Taekwondo America’s First 9th Degree – A Biography

Robby Lacy took his first taekwondo class in April 1977(one month before the first Star Wars film was released).  His uncle came across the school on his mail route and decided to bring his son and nephew in to try class.  Schools were not as fancy then, and the space had a tile workout floor and pegboard walls, but from the first class Mr. Lacy was hooked.  At the time a gallon of gas was $0.65, a loaf of bread was $0.36, and $22 per month for 2 years bought a lifetime taekwondo membership for 2 students.  As a Green Belt he met a Blue Belt named Warren Davis.  The two forged a friendship that has spanned four decades.    When he was a Red Belt Mr. Lacy competed in his first tournament.  At the time Regional Tournaments were held in the center aisles of local malls and competitors sparred without safety gear.  He cried when he took two third place medals (in a division with only 3 competitors).  He went on to compete in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Virginia, Michigan, North Carolina, and New Jersey.  At a tournament in Nebraska he saw Dale Craig break the world record for breaking concrete blocks before competing himself in a division with over 40 kids.  In 1979 he attended his first Black Belt Camp at the age of 12.  Before that he had four no changes in a row (and would go on to get three more over the course of his taekwondo career). Less than 3% of people who start a martial art achieve the rank of black belt, so he had already beaten the odds.  One afternoon shortly after camp he was sitting in the car with his mom at 4:10, excitedly waiting for his instructor to show up so the 4:00 class could start.  When she asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he replied a taekwondo school owner she told him no.  “Don’t you want to be a lawyer, policeman, fire fighter, or something like that?”.  “No”, he told her, “I want to own my own taekwondo school”.  Testing for 1st Degree he sparred the first female 3rd Degree in the ATA, Tammy Harvey.  She made him cry, and he failed testing.  At 15, he was a 3rd Degree at the same time as his instructor – then he had to wait six years to test for 4th Degree.  At his 4th Degree testing one of his rounds was against World Champion PKA Fighter Jerry “Golden Boy” Trimble.  While he waited for the time to pass before testing he opened a club in Bayou La Batre, Alabama (made famous by the shrimping scene in Forrest Gump).  He would later convince his wife to move 770 miles away to Roanoke, Virginia, where they did not know a soul, and open a school in January of 1991.  He was 24 years-old, and they would go on to own 7 schools either in full or partially, including 5 at one time.  The gamble would prove a great success, with the couple having over 90 people at their first lock-in and bringing over 200 competitors to their first tournament in Roanoke.  From their new home base Mr. Lacy would spar 8 rounds during his 5th Degree testing, go on to become one of the founding members of Taekwondo America in October 1993, and later be the first person to test for 6th Degree.  As luck would have it, 6th Degree was just the beginning because it takes longer to get from 6th Degree to 9th Degree than it does from White Belt to 6th Degree.  The Lacys spent 19 years teaching in Virginia, training thousands of students including 11 that went on to open their own taekwondo schools and 7 who achieved the rank of 6th Degree Master Black Belt or higher themselves.  Then, in April 2010 the Lacy family packed up and moved 1,100 miles to Frisco, Texas to share their taekwondo expertise with a new crowd.  Through numerous struggles and quite a few no changes he trained his three children to the ranks of Black Belt, and on September 21, 2018, he will earn his 9th Degree Black Belt alongside his wife Jenny Lacy achieving her 8th Degree, marking the culmination of a combined 74 years of dedication to taekwondo.

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Tough Love

As a parent, one of the hardest things is denying what your child wants short term in exchange for what’s better for them long term. It would be so much easier on our hearts to protect them from failure, shield them from experiences that scare them, and keep them from getting hurt – but the truth is we cannot. One day they will get passed over for an opportunity or promotion they deserve, and eventually someone will break their heart. The good news is, they may also find great joy in something they vowed to never try. All we can really hope for is that we will give them the tools they need to not just succeed, but to thrive. Keep reading for one young man’s story about how taekwondo has changed his life and prepared him for a bright future.

