Tae kwan do titles abound for locals

11 area athletes win 16 titles

Trish Church’s days as the most prolific women’s tae kwon do champion are numbered.

And to hear her tell it, that’s just fine with her.

The 44-year-old Church, who’s won 11 world titles - the most recorded by a woman in the sport - is a victim of her own coaching success.

Hot on her heels is Alexa Rodrigues, her 13-year-old niece, with 10 world titles.

And she knows it’s only a matter of time before her protege overtakes her.

Rodrigues will soon have a clear path to the all-time winners’ title when Church completes her tae kwon do mastership in 2015.

“I’ll no longer be allowed to compete, and at that point, she’ll pass me on because she’s just 13,” Church said.

“She’s pretty special.”

Church and Rodrigues are among 11 area martial artists who combined for an unprecedented 16 titles at the June 25 to 28 American Tae kwon do Association World Championships at Alltel Arena in Little Rock, Ark.

Another was Michael Sanders, a car crash victim whose doctors said would never walk again after the accident, who won the special ability division titles in traditional forms and sparring.

These tae kwon do success stories - and countless others - are products of ATA Martial Arts/Karate for Kids based in Carmel Valley and Encinitas, which is headed by Trish Church and her husband, Master Ken Church.

The academies, with a combined enrollment of about 1,000, were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation by the ATA.

“You’re lucky to have one person in an entire state win a (world) title,” Trish Church said. “To have 16 out of one school is unheard of.”

Rodrigues, who won the third-degree black belt division in traditional forms in the 11- to 13-year-old age group, is among a cadre of up-and-comers with tremendous upside.

In the boys’ circuit, Demitri De La Cruz won world titles in the third-degree division for traditional forms (8- to 10-year-olds) and extreme forms (9- to 15-year-olds).

Alexander Nicita won the first-degree division in traditional forms (8- to10-year-olds) and Kenny Berger won the first-degree weapons title for 8- to 10-year-olds.

“The things they can do are just over-the-top,” Church said.

Alejandro Lopez-High won the boys’ first-degree traditional forms title (14- to 16-year-olds).

Jessica Chan took the girls’ third degree weapons title and Grace Kim won the girls’ third-degree traditional forms title (both in the 14- to 16-year-old division).

Church won the women’s fifth degree traditional forms and sparring titles (40- to 49-year-olds). Leigh Beck won the women’s third-degree traditional forms title, and Merrill Miller won the fifth-degree traditional forms and weapons titles (both 50- to 59-year-olds).

Church and Rodrigues performed with the elite world demo team before a crowd of about 20,000 at the opening ceremonies.

Church said not all of her program’s success stories are measured by titles, noting that Dartmouth-bound Whitney Fu, a recent Torrey Pines High grad and 2008 world champion who didn’t compete this year because of academic obligations, was awarded a $4,000 academic scholarship by the ATA.

“What they take from this is not just a world title, it’s the work ethic which is so important in today’s world,” Church said.

“That’s something they’ll keep with them forever.”