5,000 tae kwon do enthusiasts kick off convention in Little Rock

Posted: June 22, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

The Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock hosts the American Taekwondo Association World Expo.

The culmination of one year quickly sparks the beginning of another for the American Taekwondo Association as it holds its annual World Expo in Little Rock this weekend.

More than 5,000 participants will take part in a variety of activities through Sunday at the Statehouse Convention Center, headlined by the Tournament of Champions today and Friday to crown a 2017 ATA World Champion from a number of divisions. The top 10 in points accumulated from the 2016-2017 season in each division qualify for the tournament.

All competitors in the finals are black belts.

"The divisions are broken down by their belt rank," says Jenny O'Connor, ATA public relations director. "Whether they are a first degree, second degree, third or fourth degree and that type of stuff as well as their age."

After the championships are decided, Saturday and Sunday's World Championship competition marks the beginning of a new season and all points awarded will count toward the 2018 campaign.

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The Tournament of Champions (today and Friday) and World Championship competition (Saturday and Sunday) -- filled with high-flying and spinning kicks -- are open to the public. Admission is $10 per day per person or $20 per person for all four days. Admission is free for children 5 and under. A full schedule of events is available at www.ataonline.com/world_expo.

But this expo is much larger than the competition itself. It is the largest convention held in Little Rock, spanning five days and bringing an estimated $5 million into the city.

"There is a reason why we have been doing the event [here] for so many years," O'Connor says. "It is because the people really want to work with us. Our people love coming to Arkansas. It is like a family vacation for many of them, and they get to experience firsthand that Southern hospitality that Arkansas provides."

The week's itinerary is comprised of a multitude of seminars.

"Some are physical seminars where you are perfecting your form, advanced-kicking techniques and all kinds of things that you would associate with martial arts training," O'Connor says. "But there is also a business side of it in learning how to expand your business and how to get more people involved in learning more about tae kwon do."

This year marks the 27th year ATA, which is headquartered in Little Rock's Riverdale neighborhood, has held the convention, and the company now hosts more than 300 sanctioned tournaments each year, along with two national events in Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas. The overall goal of the competition is to continue to increase awareness of tae kwon do, an activity whose participants can vary greatly in age.

Some of ATA's schools allow kids as young as 3 to begin learning the craft.

But there also are those on the other end of the spectrum.

"We have a sixth-degree black belt that is becoming a grand master, and he is a World War II veteran, so he is in his 90s," O'Connor says.

In some respects, tae kwon do is a physical activity, an exertion of energy. There are many forms such as sparring, team competitions and creative division in which routines are done to music.

But in its entirety, tae kwon do is also much more than that.

"We are about creating strong martial artists, but we are also very focused on building leaders and legacies, and people that will make a difference in their communities later on," O'Connor says. "Songahm Taekwondo isn't just tae kwon do, it is a way of life what we teach, and it is something that you can continuously do."

The World Expo will be a week filled with kicks, flips and fun as one year transitions into another at the convention, with ATA continuing to educate many on its growing sport.

"It is a great opportunity for people who may not know that much about what tae kwon do is," O'Connor says. "There are so many facets to what we do."

Weekend on 06/22/2017

American Taekwondo Association

World Expo

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

Admission: $10 per day for spectators, $20 for 4-day pass

(501) 568-2821

www.ataonline.com/world_expo.