When my parents signed me up for Taekwondo, I didn’t want to do it. I thought that it would be a
waste of time, something where I put in work but got nothing but a tired body out of it. When I
attended my first class, however, I realized that there was more to Taekwondo that met the eye.
You had to be disciplined, coordinated, and hard working. Even so, I only realized what
Taekwondo was really about when I started sparring. I had to be agile, on my feet, and reactive
in order to do well. Before Taekwondo, I wasn’t any of those things. Therefore, it’s no wonder
that when I was a green belt, I had the breath knocked out of me while sparring. After that class,
I realized: Taekwondo is about the pain and the struggle. You have to be brave, mentally strong,
and, above all, resilient. I utilized those principles for the rest of my Taekwondo classes,
whether I got knocked down, punched in the head, or kicked in the solar plexus. Now, fast
forward to the testing to become a Brown Belt: I had to repeat my form during testing. Then, I
learned that there will be obstacles on the way to a Black Belt. You will almost certainly
encounter one of these, and then one has to make a pivotal decision. You can either give up, or
try to get through the obstacle. I decided to keep going, and passed testing. After that testing, 2
things happened: I only had repeat my form 1 more time until the rank of Sr. Red Belt, and I
became a Brown Belt. I was dreading the rank of Brown Belt for a long time, but I finally had to
face the hard reality that came with being a Brown Belt: I had to break boards. I had never
broken boards before, and I didn’t think I could accomplish the task. At first, my misgivings were
right. When I got my first board, which was an Orange-Green Board, I couldn’t break the board
with an Elbow Strike or a Side Kick. I practiced and practiced some more, however, and was
able to break my boards at testing. The next step up was breaking wood boards. I thought these
would be infinitely harder to break than plastic boards, but I was wrong. They were much easier
than any plastic board I had ever broken. Unlike the plastic ones, I broke the wood boards on
my first try. I do not know if that was because of the practice I previously had or if it was related
to the board itself, but in that moment I knew that I could become a Black Belt. The only thing
that could stop me now was myself.
And now, here I am, a Senior Red Belt, about to test for my 1st Degree Probationary Black Belt.
As I have come this far, I have realized what Taekwondo is really about: hard work,
perseverance, and putting forth your best effort.

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Hey Mom and Dad – Look At Me!

My kids are now at the age when I don’t hear “look at me” as much as I used to. A few years ago, that is all I heard. “Mom, look how strong I am!” they would say as they picked up the bag of groceries with the eggs in them and then proceeded to drop it. “Hey Mom, watch this!” I would hear as they went down the slide going ker-plunk at the bottom. “Hey, Mom! Watch me!” I would hear as they tried to throw the baseball into the strike zone. The outcome was never the point, of course. All they wanted from me was some positive attention. So no matter what they wanted me to see, I applauded their efforts and they were happy.

When they started training in the martial arts, the early years were filled with “Did you see me?” Of course I always saw them. But as each year passed, there was less overt asking for my attention. I don’t hear “look at me” any more or “How was that?” the way I used to. Today they will get together with their friends and discuss how the event went far more than they will with me. But while those days of begging for my attention may be over, they still want it and I can still see their need for my attention. Now, I will be scanning the floor and see young Mr. Lacy do a really good kick. Without even realizing it, he will look over at me to make sure I saw it. Ms. Lacy will do a killer form and the second she is done she will look my way. They still want my attention and that little smile, wink or thumbs up I give them each time. The smile that follows is always a priceless moment for me. Even now.

That is one of the things I love most about tournaments and athletics in general. The little “look at me” moments which occur during the event. The little thumbs up from parents and fellow students in appreciation for the student’s efforts. The applause from the crowd and the smile of a job well done no matter what the result. Tournaments are a great opportunity to give your child the “look at me” moments they want from you. They train hard every week. But the very nature of what we do makes it hard for parents to truly appreciate just how talented they are getting. At a tournament, they want you to see them do something special few people have the courage to do these days, compete! Give them the opportunity. Go to the tournament and then give them the thumbs up they want so badly. It will be something they remember forever, even if they won’t admit it.

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April 2017 Family Fitness Challenge

Fitness starts with your family. Moms and dads, your kids are constantly learning from you. Make sure they see you prioritizing healthy choices. Take time this month to complete a 30 day fitness challenge as a family. Take a picture before, during, or after and post it on our Facebook page  with the hash tags #vrtkd#fitfamily. On April 30th we will select a winner to receive a FREE rebreakable board for the taekwondo student and a free month of classes for moms, dads, and siblings that don’t currently take classes. You can enter with a new picture every day and the more you upload and tag us the better your chances are to win!

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Form Flash Cards!

If you’ve been having trouble with remembering the various forms’ names, number of moves, or meaning of the forms, Mr. Penupala has put together a quizlet online flashcard list for all of them!  You can use this to help you study your current form and old forms while you’re on break from school next week.  Make sure to tell Mr. Penupala how amazing of a job he did the next time you see him in class and study up!
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March 2017 Family Fitness Challenge

Fitness starts with your family. Moms and dads, your kids are constantly learning from you. Make sure they see you prioritizing healthy choices. Take time this month to complete a 30 day fitness challenge as a family. Take a picture before, during, or after and post it on our Facebook page  with the hash tags #vrtkd #fitfamily. On March 31st we will select a winner to receive a new Valley Ranch Taekwondo t-shirt for the taekwondo student (or students) and a free month of classes for moms, dads, and siblings that don’t currently take classes. You can enter with a new picture every day and the more you upload and tag us the better your chances are to win!

