This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.

Seven students of Soldotna Martial Arts have returned from the World Tang Soo Do championships. Two students, Mika Brassfield and Shari Franke, received medals for competitions involving open-hand forms and weapons forms.

Master Bud Draper has been practicing Tang Soo Do since 1970 and has been running Soldotna Martial Arts for over 25 years. Tang Soo Do is a Korean martial art that integrates other kinds of martial arts like kung fu and karate. Draper said Tang Soo Do helps develop good lifelong health habits and good character through hard work and rigorous training.

The World Tang Soo Do Championship is held every two years in Greensboro, North Carolina and members of the World Tang Soo Do Association are welcome to attend.

The championships hosted 700 black belts and over a thousand colored belts from all over the world.

“It’s a very large tournament, but the purpose is not to determine who is the best, the greatest, the strongest, the fastest.” Draper said. “The purpose is to bring the family together, the worldwide Tang Soo Do family.”

At Soldotna Martial Arts, any students who wanted to participate were welcome to join. For three of the seven, it was their third time going; the rest had never been before.

This was Mika Brassfield’s third time attending the championships. She’s been practicing Tang Soo Do with her sister, Cierra, since 2009.

“Every time I go down there it surprises me, even though I’m used to the number of people there,” Mika Brassfield said. “It’s fun to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones.”

Arlene Franke, who is affectionately known as grandma, was the oldest woman competitor at 76 years old. She’s been practicing Tang Soo Do since 2011.

“I was a bit surprised at how nice it was and I was really surprised about how big it actually was,” Franke said.

At the championships, everyone competes in three different competitions: open-hand form, weapons form and sparring. Mika Brassfield won a bronze medal in open-hand form and a silver medal in weapons form. Shari Franke won a silver medal in open-hand form.

Shari Franke said her first championship gave her new drive.

“I have a different view of the art in some ways,” she said. “Seeing aspects of it from all over the world and what can be done… it gets you excited.”

While the championship hosted its fair share of competition, the event was centered around community and learning.

“It was exciting to me,” Edward Welch, a student since 2011, said. “I learned a lot. It didn’t feel like a competition. It felt more like everybody was just there to have a good time and support each other, like a big family reunion.”

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