basics, kicking and punching, and making some good friends. But as I worked towards my first-degree black belt, my ambitions and my desire to achieve bigger started to unfold. I was very young yet my confidence and my passion only grew from that point onward and I knew I had overcome the initial hurdle to realize my dreams. Most importantly, my journey would have been incomplete had it not been for Dr. Selma Li, who selected me into her Poomsae Elite team and put the effort behind me to be who I am today as a person and in Taekwondo.
No matter what I do, I have always been a very dedicated person as I always put my heart and soul in any endeavor I undertake. The same dedication and hard work to achieve success in Taekwondo has had a big impact in my life and it has made me a physically stronger and flexible, confident, and a much happier person.
What are your achievements so far?
I still remember my first competition in 2012 as a green belt. I competed in Poomsae, Sparring, and Board Break at the USA Taekwondo Oregon State National Qualifier Championships. Not that I was very good, yet I had the desire to win. I was nervous to perform in front of so many people but I just walked to the floor and did what I was trained to do. I walked away with three gold medals and that was where it all started. I had the hunger and desire to add more to my collection.
Over the past five years I have won numerous medals and trophies, but I announced myself on the big stage when I won Poomsae Gold at the 2013 USA Taekwondo National Championship, formerly USAT Junior Olympics. I was supposed to perform Pal Jang in the final. Before going on the floor my dad just said, “This is your moment. Win or lose no one can take away these 47 seconds from you. So go and enjoy and show how it is done.” I gave all that I had that day and won the gold. Since then I have competed in Pan American Taekwondo Union (PATU) Tournaments, USA Taekwondo State and National Championships, US Open, US World Open Taekwondo Championships, most recently in October 2016 World Taekwondo Presidents Cup in Portland, Oregon; mainly in WTF, PATU and USA Taekwondo sanctioned events. The Presidents Cup was one of my highlights to date as I competed not only in my 10-11 divisions but also in the Cadet division. I gave a tough competition to the other athletes in Cadet division and finished the tournament with two gold (10-11 individual and pairs) and one bronze (in Cadet pairs), while finishing fifth in individual Cadet Poomsae. I was humbled and honored when the other cadet athletes and their coaches congratulated me for being resolute in my performance and giving a tough fight to other. I also was honored with the “Best Poomsae Athlete – Female” trophy, for which I am humbled and grateful to PATU and WTF selection committee.
I may have won numerous medals but the best medal of all is when you walk out of the floor feeling good about yourself and performance, and your coach is waiting there with a smile full of warmth and love. The feeling is so gratifying that nothing can compare to that moment and I am so blessed to have shared that moment so many times with someone who is not only my coach and mentor but also like my mother. I don’t need to look at the scores rather just look into her eyes and it speaks to my performance. She always says, “it isn’t always about winning rather it is about giving your best and learning from each experience,” and I couldn’t agree more as I have lost at times but every loss has only made me more resolute and improve on my weaknesses.
How do you divide your time between your school and Taekwondo?
Initially my Taekwondo training did not conflict too much with my schoolwork but as I started to train longer hours and progressed in my school grades, I had to do a lot of balancing in my life. My parents always taught me, “Where this is a will there is always a way” and my coach Dr. Selma and Master Rick Shin (Secretary General PATU) always emphasized the importance of education in ones life. I agree with them because for me success in education is very important. Luckily I didn’t have to make too many changes, as I believe Taekwondo helped me enormously in my education by teaching me the value of never giving up and respecting others. While a lot of kids will spend time watching TV or doing other things, my focus was to manage education and taekwondo. With passing of time I earned a lot of respect from my teachers and others as they saw me become more responsible and mature as compared to other kids of my age.
I would watch my favorite TV shows sometimes while stretching and performing my sidekicks, and sometimes I would read a book while stretching,. I basically combined both into one. On my completion of elementary school I received Presidents Gold Medal award for academic excellence and for being a role model to other kids. And I believe this is just the beginning to a beautiful journey, where we have just started to make memories.
My parents converted a room into a private dojang to practice on a regular basis. My dad, who now has GAL Coach License, has been a great inspiration and helps me with my personal training and competition practice at home. He is a tough person on the floor and sometimes can be my hardest critique. Dr. Selma will always refer to him as “coach dad” and will spend time talking about areas that I need to work on and my dad will then help me at home with those areas. Sometimes he can be very hard but I know it is for my own good.
Being a child, it’s likely that you like to play games, what do you like to do in your free time?
Between school and Taekwondo, I don’t have a lot of free time but when I do, my favorite past time is to play with Legos and learn music. Since a little girl I have always been fascinated by Legos and I can spend hours just putting together different Lego creations. I spend time in school choir and really enjoy listening to music. I love to paint and every summer I spend time with Dr. Selma and paint different themed paintings. In addition, I like to play Wii games and my favorite Wii games are Wii Sports (tennis) and any game associated with Lego Movie. I am not too much fan of violent games. As any other normal kid, I like to sketch a lot and watch TV but reading is my passion. I think every kid should read as it helps build his or her imagination and brings creativity in his or her thought process. Adding Taekwondo to my busy school routine has been a very positive experience and has helped me excel in both. I also like to spend time with my family and friends, and sometimes I just feel like being a little kid and will act like one. I think it is normal for someone of my age to be a kid and just enjoy life as it comes. I am a person who likes to enjoy life but in general I am a very responsible person and positive thinking person.
What does Taekwondo mean to you?
