NEW BEDFORD — Not many 14-year-olds can claim they have a black belt in taekwondo and have traveled to Mexico to train with the Olympic National Team.
On Dec. 26, Michael Lewis was privileged to have that chance when his Master, Jong-hyun Yi, took him and six other top ranked students from Evolution Martial Arts in Westborough for a week to train in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
“I thought I was the best kid,” Lewis said. “But once I went, wow like, there were a bunch of good kids there.”
But that only motivated Lewis to train harder. “Every time there’s someone above me. I always say I got to get better than them.”
Lewis has been training for the past 10 years with Evolution.
Invited by the coach of the Jamaican Olympic Team, Master Tony Byon, the students were introduced to the national team and trained by the coach of the Mexican Olympic team, Master Young Bang and World Poomsae team coach of Mexico, Master Kang Lee.
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“You could have spent your winter vacations relaxing with your families, but you chose to spend it with us for the growth and expansion of taekwondo. We are forever grateful,” wrote Evolution’s Master Yi.
Lewis, a New Bedford resident, said he learned a couple new kicks, such as an underback kick, and learned more about perseverance and keeping an eye on his goal.
And he added the weather was “hot.”
Kicking it off at age 4
According to TeamUSA.org, taekwondo is one of the most systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial arts, and teaches more than physical fighting skills. It is a discipline that shows ways of enhancing one’s spirit and life through training the body and mind.
“Tae” means “foot,” “leg,” or “to step on”; “Kwon” means “fist,” or “fight”; and “Do” means the “way” or “discipline.”
At just 4 years old, Lewis took his first class. “It was just love at first sight,” said Catia Lewis, his mother.
,[He] and his master, honestly, they have the strongest bond and I couldn’t ask for a better place to have my son,” she added. “He (Lewis) trains his heart out. He leaves accomplished.”
Driving an hour each way, Lewis trains three to four times a week. “Taekwondo is my home,” Lewis said. “Master is my taekwondo dad.”
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Lewis said once he met Master Yi, and started sparring with him, he knew he wanted to be just like him and learn everything he could.
“He’s off the streets. He’s taking care of his body. He watches what he eats. And I just couldn’t ask for anything better,” said Catia Lewis. “Beyond my imagination of what a 14-year-old could do.”
The eighth-grader from Roosevelt Middle School was ranked No. 1 seed in the United States as a red belt. In 2018, Lewis successfully earned his black belt.
“I just kept on training, training, training until I was at the top. And then my master finally told me I was ready,” he said.
With over 30 medals, Lewis has competed locally as well as in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, DC, Utah and Minneapolis.
Lewis said he once beat his master. “It wasn’t easy at all. Let’s just say that,” he recalled. “My launch was very fast. So I just went in and then I got up by two points.”
Rising back to the top
In 2020, Lewis decided to take a break from Taekwondo during the pandemic.
“When I came back, I was a little bit struggling and then I just got in the mood. And then I was one of the best in the school again,” Lewis said.
In October, Lewis took gold in a New Jersey Legacy Cup Taekwondo competition.
Next, he wants to attend the Las Vegas US Open, a four-day competition, so he can receive a worldwide rank on his black belt.
He plans to test for his second degree black belt in the summer. He hopes to be good enough to join the US National Team in the near future.
“He’s on a high. He’s loving the adrenaline rush,” Catia Lewis said.
Aside from training, Lewis was recently asked to teach classes at the dojo (school) to the little risers (ages 3 to 6) and tigers (ages 7 to 10).
“I love helping kids,” he added. “When I get old enough, and I get my master’s degree, I would open up my own school.”
Lewis says he tells anyone who is interested in learning Taekwondo that it’s fun, but hard work to get to the top. “Always push yourself, have perseverance and never give up on yourself,” he added.
“If you fall, always get up and get back on the mat, never quit. Keep on going.”
Standard-Times staff writer Seth Chitwood can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter: @ChitwoodReports, Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.