UTA student brings home gold medal from World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships


By Cecilia Lenzen, The Shorthorn staff

Feb 6, 2019

Shay Cohen

A.J. Munoz, exercise science and psychology junior, trains Jan. 30 at her family's dojang in Fort Worth. Muñoz is the first American to represent the country in both the recognized and freestyle poomsae divisions at the World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships.

Photographer: Shay Cohen

A.J. Munoz, exercise science and psychology junior, with her family Jan. 30 at their dojang in Fort Worth. Muñoz's father, Joe, said the constant training can be taxing on the family, but he would do everything again "without a doubt."

Adalis “A.J.” Munoz stepped on to the mat and bowed. She whipped through the air as she leaped and flipped across the floor. Within moments of finishing her routine, she won her third consecutive gold medal at the World Taekwondo Poomsae Championship.

Munoz, a fourth-degree black belt, has attended three World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships, and in 2018, she won gold in the over 17 individual freestyle female division and was named Female Freestyle Athlete of the Year.

When most people think of taekwondo they automatically think of sparring, which is when opponents gear up and fight each other, she said. However, she only competes in poomsae, a set pattern of defense and attack techniques. In the 2018 World Championship, she became the first American in history to represent her country in both the recognized and freestyle female divisions.

The exercise science and psychology junior said she never expected to meet the success she did. Originally, her parents made her take taekwondo classes so she’d know how to defend herself. As a 12 year old, Munoz didn’t like the sport, but she eventually decided to compete because it challenged her to rely on herself, unlike team-oriented sports.

“It has to do with how individualized it is and how much you really have to push yourself,” she said. “It’s not something that you just kind of easily do or something that, you know, you can get it in a heartbeat.”

She lives and breathes taekwondo.

Photographer: Shay Cohen

Every day she wakes at 5 a.m. to train for several hours before going to class, she said. After school, she teaches her own taekwondo classes. In 2015, her parents Joe and Del Munoz leased a building for A.J. Munoz and her sister Zoie to train in. In 2017, they officially opened as a dojang, a formal martial arts training hall. A.J. Munoz teaches about eight classes per week. She said although she is master of the dojang, her parents are her coaches. They both have third-degree black belts and also teach classes. Joe Munoz said they always supported A.J. Munoz’s endeavors but never pushed or motivated her because her commitment and passion had to come from herself. “She sets the goals, we provide the path,” he said. “You stick with it or you don’t, and she stuck with it.”

John Akins, kinesiology graduate teaching assistant, met A.J. Munoz fall 2017 because she was a student in his class. He said Munoz’s determination quickly became evident, and they worked together to ensure she’d be able to turn in her assignments and still attend all her competitions. “She [is] very focused and very hardworking,” Akins said. “Whatever she set her mind to, she did it with passion.”

Photographer: Shay Cohen

Munoz’s accomplishments are a testament not only to her own character but to that of UTA. “It just goes to show that UTA has a broad quality of students that spans a bunch of different disciplines,” Akins said. “It’s the small things like that that we don’t quite expect.”

Munoz said she’s proud to be able to represent her university and her country, and she hopes to expand the taekwondo network on campus. She represented UTA at the 2017 World University Games, is the Texas Taekwondo Varsity League head poomsae coach and is in the process of starting a taekwondo club at UTA.

Munoz said taekwondo opened her eyes to be able to lead others and discipline herself. She wants others to find that motivation even when it’s hard for her to find it herself.

“It’s never a smooth surface, it’s always going to be rocky, no matter what it is,” she said. “The good days always gonna have the bad days. You can’t have one without the other, otherwise you’re not really trying.”



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