By: Paul Adams – Staff Writer
Graduate electrical engineering student Rachel Armstrong became the first female to earn her black belt in the UD International Taekwon-Do Club’s 31-year history in November 2015. And she did it with a dislocated arm.
Armstrong, who studied computer engineering at UD for her undergrad degree, was rehearsing her self-defense moves with her sparring partner and Taekwon-Do Club Vice President Joe Williams the night before the test. During one move, when Armstrong reached back to throw Williams, she realized she was too far forward but still threw him.
Instantly, she heard a pop. Pain pierced through her dominant arm as it slightly slipped out of its socket. Armstrong could barely move her arm.
However, Armstrong had successfully completed the written portion of the test – she had been working toward this day for four and half years – and the plaque with the next day’s date on it was already made. Postponing the test was not an option.
So, she taped her arm and took some ibuprofen. The next day, Armstrong successfully completed the two and half hour physical test, which included sparring, breaking 10 pieces of wood and a block of concrete.
Leading up to the test, Armstrong exercised four hours a day, six days a week. She woke up at dawn to lift at the RecPlex, ran in the afternoon, practiced an additional hour and a half on her own and then taught other students for over an hour.
Armstrong put in the work and time to earn her first-degree black belt. So why did it take 31 years for a woman to achieve this honor?
Armstrong believes it’s just circumstance.
“It was more luck than anything else. There were two women that were at my test, that had they been given the chance they would have 100 percent done it,” Armstrong said. “The problem is maybe you don’t discover the club until your sophomore year and maybe you don’t have time to get your black belt in the time you have left and you had to move away because you’re not from here. So, I think it was a combination of being at the right place at the right time and having enough time to do it—and just being too stubborn to leave.”
Senior Joe Williams, 1st GUP (the highest rank before black belt) agrees, explaining that earning a black belt involves a combination of factors.
“In order to earn a black belt through the UD-ITC [UD International Taekwon-Do Club], one must successfully complete 10 tests that are given at the end of every semester and the end of the summer,” Williams said. “It becomes extremely difficult to earn a black belt through the UD-ITC unless one joins during his or her freshman year. As a result, we have had relatively few people earn their black belts through the UD-ITC. We have had many members in the club, both men and women, who have previously earned a black belt and others who have continued their Taekwon-Do training after leaving UD.”
Armstrong hopes her title will lead to an increase in female membership, as well as encourage women to learn self-defense.
“One in three women are victims of rape. And that’s way too much,” she said. “I know most of them are circumstances you can’t control, but why not control the ones you can?”
One in three women are victims of rape. And that’s way too much. I know most of them are circumstances you can’t control, but why not control the ones you can?
Armstrong has taught multiple self-defense seminars for Green Dot and sororities. Every time, she brings Williams, her sparring partner who has a hundred pounds on her. When she slams him to floor, jaws drop.
“I bring him to self-defense classes that I teach because it’s a lot more impressive when I throw him than when he throws me,” Armstrong said. “It gives a more accurate and real representation of what someone might actually experience in a self-defense situation. So when I get up there, it’s all about leverage. I’ll bring him over and throw him across the room. It’s an eye opener; size doesn’t matter. If you’re smaller, you actually have a big advantage in self-defense situations because if you can get your center of gravity below your opponent’s, they can’t move you and you can easily throw them.”
At the end of the day, Armstrong is proud of her accomplishment in itself.
“I’m a lot more proud of the fact that I have a black belt than the fact I’m a woman,” Armstrong said. “It is a super cool thing that I’m the first woman to do it in the club. You know, I’ve trained along these guys that are bigger than me, that are stronger than me, that pretty much kill each other on the mats. I’ve trained alongside them, and I feel I deserve this just as much as anyone else.”
To learn more or sign up for the University of Dayton International Taekwon-Do Club, visit here. Beginner classes are now forming and will be held in RecPlex Studio B Mondays and Wednesdays at 9 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. If you have any further questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos courtesy of Rachel Armstrong.