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Why I Want to Be a Black Belt by Mr. Goetze

Black Belt Essay – Mr. Goetze, 13 years-old, October 2013

My name is Jack Goetze and many people ask me “Why I want to be a black belt?”  The story is really when I decided to become a black belt and that was the day I earned my Yellow Belt. Before that day my parents have involved me in many different sports and activities like basketball, baseball, golf, soccer, music, soft ball, track and none of them really were very interesting to me. Taekwondo is the only sport that I fell in love with and have been involved with no break since I have started.  I am glad I found a sport that I am focused on because it helps me focus on school work too.  I have dyslexia and that learning difference makes it hard to keep track of all the school projects and homework.  But since I started Taekwondo, I feel more empowered and strong and know that if I can learn all of the forms in Taekwondo and make it to black belt then I can focus and do a great job on my school work.  I attended private school for most of my life due to my learning difference but I am now ready to be a black belt and ready to face public school as well.

Taekwondo was a game changer for me. I realize working through all the levels of the colored belts and working up to and becoming a black belt is a big achievement for anyone. Not to mention having my name on the belt is pretty awesome too.  As a black belt this is important to me because I want to continue my Taekwondo career. Taekwondo gives me a sense of direction and Taekwondo is really big part of my life, so I want to go as far as I can. Taekwondo changed my life.

Some of things I really enjoy doing when I become a Black Belt is to teach younger belts.  I want to be a role model for the white belts and show them that being a black belt is worth the effort and the hard work.  Something I learned from one of my instructions in past few months on my road to a black belt is “BLACKS BELTS find away” no matter how hard it hurts BLACKS BELTS find away. It also teaches me life is not easy requires hard work for the things you want in life, teaching perseverance, respect for other, teach people the way you want to be treated, be yourself and you can do anything and go anywhere in life.

If I get a black belt I can get a job teaching Taekwondo in schools.  Also when I’m older I want to own my own Taekwondo school.  I hope I can be a part of Taekwondo history just like my teacher Mrs. Lacy! As a black belt I can get into good colleges and get very good jobs; being black belts looks very good on my resume.  That is want my Parents tell me.

Taekwondo is my favorite sport and I want make it all the way!

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My Journey to Black Belt by Mr. B. Chan

Black Belt Essay – Mr. B. Chan, 9 years-old, October 2013

I’ve wanted to get my black belt since I started Tae Kwon Do over two years ago. It’s been mostly my only goal and I think it’s almost everyone’s goal when they start.

Earning my black belt would be so awesome because it would show that I worked really hard. It will also give me a chance to maybe be a side instructor and help other kids earn theirs as well. If they are having a hard time, I can tell them I know how they feel and I had a hard time sometimes too. I can tell them that “They Can Do It” and to try their hardest.

Not everyone makes it to a black belt because of no changes sometimes. Everyone has at least one unless you are perfect. Everyone goes through a no change at least once and that includes me. I thought I would get it in no time flat but I had a no change and missed some testings. I was a little upset when I had a no change because I didn’t break my board. My Mom and Dad still cheered me on even though I didn’t break my board because they knew I tried my hardest and that’s all that matters. The worse part about the no change was that it broke my streak of always passing. I thought I had an impenetrable shield to keep the no changes out. I found out that even if I failed, it wasn’t the end of the world and I kept moving on.

At my first tournament, I only got a spirit medal and I didn’t get any others. It made me want to work harder. At my next tournament, I worked really hard at it. I was so nervous and hoped I got somewhere good. I couldn’t believe it when they called my name and I got to go up on the stand. I got 4th please in sparring. Wow! It made me feel really good. I didn’t get anything in forms but that’s ok.

The Tenants of Tae Kwon Do mean a lot to me. I have a hard time with some of them though but I know I always show Integrity. I almost always stick to the things I believe in and I’m honest. Ms. Lacy asked who picked at the floor and I told her it was me. It was hard and I had consequences but I was glad I told the truth.

My Red Belt has been my favorite belt so far. It has lots of jumps and kicks. The hardest part for me is my boards but Young Mr. Lacy has helped me a lot and he keeps pushing me forward and giving me tips. When I finish with him, I just know I can do it!

I am totally excited to go onto my next level. First of all, because I get to line up first and second of all, because it will be fun and it shows how hard I’ve worked. Once I earn my probationary Black Belt, I’m going to keep on going. I will keep working at it and working at. I don’t know if I will ever stop. When I hear them call my name at the award ceremony, I will be so happy and everyone will see how hard I’ve worked.

