Amy Nyberg at the Taekwondo World Expo in Little Rock, Ark.
SENIOR AT WAYNE COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL FINDS INNER PEACE THROUGH PUNCHES, KICKS AND NUNCHUKS
Amy Nyberg, a senior at Wayne Community High School, began Taekwondo as a nine-year-old when her family still lived in Minnesota. When they moved to rural southern Iowa, Nyberg wasn’t sure she wanted to start over, to try a new style of the popular martial art. Instructor and third degree black belt Jackie Gunzenhauser of the Humeston Black Belt Academy convinced her to give it another try. Now, at the age of 16, Nyberg is a first-degree black belt.
“It’s fun,” Nyberg said, when asked what keeps her going back to the dojang. “There’s something you can always work on. The people are really nice. I just love to do it.”
From Korean, Taekwondo can be translated as ‘The way of the hand and foot.’ It has evolved from a centuries-old tradition of combat training. In its evolution, it has incorporated other forms of martial arts from other countries, and is sometimes practiced alongside Judo and Hapkido. According to the American Taekwondo Association, “Like any martial art properly taught and properly practiced, Taekwondo is a non-aggressive and ethical system of self-defense.”
Nyberg enjoys the quiet, intense time in the dojang, but is also eager to showcase her skills at tournaments, where she gets to discuss the craft with other martial artists. She had participated in several district tournaments previously, but this was her first year qualifying for the World Expo in Little Rock, Ark.
“At districts, only certain people can qualify for worlds based on your points,” Nyberg said. “Everybody has that goal to go to worlds. It’s tough competition.”
Nyberg finished first in forms and weapons at the district meet.
“When I got those gold medals as district champ, that was just an amazing feeling. It was the first time I had been to worlds—never qualified before, didn’t think I was good enough.”
At the all-black belt World Expo tournament, martial artists came from such exotic locales as Easter Island, as well as China, Europe and South America. On July 11, out of her age and rank group of around 30 competitors, Nyberg competed in forms and weapons—for her, the single nunchuk.
“You only place if you’re first through third. We think maybe [I finished] around fifth in weapons and 12th in forms out of 30-some people. It wasn’t bad—I hope to go back next year. Tournaments are so addictive that once you start going, you want to keep going.
“I was watching the world champions’ faces when they got world champion. All that effort—before the tournament started, the judges said even if you get the lowest score possible, you’re still amazing, because you’ve got the best of the best going to worlds. It’s pretty inspiring knowing there’s other people working just as hard as you to accomplish the same goal. That’s how I keep going, because I know I’m the only first-degree 16-year-old, and in order to be better I just keep thinking there’s someone else working harder. I want what they want.
“I usually place in sparring,” Nyberg said, explaining why she prefers forms, which are patterns of blocks, punches and kicks. “But forms are just balance, a challenge—there are so many things that go into a form. You have to be strong, you have to show your moves with power. You have to have good balance.”
Nyberg also enjoys the aspect of spirituality derived from the practice of martial arts, which is, at its best, about channeling self-defense and emotions in a constructive manner.
“For me, at worlds, you have to tune everything [else] out,” Nyberg said. “You have to be focused. You really focus on your breathing and what you’re doing.”
Nyberg gives much of the credit for her development to Gunzenhauser.
“She’s an awesome instructor,” Nyberg said. “She’s very fun. She helps out a lot. She’s good at what she does.
“Jackie thinks it’s an amazing program for exercise. She makes sure she always incorporates some kind of fitness.”
Nyberg also trains on occasion at Philips’ ATA Black Belt Academy in Ames, under seventh degree black belt Bill Philips.
“He’s an amazing teacher,” Nyberg said of Philips.
At the Humeston dojang, Nyberg is the Tiger program leader, working with children as young as three years old.
“We do a lot of things in a little class, because of attention span,” Nyberg said. “They love it. They’re really proud of themselves at the end.
“They have a set of belts. The first one is a turtle. There’s a lion, and a snake and we go through the animals and what your belt represents. They really enjoy that.
“We have this one student, and he was five, and he broke a white board for the first time, and his mom and dad were over there—he was just so excited.”
Humeston uses plastic boards of increasing difficulty to break, rather than traditional wood boards.
Asked what she would say to someone thinking about beginning martial arts at Humeston, Nyberg said, “I would tell them to definitely join. It’s extremely fun, and it’s a good way to get exercise. Tournaments I definitely recommend, because you meet other people.
“Anyone would gain confidence. Me, I’m not the most confident person in the world. My freshmen year, I was filled with a lot of ‘I can’ts.’ I got back into it, and now I’m more confident. From the tournament point of view, if you’re not confident with your material, judges are going to notice.
“Your studio is like a family. Your dojang becomes your family. At school, I’ve got my friends, I’ve got my team, and you go there [to the dojang] and it’s just different people [striving for] the same goal.”
Practitioners of Taekwondo earn higher belts through testing, which are demonstrations of forms and techniques learned over the previous months of training.
“It’s nerve-wracking to test, because it’s you and a bunch of judges staring at you, but once you get that belt, all that time and effort makes everything [worth it].”
“It’s never too late to start. I would recommend anyone joining at any age. I think there’s a 75-year-old in ATA that’s a second degree [black belt], and she’s still competing.
“ATA is everywhere. If you decide to move somewhere, there’s an ATA there.”
Colored belt members of the Humeston Black Belt Academy practice from 6:15-7 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, with a focus class afterward where martial artists practice breaking boards and sparring, and then a black belt class from 7:30-8 p.m.