His parents want him to do better, but there’s not much room for improvement.
GW graduate Yong Seong “CJ” Chang has accomplished a lot in his 22 years. The captain of the U.S. National Tae Kwon Do Team is now ranked second in the world for black belt middleweights and first in the U.S. in this form of martial arts.
From August 21 to 31, Chang, who received his B.A. from GW in 2001, competed in the World University Games in South Korea, a competition for college-age kids modeled after the Olympics. For the first time, the event included Tae Kwon Do, so Chang was able to compete in his native land, which is also the sport’s original home.
While Tae Kwon Do was created in Korea, Chang said that many of the 63 countries competing proved that borders have no impact on the caliber of the athletes.
“Tae Kwon Do is so universal,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you are. It’s just how good the people are around you. Location has no relevance.”
So when Chang was paired against an Iranian athlete in his first match, he knew he had to take his opponent seriously.
The first round ended in a tie. The second left both athletes in a stalemate at five, but his opponent scored late in the third round to secure the win.
Since judges call the points, Chang said the sport can be very political and subjective. He said he kicked his opponent in the face twice, which should have earned him four points, but those were never counted.
“Walking in, I was hoping for gold,” he said. “It’s OK, I have next year.”
And next year, if all goes well, he should actually be healthy.
Chang entered the competition with both of his knees weakened by injuries that had occurred before the games. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament and posterior cruciate ligament in his left leg nine months before competition and he tore his lateral collateral ligament just six weeks before, incurring each injury in Tae Kwon Do competition. Chang competed despite not being close to finished with his rehabilitation.
These injuries restricted Chang’s movement and caused him pain, but he said he wanted to compete anyway. He said he was 75 percent, which still allowed him to do two consecutive 360s in the air before landing, but that he could have done more with the full use of his legs.
“It takes heart (to compete injured),” he said. “(But) you can do it.”
As a captain, Chang tried to help motivate his teammates. He said he told them to try their best because that’s all that counts.
This kind of heart and dedication have taken him far, through years of seven-hour-a-day practice sessions and now physical therapy.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Chang and his family moved to Maryland when he was a young boy. He brought a part of his heritage to the U.S. by learning Tae Kwon Do from his father, starting when he was five years old.
“It was beyond being forced into it. I was expected to do it,” Chang said. “It’s a cultural thing. Male Koreans do it.”
His father, a Tae Kwon Do teacher for forty years, considered his son his personal project and has worked with him since day one.
“His expectations are higher, which can be good and bad,” Chang said. “I can never satisfy my parents. It’s a never-ending challenge.”
But those high expectations have also helped him get to this point, he said.
As an honor student at GW, he established the popular dance club Liquid Arts in his junior year. As club president, he continued to make improvements to the organization, including his creation of the “Fly Girls” dance team.
“I just had a dream that there should be these fly girls,” he said. “I told the other guys and they really liked the idea.”
He was also a four-year member of the Tae Kwon Do club at GW and competed in every tournament in the area. He helped to expand the popularity of the sport by bringing it to Johns Hopkins University, located near his Maryland home. Now in its second year, the John Hopkins Tae Kwon Do club is already the largest club on the school’s campus.
Now Chang is competing in 15 to 20 tournaments per year while relaxing at home with his parents in Bel Air, Md. His father owns the U.S. Tae Kwon Do Academy, and Chang has been helping with that and other clubs in the area.
“It’s a good feeling to teach kids,” he said.
Next up for the Tae Kwon Do star is qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Games, which will be held in Greece. Chang said he will represent both GW and the U.S., but he still has to go through the tryout process and compete against everyone to earn his spot.
While his sights are set on Olympic glory, his knees may hold him back from achieving it in the 2004 games, so Chang said his primary goal is to make it to the 2008 games in Beijing.
He has been asked repeatedly to live in the Olympic Training Village in Colorado Springs, Co., where he would live and train with other promising athletes. But he has resisted.
“I just want to have fun at home for now,” Chang said. “I’ll definitely live there eventually.”