Nick Casey is a fourth degree black belt in Taekwondo. The 23-year-old is preparing for the World Championships in Arkansas on June 22. Nick will represent Casey's ATA in Bridgeport as one of the Top 10 competitors in Combat Sparring.
"Taekwondo means the way of the hand and the foot," explained Casey. "It's a very defensive style of martial arts so it does have a lot of control in it. It does talk about respecting and things like that. So we do have a lot of control when we spar but you'll get into it a lot. So we have a lot of fun with it."
Combat Sparring is a competition that includes a weapon. Of course competitors wear full protective gear including hand gear, foot gear, a chest protector, head gear and mask. All the safety precautions are because Combat Sparring can be very close to a real situation.
"Combat Sparring is my favorite because it is real life. I get to take a stick and use it as if I was on the street and I got to smack somebody with it, if I needed to use it in real life," said Casey. "It's the most practical weapon. You can use everything from a broom handle cut in half or anything can be used as a stick. So when we get to use it in class it's realistic that we get to turn around and have that skill set for outside the studio."
There is a specific padded stick for the Combat Sparring competition at Worlds. It's actually one of three that competitors use. The competition weapon is a thick padded stick. There is also a thin padded practice stick and a real stick made of bamboo.
"You get points for a solid contact, so you can't use the tip of the weapon," explained Casey. "If it scrapes by or doesn't hit strongly, it doesn't count. A full, solid hit, or a re-hit, so if you hit the first time and come back and hit again you can get a point for that."
Competition Combat Sparring is only two years old for the American Taekwondo Association but Nick Casey has been competing for more than 13 years. So what does it take to become one of the Top 10 competitors in the world?
"A lot of perseverance," laughed Casey. "Perseverance is the biggest thing for that. Loyalty as well. My parents drove me to the studio four times a week then we drove 45 minutes to another studio once a week, just to get more sparring training."
It also takes a commitment to training day in and day out. Nick gets that work out in by running Casey's ATA. If he had to pick between competing and teaching…
"I think teaching is better," said Casey. "I love the fact that I get to play with the three-year-olds. They get to do all their Karate then I've got adults that come in here and just want to beat the bags. It's a different range from three all the way to 93. So, getting to become a part of people's lives and getting to change their lives for the better is, to me, more rewarding than getting to get a medallion or trophy."
This is the 12th time Nick Casey will be competing at the World Championships, but the first time as a Top 10 competitor. He won't be out of his element in Arkansas because he'll be among friends. Casey said he sees the same competitors at most tournaments and they have stuck up friendships along the way. He likes going to competitions because he gets to see his friends. In fact, that may just be his favorite part about being a Taekwondo competitor.
"The friends I get to meet. I just got back from Australia, which was a great experience. I got to go over there and meet martial artists from there," said Casey. "I'm originally from Missouri so everywhere I've moved, I've gotten the opportunity to train with new friends and new people and make a better change in my life with the martial arts."