Soldier Gets His Kicks on Tae Kwon Do Team
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
CAMP CASEY, South Korea, Jun. 20, 2007 Like most other soldiers, Army Sgt. Jessie Jones gets up about 5:30 a.m. every day for Army physical training with his unit. A brisk three-mile run and some push-ups and sit-ups get his morning going.
Army Sgt. Jessie Jones, 2nd Infantry Division Tae Kwon Do team captain, rests following a performance at Camp Casey in Tongduchon, South Korea, June 20, 2007. The team performed for Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a visit to talk with troops. Photo by Fred W. Baker III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But for Jones and his unit, morning PT is only a warm-up. After everyone else has hit the showers and gone to work, Jones and his team are back in the gym – for their real workout.
Jones is the team captain for an elite 2nd Infantry Division Tae Kwon Do demonstration team that will spend the rest of the day kicking, jumping, flipping and punching, sweating bucket-loads and going home in pain.
Boards are broken using their heads, hands and feet, and the stunts they perform are circus-like in their acrobatic performances.
A mortar man in the Army, Korea is the first assignment for Jones. He has been in for more than three years and has spent time on a few of the Army camps north of Seoul and about two months in the demilitarized zone.
The 23-year-old from a small country town east of Charlotte, N.C., joined the Army looking for adventure. He never dreamed he could spend his days practicing his first love – the martial arts.
“I have to admit, I was one of those crazy martial arts kids,” he said. “It’s one thing that I just really loved.”
Jones has been learning martial arts since he was 10 years old and holds a third-degree black belt in Shotokan, a street form of karate. He also has a couple of years of kickboxing under his belt.
“I can’t imagine me doing much else. It’s not just learning self-defense or how to beat people up. It’s about self-improvement,” he said.
The 23-member team is made up of soldiers from across the division, representing all battalions. It has one female soldier as a member, as well as four Korean soldiers who serve alongside U.S. troops. They’re known as KATUSA soldiers – shorthand for a program called Korean Augmentation to the United States Army.
The team is part of the U.S. Forces Korea’s Good Neighbor Program and hosts demonstrations for U.S. and Korean dignitaries, local communities and even performs side by side with Republic of Korea Tae Kwon Do teams. Tae Kwon Do is Korea’s national sport.
Today, the team performed a demonstration for Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during his visit here to talk with troops.
In the morning, the team concentrates its training on competition fighting and sparring, and the afternoon is dedicated to acrobatics, fight scenes and learning to flip and fall. The team works out six days a week, but normally only a half day on Saturdays.
Jones has served on the team for more than a year and has worked his way up to team captain. His talent and hard work pushed him up through the ranks until he was working directly for the team captain. When the team captain left, Jones was selected by the grand master to lead the team. Jones said he prefers martial arts to other sports because it can be tailored to the individual.
“Sometimes what works for me is not going to work for another guy,” he said.
As a boy, Jones said, he left the marks of his training on the walls of his house a few times when he let his temper get the best of him.
“I had a few little temper tantrums. I tested my stuff on the walls. (My parents) weren’t too happy about that,” he said and laughed.
“My dad said, ‘That’s not why I put you in that martial arts stuff,’” he recalled.
But his skills didn’t give him an edge when bullying his little sister. She, too, holds a black belt in karate.
“I got a kick in the head once or twice,” he said, laughing again.
Soldiers can request to try out for the team, or sometimes they are hand-picked from the units. Most have familiarity with the martial arts, but that is not a prerequisite.
“If a soldier is motivated and ready to learn, they can pick it up pretty fast,” Jones said.
But, if they think it is all fun and games, they’re wrong, Jones said.
“They’re going to be hurting the first few weeks. They are going to be sore. This is like five or more hours of PT -- sometimes every day,” he said.
The hardest part is working through the daily aches and pains. You have to learn which pains to work through, and which to nurse, he said.
“Just because we get a little bruise or a sprain or a headache, we can’t quit working out,” he said.
In two to three months, candidates can have some “good skills” and do some of the more basic moves. In about six months, with hard work and training, they can do some of the advanced moves, Jones said.
Jones said he joined the military because it was something he always wanted to do. After high school, he said, he was in a “slump” and wasn’t getting what he wanted out of college.
“Life was a little tedious -- a little boring. I knew college was important, but I felt like I needed something more,” Jones said. “To me, it doesn’t get more honorable than serving your country,” he said.
His parents’ reaction was split between pride and concern.
“Mom was scared to death when I joined, but Dad couldn’t be more proud,” Jones said. “It took Mom a little while to adjust that I could be going to a place with bullets flying over my head, but she’s calmed down. Now she’s very proud of me. They brag about me all the time.”
Jones said his martial arts background helped him physically and mentally to get through basic training.
Jones’ time in Korea is nearly finished, and he hopes to go to Fort Bragg and to airborne school. While he is still undecided if he will make the military a career, Jones said he has enjoyed it so far and is keeping his options open. He admits he will miss the tight-knit group and the camaraderie that comes with living and training together nearly nonstop.
“We work out 24-7 together. We live in the barracks together. We go through the joys and the pains together,” Jones said. “That is something I will definitely miss.”