In 1995 I started training in Taekwondo under my instructor and father Rich Marinelli. I was six years old at the time, and nothing could be more exciting as a child. At that time I was also learning under Master Barry Cohen, another Master Instructor in the school (a fourth -degree black belt in Koeikan Karate at the time). I continued on until the age of nine where I felt that I needed a short break from Taekwondo. It is hard for children to stay motivated so I stopped for a short time. When I was eleven I rejoined; more excited than ever with a clear goal in mind and a newfound focus: strive for black belt. Having a goal is an important mechanism for a child because everything has to have a reason. A goal and a purpose is what causes a person to persevere.
At the age of fourteen I received my first-degree in black belt from Grand Master Kwang Sung Hwang. Grand Master Hwang is the first ninth -degree black belt to receive the distinction directly from General Choi Hon Hi, the founder of Taekwondo. I feel it is very important to get tested by an impartial person, so I didn’t feel comfortable being tested by my father.
After earning my black belt, I continued my training as a student in the school and soon became one of the teachers as an assistant instructor to my father. At the age of sixteen, I started teaching my own classes starting with children at the age of six and above. Occasionally I would teach a class for my father to lighten the burden on him. While I was teaching, I realized that my Taekwondo skills had been improving due to the fact that I would analyze the moves that my students were doing. When you teach, you are learning at the same time, which to me is a class by itself.
When I turned eighteen, I was nearly ready to test for my second-degree black belt but I was also preparing to go spend two years of college abroad. Since my mind was on other things, I wasn’t quite prepared mentally for testing. Two years later, I returned to the country fully focused and tested for my second-degree black belt with Grand Master Kwang Sung Hwang.
The following year (after receiving my second-degree black belt), my father and I participated in our first intensive Taekwondo sleep away camp, run by Grand Master Hwang himself. Here, we saw many different schools from the east-coast training in the teachings of Grand Master Hwang under the legacy of General Choi. It was a new and eye-opening experience for me. They were all doing the techniques in a unique fashion that I was not quite used to. They all were very much in sync, and were doing many techniques a little different than I had been doing them. This is when I realized that I had come for a reason. It was because I myself needed to improve in these ways in order to further advance my performance in Taekwondo. This was also the summer that my father tested for his fifth-degree black belt. That was very motivational for me to watch as his son.
The following year, we returned back to the summer camp in early July. I was planning on testing for my third-degree black belt. I was working really hard and sweating in the blistering sun, with the goal of testing at the end of the week clear in my mind. My only problem was that I needed to quickly learn a certain curriculum that I had not been focusing on as thoroughly. Meanwhile, I was also trying to participate in regular summer camp classes given by many different masters from around the world that were well skilled and phenomenal teachers. There were also the sessions given by Grand Master Hwang to participate in; the combination of the three seemed like a lot to focus on in a week. Despite all that, I pulled through and was ready to test just in time and received my third-degree black belt.
The past few years I have been training rigorously to test for my fourth-degree black belt. It’s not something to take lightly as it is a great milestone, especially in Taekwondo. Once you are a fourth-degree black belt, you are considered an international instructor and may teach wherever you want in the world. That is why it is so difficult, considering the expectations required from one going for this ranking. Hopefully, very soon I will accomplish this goal.