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story.lead_photo.caption Brad Clemens (right) of Painsville, Ohio, and Andrew Vorster of McKinney, Texas, compete in combat sparring at a previous American Taekwondo Association World Expo. This year’s expo continues through Sunday at Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center.

In 1977, when ATA founder and tae kwon do Eternal Grand Master Haeng Ung Lee was looking for a new headquarters for his organization, his search took him through Little Rock.

"It reminded him a lot of South Korea, which is where he's from," explains American Taekwondo Association communications director Jenny O'Connor. "At the time, the [state] license plate said 'Land of Opportunity.' He went with that and decided to make the home here."

American Taekwondo Association World Expo

Through Sunday, Statehouse Convention Center, 101 E. Markham St., Little Rock

Admission: $10 per day, $20 for full weekend

(501) 568-2821

Since then, Little Rock has been the home base for the ATA martial arts organization, which oversees teaching and training of the ancient art of tae kwon do worldwide. And, since 1990, the city has hosted an annual tournament in which tae kwon do students and instructors gather together to compete, train, test and learn.

This year's ATA World Expo continues through Sunday at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.

The American Taekwondo Association was actually founded in 1969, so they're building up for next year's big 50th anniversary celebration. But this year will still have plenty of excitement.

O'Connor points out that while they usually have one person testing for a ninth-degree black belt, this year they have four vying for the honor at Friday's International Rank & Midterm Testing.

"That has never happened in our organization. To have four people testing is a very huge deal for us."

Of the most interest to spectators is the Tournament of Champions, in which the top 10 tae kwon do students in each division from around the world compete against each other.

"These people have worked their whole year and showed their discipline and perseverance," O'Connor says. "They want that gold medal."

The tournament rounds are 8 a.m.-noon today, 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday. World Championship competitions are 7-10 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

Tickets are $10 per day, but O'Connor says, "I encourage anybody who thinks they may be interested to just get the $20 pass because then you get in all four days."

For those who have no experience and want a brief crash course before exploring the expo, O'Connor recommends visiting the ATA's website,

"I don't think anybody who comes is going to feel like they don't know what's going on."

With students ranging in age from 3 to 83, there's something for every age, skill and interest level.

And, she says, whether visitors are coming in with a lifetime of knowledge or just a flicker of curiosity, "They're going to have a great experience regardless. That's what we're striving for and that's what it's all about."

Weekend on 07/12/2018

Print Headline: Tae kwon do aficionados invade convention center

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