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Blythe Elementary 4th-grader is a taekwondo champion, wants more girls to join her

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/19/13/34/1uWUZd.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Alia Samuels, a fourth-grader,portrait with a few of her many medals, during a taekwondo class at Martin's Taekwondo America in Charlotte on March 26,2014. She is a senior black belt in it, working toward her second degree. Alia won first place nationally in her division at a competition last year.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/19/13/34/1fEXr0.Em.138.jpeg|388
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Alia Samuels (center) a fourth-grader, instructs students, Evan Meglothin 7 (left), Josh Little 8 (right), during a taekwondo class at Martin's Taekwondo America in Charlotte on March 26,2014. She is a senior black belt in it, working toward her second degree. Alia won first place nationally in her division at a competition last year.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/19/13/34/7642w.Em.138.jpeg|500
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Alia Samuels, a fourth-grader, works on her kicking during a taekwondo class at Martin's Taekwondo America in Charlotte on March 26,2014. She is a senior black belt in it, working toward her second degree. Alia won first place nationally in her division at a competition last year.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/19/13/34/jcHV0.Em.138.jpeg|209
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Alia Samuels, a fourth-grader, works on her kicking during a taekwondo class at Martin's Taekwondo America in Charlotte on March 26,2014. She is a senior black belt in it, working toward her second degree. Alia won first place nationally in her division at a competition last year.

Alia Samuels, a fourth-grader at Blythe Elementary, is a self-proclaimed girly-girl.

She enjoys dressing up, loves “Cinderella” and says everything is better if it comes in pink and purple. This feminine 9-year-old is also having fun earning her second-degree senior black belt in taekwondo.

Though her classmates sometimes tell her otherwise, taekwondo isn’t just for boys, she says. Girls might want to listen: Alia is the current national champion in taekwondo for the Top 10 Black Belt Juniors Division.

Alia started taekwondo when she was 6 because she wanted to try it and asked her mom if she could.

The martial art is not for shrinking violets, but in some ways Alia bucks the trend: She’s shy and soft-spoken. But doing taekwondo for the past three years has made her more social and confident, say her mother and taekwondo instructor, Joshua Martin.

Alia hardly made a peep when she first did kicks and the, you know, “hiya!” moves. “Nowadays, she’s loud and proud,” Martin attests.

He said it’s uncommon to see kids younger than 10 achieve a black belt (black is the highest level of achievement and has nine degrees to master) because most often, they get bored or complacent with taekwondo and move onto other activities. Alia is also a certified level one (out of four) instructor, and she spends time three times a week helping teach taekwondo.

The Korean martial art is very physical and generally focuses on kicks (“Seventy percent kicking and 30 percent kicking butt,” Martin says). Alia favors the 360-kick, which involves jumping up, fully rotating and finishing the kick with a spin.

She will test in June for her second degree in black belt, where she has to break boards, do flying sidekicks, and sparring, which her mom, Sureita Samuels, says includes having to fight off two people at once.

Alia first had to break boards – with her fists and feet – more than a year ago when she tested for her brown belt. Approaching the boards was a little intimidating at first, she said, but now? “You just have to hammer it down,” she said. “It’s easy.”

Competing is a major part of the sport, and Alia has traveled to Greensboro and Winston-Salem and as far as Dallas, Texas, and Kissimmee, Fla. She’s won more than a dozen medals regionally and nationally, including bronze medals for forms (that’s taekwondo moves) and free-sparring on a national level.

Justin Fowler, an instructor at Martin’s Taekwondo America, where Alia takes lessons and teaches, said the studio is always looking to increase its enrollment of girls because it’s often a male-dominated sport. Gender, he said, is equal in taekwondo. “It’s pure skill – nothing else matters.”

Alia is a quick learner and an asset in helping younger students, Fowler said. “She’s put in a lot of hard work.”

When she’s not doing taekwondo, which is at least four days a week, Alia likes playing violin. Math is her favorite subject in school, and she dreams of becoming a math and science teacher when she grows up.

More immediately, she’ll keep working to increase her black belt status. “I want to try to reach ninth degree black belt,” she said. “That’s my goal.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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