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My Journey to Black Belt by Mr. Nadimpalli

Black Belt Essay – Mr. Nadimpalli, 14 years-old, October 2013

Throughout my life, I have participated in many activities such as Chess, Swimming, and playing Cricket. Compared to these experiences, my past two years in Valley Ranch Taekwondo America was more boisterous and influential. When I first started, I was just a 12-year old kid who wants to learn new techniques and self-defense. However, I learned these past two years that this journey is not just meant to learn taekwondo, or just to succeed and get a Black Belt, but to learn how to survive in an environment to achieve the goals you seek with the help of your friends and instructors.

During the first couple of months at taekwondo, I was more concerned about myself and perfecting my form and sparring combinations. This was during the White, Yellow and Orange/Orange Senior belts. Even as I see today, many people of those ranks are not as interactive as when they get to green belt or higher. This is the same situation for me because I started to be more interactive and collaborative with my friends and instructors starting from Senior Orange Belt. During this time, I participated in my first tournament, where I received two gold medals. Until this day, I have been to three tournaments, including the one mentioned earlier, and won four gold, one bronze, and one silver medals. This is also the first time that I showed true passion for taekwondo and made it part of my daily life. Ironically, even though I became more mature and improved my skills as I went to higher belts, I started to not attend class regularly, but only three times a week. This was because of my schedule being affected by my homework. It was 12 months ago, when I started High School that I stopped attending classes and being interactive. However, after several encounters, I learned that School and Taekwondo are both two important factors in my life, and I should make my schedule more organized. The other reason which made taekwondo more interesting and available to me is my school OCPE Program. The Off-Campus PE program allowed me to come to taekwondo during my Freshman Year, enabling me to get the credit in school, and coming to taekwondo five days a week. This is a really great experience to me and I am very thankful to my instructor who made this opportunity applicable to me. Also, through taekwondo, I made new friends who helped me not only in class but also outside in school events and other activities. Event though, all these experiences were great, these last 4-6 months were the best months that I have ever experienced in taekwondo. During this time, I got selected to be an A-team member/instructor. This is a really prodigious opportunity because I got to interact with not only people from my class, but also others from kid classes. I got to experience how challenging and fun it is being an A-team instructor. I am very grateful to my instructors and my nominators because without them, I couldn’t have come this far.

All these moments made me more confident and successful as a student and an instructor. I am looking forward to reaching the Black-Belt, so I can continue my journey in Taekwondo and reach higher standards.

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Why My Kids Needed to No Change (And I Needed To Let Them)

As a mother I can assure you that there is an actual physical pain you feel in the moment when you watch your child work so very hard for something and not succeed. I know this more than most parents – I’ve watched my three children not pass their testing over 15 times all together. In that moment what you feel as a parent has absolutely nothing to do with how your child performed – it’s based purely on all of those years you spent child-proofing cabinet doors, covering up outlets, and trying to figure out how to work those child doorknob covers. For so long your main job in life has been to make sure nothing bad could possibly happen to your kids, and now all of a sudden someone expects you to stop?

I am in a very unique position when it comes to watching my kids no change. Most parents have two options – to encourage their kids to keep going or to allow them to quit. After the first or second no change I could have asked all of the school owners to sit down and have a conversation about removing the obstacles in the way – making board breaking easier or removing it altogether, or relaxing the standards for forms or sparring. I can honestly say that I didn’t even consider it. See, I would never dream of limiting my children in that way.

A famous American inventor once said, “High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation”. You are not a famous inventor though. You are a parent whose child is most likely looking to you to see how they should handle this set-back. Where are you going to set your expectations?

Think back to when your son or daughter first learned to walk. How many times did they fall down? You could have decided that walking was too hard, or that they weren’t ready yet, but you wanted them to reach their full potential, so you let them keep falling down and keep getting back up. Wasn’t it worth it the first time they teetered across the room and looked back at you over their shoulder with a giant grin on their face?

Now that my children are older I realize that I cannot protect them from anything bad ever happening. Eventually they will fail a test, struggle in school, or have a hard time at work. As it turns out, my children all needed a no change to help prepare them to face life, and I needed to let it happen.

You will have a hard time finding a place where other people are almost as upset when your child doesn’t succeed as you are, but you’ve found that in our school. When my son Bobby tested for his black belt I was so proud that I wrote an article about it to submit to the local paper as soon as testing was over. He didn’t pass that time. In the car on the way to lunch afterwards he said, “Well, it’s official – I’m a Lacy. I didn’t pass my testing”. Now you are a part of our family too, so I’ll share a family secret. At the end of each testing I remind all of the students how hard taekwondo is, but the hardest part sometimes falls on the parents. See, you have to watch your child fall down and do nothing but sit and wait for them to get back up. I know they can do this, and together we will help them reach their full potential. I promise that when they finally succeed the smile on their face will make everything worth it.

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