For me Taekwondo isn’t just about punches and kicks, it is more about self-defense, fitness of mind and body, concentration, and learning to respect self and others. In addition, Poomsae part of Taekwondo is an art that is all about power, beauty, and gracefulness and brings out the inner beauty in a person. Over the years I have learnt and followed the five tenants of success (perseverance, integrity, courtesy, self-control, and indomitable spirits) in taekwondo and these values have been very useful in my regular life and has helped build me as a person with character and strength.
Taekwondo has helped me both physically and mentally and made me the person who I am today. For some Taekwondo maybe like a hobby but for me Taekwondo is my passion and my life. It helps to stimulate my mind and help me become a better person in life. It has helped me extend beyond what I thought were my physical capabilities and challenged me to extremes. And it wouldn’t have been such a gratifying journey had it not been for my coach Dr. Selma, my Master Rick Shin, and my family and friends who have touched me in so many different ways. It has brought grace and enhanced my personality, and most importantly given me friends from all over the world.
Today I am working towards my third degree black belt and each belt has taught me to be more responsible, humble, proud, and respectful. Each belt illustrates the hard work and perspiration that we as a team put together and this is just the beginning of a beautiful journey.
Who is your role model in Taekwondo?
My parents, family, friends, and teachers are very important to me and they all play a significant role in shaping my life. I also learn a lot from people who are better than me and have achieved roads to success. Having said that, I think the most valuable person that has shaped my life is Dr. Selma Li. She is the best coach and a taekwondo mom who makes taekwondo interesting and very satisfying. Under my coach, I have won numerous medals and titles at National, State, Local, PATU and WTF tournaments. All of these events and training has given me a lot of experience and helped build me as a person.
As my Coach Dr. Selma says, “refining an art takes an enormous amount of self-discipline, which requires the combination of diligent efforts and the patience/trust in the process of skill building; most of which can be difficult and often times painful. Dedication and hard work are the two key elements to success, not just in Poomsae, but also in all life endeavors. For an Athlete who possesses talent, diligence, and natural beauty, every dream can be within reach if you put your heart into it. The key to staying on top of any sport is to be madly in love with what you do while enjoying every moment of it. Passion and perseverance will carry you through the most difficult challenges.”
What is your ultimate dream in Taekwondo?
One has to dream big to be successful and my ultimate dream is to represent United States of America at international level and bring accolades to my country, my family, and my dearest coach. I want to be the best that there can be. I know it will take a lot of hard work, dedication, perseverance, and sacrifices, but I think it is a small amount to pay to realize my dreams.
Great goals make great people, I’m sure you will accomplish them. MasTKD will be following you until you reach them.
I am very humbled by the generosity bestowed upon me by MasTKD. It is a very humbling and exhilarating experience to have been considered to become part of MasTKD journey.
I would like to use this opportunity to say to young kids that taekwondo is an exhilarating sport and a great way to strengthen mind and body, which would help shape their future and make them well positioned to accept challenges of life. At the same time I would say that we should not compromise with our education as we are the future of this world and we all need to make sure that the world is a better place for us to live in peace and harmony. Balancing education and taekwondo can be challenging and there will be hurdles to overcome. Not every time will we win or succeed but we need to learn to win or lose with grace and most importantly rise above all and learn from each experience. At the end enjoy life because you only get to live once and so, “live long and prosper.”
Would you like to thank anyone who’s been supporting you through your athletic journey?
The list is endless as I have been very fortunate to have the love, support, and attention of so many people in my life. But as mentioned earlier, my family and friends have played a significant role in shaping me to be who I am today and I am grateful and humbled to have so many loving people in my life. My family’s blessings and continued wishes have always been a pillar of support.
I am very grateful to Grand Master Jay K. Shin and US World Class (USWC) Taekwondo Family, as it has helped pave the path towards my success. Also, I would like to name several key people in my taekwondo journey who have made a significant difference in my life, namely, my master and PATU Secretary General Rick Shin, my Poomsae coach and best friend Dr. Selma Li. Dr. Selma has been a true inspiration to me and has stood by me during my ups and downs. She has been my biggest and most honest critique of my performance, which has made me stronger to face the challenges yet to come. This journey wouldn’t have been possible without Master Shin and Dr. Selma and I am honored and grateful to have them part of my life. I also want to give my special thanks to PATU Chairman Ji Ho Choi for being a source of encouragement and his words of wisdom.
I am very grateful to my Poomsae pair partner and my dearest friend/brother Mr. Aditya Vishwa and his parents, Vishwa and Selvy, with whom I have shared this journey since 2011. He has stood by me over these years and we have shared many common interests in Taekwondo, Education, Arts and Legos.
It wouldn’t be fair if I did not mention few other people who have been a great influence to my taekwondo journey. My great friend and sister Ms. Teresa Van has been an inspiration and strength and she has followed my journey to extent possible, and traveled to give me encouragement and support. My first Taekwondo instructor Mr. Troy Tatum, who helped me start my journey and gave me the confidence and hope to realize my dream. In addition, I am very grateful to many masters from all over the world from whom I have received taekwondo training through seminars and private lesson, and my elite team members who I train on a regular basis and are my friends forever.
Most importantly I am very thankful to my parents, Ravi and Renu, who have made so many sacrifices to create opportunities for me. They have been with me throughout this journey and have been my pillar of support. I am also grateful to God for looking over me and providing me with the support and energy to work towards realizing my dreams and keeping me humble through this journey.
Francisco Keller, MasTKD+ Team