Puerto Rico Seeks to Become Caribbean Taekwondo Hub with University Program



Korean taekwondo masters and academics: Are you are seeking a future on a sun-kissed island set in the sparkling Caribbean? Are you enticed by the possibility of marrying a local beauty?


If so, then the Puerto Rican Taekwondo Federation wants to hear from you. In return, all you have to do is establish and teach an academic program in the nation’s main university and/or upgrade the island’s skills in poomsae.


On a recent mission to Korea, Puerto Rico Taekwondo Federation President Louis Arroyo and Federation General Manager Tony Avecedo sought to build links with taekwondo academia on the sport's home turf, and lay the groundwork for a stronger poomsae squad. Their strategy to upgrade the sport in the U.S. Territory is based on establishing an academic program that will become the Caribbean’s hub for taekwondo excellence.


Taekwondo on the island dates back to 1968; today, the federation has around 10,000 practitioners under its wing. The island boasts Junior World Champion Myrllam Vargas, and World Cadet Championship medalist Isabella Diaz. Among Puerto Rico’s senior players, rystal Weeks is an Olympic qualification hopeful, while Luis Colon took fifth place at the Worlds in Chelyabinsk and bronze at the Pan Ams in Toronto.


Looking ahead, the the island’s taekwondo chiefs have bigger plans.


Prior to establishing taekwondo as an option at Central University of Puerto Rico, Arroyo and Avecedo are in discussions with Korea’s most famous institutes of higher learning for taekwondo – Kyunghee University, Yongin University and the National Sport University - to consult on curriculum development and faculty hire.


“We hope we will be able to hire young people who want to establish a new program,” he said. “Sometimes you have ‘old dogs’ and they expect more than we can give, but young people like to train hard and do new things.” He joked, “In Puerto Rico, we do not have any Korean masters - so they can marry a Puerto Rican girl and stay!”


The program is expected to begin in 2017 as a certification option in the Sports Department before becoming a degree course. Once it gets underway, Arroya and Avecedo anticipate students coming from elsewhere in the region, such as Dominica and the Virgin Islands, as well as from Puerto Rico. In addition, the university is offering two scholarships, each of US$50,000. for Koreans who want to undertake four-year degree programs.


Then there is the issue of the poomsae upgrade. “We look forward to have an exchange of professors to go to Puerto Rico and develop poomsae,” said Arroyo during a visit to the WTF offices. “We are very familiar with kyorugi techniques and coaches, our problem is we do not have so many millions of people and poomse was not an official event, so we have the problem that we did not have any funding for this program,” he continued. "But now the WTF has appointed poomsae for the Pan Ams in Lima in 2019 – the first time at a continental tournament - and that opens a window for funding from the Puerto Rico National Olympic Committee.”


As a stop-gap before the academic program opens, Arroyo hopes for visits from expert instructions supplied by the Taekwondo Peace Corps. “We have already had two Peace Corps missions, but each time it was only three months, so we have asked President Choue for six months and he said it was possible,” he said. “We hope to get poomsae, kyorugi and some Korean language. They tell me this will be this summer. “


To bring his squad up to scratch, Arroyo insists on having a Korean coach. “We are looking to hire a poomsae instructor from Korea and set up a team - well, we have a team already, but we need to upgrade it,” he said. “We can go to the Olympic committee and say we are prepping for 2019 so that we can have funding; this will start this year.”


Again, as a stop gap, the Puerto Ricans are sending local coaches to train on poomsae seminars with Korean masters in the USA, as well as dispatching instructors to the annual Kyunghee University Summer Program. However, he recognizes the need for full timers – and for doers as well as teachers. “The thing is, when you teach poomsae, it is not just what you know, it is how you perform,” he said. “Students follow you, so you can have knowledge, but if you cannot perform correctly, you cannot show it.”


So the plan proceeds. Given their strategy, taekwondo’s future in Puerto Rico is, Arroyo hopes, will be bright as the Caribbean sun.


“We look forward to having more conversations with the WTF and the Kukkiwon and all authorities of taekwondo,” he finished. “Having educational programs will help us a lot for the development of the sport.”