By RAY QUIROGA & MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
San Benito News
Tom Kuhn, a mild-mannered San Benito High School AP chemistry teacher by day, is a ferocious martial artist by night – or at least ferocious enough to advance to the 2013 Taekwondo National Championships.
Oh yeah, and the 65-year-old taekwondo rookie did it by beating opponents who were 20 years younger and a foot taller at the state competition over the March 30-31 weekend.
Kuhn is one of 11 students who advanced as part of a team composed of martial artists from Olympian Fitness in Port Isabel. Nationals will be held in Chicago July 3-9. The team is led by Peter Caceres, owner and operator of Olympian Fitness and 1984 Summer Olympics competitor for his birth country of Argentina.
Having only started his Taekwondo career a mere year ago, Kuhn, a resident of Laguna Vista, said that he was first a casual spectator who drove his granddaughter to Caceres’ Maxan Street facilities in Port Isabel for her Taekwondo lessons. Then, “I decided to get off my lazy butt and get up there and do it with her,” Kuhn explained, adding that he’s lost 20 pounds and feels 100 percent better than he did before he became active in the sport.
“I love the artistry of the sport, trying to be exact and memorizing all the forms. For me, that’s more interesting than just running and lifting weights, which is rather repetitious,” Kuhn said.
And, of course, practice makes perfect. “Every single day you have to practice hard,” Kuhn said, adding that he’s at Olympian Fitness three to five days a week and then practices at home on his own time.
“The first few weeks I was as sore as you could believe,” Kuhn said of his initial practice sessions. “But since then I’ve lost almost 20 pounds and I can compete against any of the younger kids now, the only problem I have at my age is stamina. I surprised myself, though. I’m able to do all the spinning kicks and stuff.”
An educator at SBHS for 16 years, Kuhn is actually a native of California, where he attended college at the University of Laverne and at the University of California. He taught 26 years in California before retiring and making his way to the Valley.
On nationals, Kuhn said he has confidence in his ability and remains excited about the opportunity to compete.
“I’m getting better considering how old I am,” Kuhn said. “Taekwondo is like anything else, if you don’t put some effort into it you’re not going to get anything out of it.”
Also, Kuhn said he has used his success as motivation for his SBHS students. “I do that kind of stuff all the time, where I’m always on their case to work harder,” he remarked, adding. “Most of them can’t believe that I do that kind of stuff.
Next, the martial artists will have to organize a series of fundraisers to help offset the travel costs and entry fees which are quite pricey.
In the meantime, the anticipation is building for Kuhn. “It really feels kind of neat,” the retiree said of competing at a national martial artist tournament. “My goals are obviously to win and to keep working up toward a black belt.”