By ANITA TODD | Contributing Writer
LAKE COUNTY – What began as a few adults and children getting together in a cramped — sometimes smelly — garage has morphed into a top local fighting school.
The U.S. Tae Kwon Do Institute is located in southeast Lake County, in the Four Corners area. Under the direction of Anibal Cruz, its team recently returned from the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Taekwondo Nationals in Fort Lauderdale with four medals: one gold, two silver and one bronze.
Jenascia Albareda won gold in the 8-9 Black Belt division. Kaitelin Man and Brianna Lee each won silver medals in the 12-14 Green Stripe division. Katelyn Cruz won bronze and a team trial invitation in the 12-14 Green Stripe division.
Two of the four medal-winners have only been training a short time with Cruz. Many of his students have a long list of medals, earning him recognition for his coaching abilities.
“This is not ballet or the YMCA. We are not a daycare – which is what many (taekwondo) schools have evolved into,” Cruz said. “That’s not us. This is a tradition, a culture. We teach respect and discipline. Some parents don’t like to see their kids sweat. If that’s the case, then this isn’t the place for them.”
Cruz and the other coaches teach about 30 students in beginner and advanced taekwondo classes, in addition to team training. Some students, depending on if they are preparing for a competition, may train up to 20 hours a week.
“Team training is by invite only,” he explained. “They have to have the skillset, the speed and the passion to be invited.”
After moving to the area four years ago, Cruz — who is a third-degree black belt — started gathering other taekwondo enthusiasts in his garage.
“Anyone who was willing to put in time in a hot garage with mosquitoes and loud music at the intensity level we were at was welcome,” Cruz said.
And, rather quickly, he developed a reputation for being a skilled instructor — and the group grew.
The Boston native has been involved in the sport for nearly 40 years and said he loves teaching. But the teacher requires his students to be disciplined in and outside the ring.
“They need to know how to manage their time, diet, weight, homework and still be kids,” Cruz said. “We expect a lot, but we also try to make it fun too.”
Most weekends, many of the students can be found at Cruz’s home, playing with his four children and enjoying a meal. Training time with Cruz, combined with setting the example outside of taekwondo, helps create well-rounded students.
“Taekwondo helps me focus in school,” said Katelyn Cruz, 13, and the coach’s daughter. “It gives me confidence.”
And, although winning is ultimately the goal, losing is important too, according to Cruz.
“There’s only winning and learning. Just because you lose doesn’t mean you quit,” he said. “You grow more as an individual when you lose.”
But, the lessons in losing have been hard to teach with his students winning so often.
In September, the team travels to Puerto Rico and then in October to Canada for an international tournament.
What to know
U.S. Tae Kwon Do Institute
Phone: (407) 986-1193
Address: 2430 U.S. 27,
Suite 120, Clermont, 34714