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Cal Olympic hopeful gets a kick out of Taekwondo

By Mary Spicuzzo, Special to the Daily Planet
Friday November 30, 2001

Jason Han glided across the floor with a series of fast round-house kicks delivered so powerfully that the UC Berkeley martial arts studio echoed with each blow.  

Han, a third dan blackbelt in Taekwondo, was not in a sparring match at the recent practice – he was pounding paddle targets held by a fellow Cal team member. But Han threw each kick with focus, intensity, and an incredible speed that could match the fastest fighter in the ring. 

His devotion to Taekwondo, the Korean martial art known as “the art of kicking and punching,” shows a drive that extends beyond the sport. 

“Whatever your goal is, just follow through with it. That’s one of the big things that you can’t give up,” Han said. “Once you set your mind on something, you have to try to achieve it.”  

Han’s combination of discipline and talent have earned him recognition as a world-class competitor. The United States Taekwondo Union Web site lists more than 25 national and international tournaments in which Han has won medals, including the World Cup and Pan American tournaments and the 2000 Olympic team trials. 

In November, Han had the honor of competing in the World Taekwondo championships, held in Jeju, Korea. He won his first three matches and qualified for the quarter finals, but bureaucratic confusion over a referee’s call kept him out of the semi-final fight and led to a U.S. team protest during the next fight. 

But Han said he doesn’t believe success means always winning. 

“My biggest achievement isn’t really the medals or the titles. I think it’s just being able to maintain a good heart,” Han said. “And accomplishing things you don’t think you can.” 

Still, he hopes to represent the United States in the 2004 Olympic Games. 

“It’s any athlete’s dream to be in the Olympics,” he said. “I’m just trying to live it.” 

Han has been building toward that dream for more than a decade. He began training in Taekwondo 15 years ago, after a demonstration team performed for his first-grade class. His father, an all-around athlete who competed in track and soccer, signed him up for lessons when he was 6 years old. 

“He is my No. 1 supporter,” Han said of his father. “My parents, without their love and financial support, I wouldn’t be here.”  

From a kid who was “always into that Bruce Lee stuff,” Han has grown into a disciplined team member and teacher for the school’s Taekwondo program. At UC Berkeley, Han has been known to train four hours a day, six days a week.  

After he earns his undergraduate degree in integrative biology next fall, he plans to train full-time to prepare for the next Olympic trials. 

His teammates say his discipline and athletic ability have helped inspire them. 

“Just his incredible amount of dedication, and passion, and the ability to focus on one goal,” blackbelt team member Garth Robins said of Han. “He pushes himself, and he pushes others around him.” 

Long-time Taekwondo club member Dennis Lieu said Han has been an incredible asset to the Cal program, which is widely considered one of the best in the nation. The Cal team recently won first-place at the National Collegiate Taekwondo Championship held in Austin, Texas. 

“UC Berkeley is extremely fortunate to have someone of Jason Han’s caliber as part of the UC Martial Arts Program,” Lieu said. “A person of his talent can choose where he wants to go, train where he wants to train, yet he chooses to be here with us. His skill, demeanor, and presence are truly an inspiration.” 

Han has made some sacrifices, often giving up sleep and social time, but said he finds time to watch movies, eat and go clubbing with friends. He said his friends, who are mainly Cal teammates, help keep him from burning out. For example, teammates recently compiled a book of cards and photographs for Han to show their appreciation.  

“People put a lot of thought into what they wrote. It made me blush when I was reading it,” said Han. 

The UC Berkeley Taekwondo promotional tests will be held at noon on in the martial arts studio of the Recreational Sports facility on the UC Berkeley campus. Admission is free.