Local taekwondo studio turns out winners in short order

BURBANK — As a martial arts instructor, Joseph Salim often sees himself as an artist.

"What I do I sometimes compares with being like a musician or a painter," said Salim, who is the master at Salim's Taekwondo Center Burbank. "When a painter paints he makes a painting or a piece of art. I see a child in much the same way when they come in and I begin to work with them. When a child starts martial arts or taekwondo and I start working with them and they learn the techniques, they start to take shape and you can see something developing and taking shape. It's a lot like a piece of art."

Despite opening his studio in May, Salim's students have enjoyed success in short order. A group of athletes took part in the 2014 USA Taekwondo National Championship July 1-7 at the San Jose Convention Center. Among more than 5,600 competitors, Salim's Taekwondo Center Burbank participants won seven medals and three brought home national championship.

Van Bactista, Tiffany Mar and Jet Moralde scored gold medals and were named national champions. In addition, Bactista earned a spot on the U.S. National Team.

"They are a very dedicated group and they have worked very hard to get the success that they have had," Salim said. "They put in the work and the hours to get better and I'm so proud of all of them, not just the ones who won top medals."

Salim brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the students who train under him in taekwondo. He is a former Olympian, competing for Denmark and Hungary. He was a coach for England for the 2012 London Summer Olympics and has been a USA Taekwondo National Team coach. In addition, Salim is a certified seventh-degree black belt and was inducted into the Taekwondo Hall of Fame in 2013.

"I competed myself, so I know how it is to for them," Salim said. "But I teach because of what I get out of seeing my students succeed. And that doesn't mean winning or getting medals.

"Apart from winning, one of the best moments is when an athlete surprises you and does something you never expected them to do. Just being able to see them getting joy after accomplishing something is all worth it for me. That's why I do what I do."

Most of the students train from eight to 12 hours a week. The recent Taekwondo National Championship was the first for the athletes as members of Taekwondo Center Burbank.

Mar, who won gold in the female 10-11 age group in the light division, said the atmosphere of the competition was almost overwhelming.

"This was my very first time at nationals," said Mar, 11, who took up the sport three and a half years ago. "It was very nerve-wracking. There was just a big crowd and so much going on. When we were in the holding area where they put you before you come out, I was really nervous. But I just tried to think of what I had to do and go do it."

Aiden Bevel, 9, was able to win a silver medal in the male 8-9 heavy division. He said his silver medal match was intense.

"I won by a golden point, what we call sudden death," he said. "I got a head shot on him and that's why I was able to win. That was really exciting for me and I felt proud."

Many involved with the gym credit Salim's dedication to his students as the main reason why so many athletes were able to be successful at nationals.

"I've known him since I was little, but I started training with him in 2010 at another place," said Tatyana Vallejo, 20, who competes and also serves as an instructor at the facility. "I'm from Burbank and I couldn't wait for him to open a place here.

"Who wouldn't want to train under someone who has done so much in the sport? His knowledge and his experience and the fact that he is really detailed, that's what makes him a good master. It takes a lot for a coach to get young athletes like we have to that level so quickly and he's done that."


Follow Jeff Tully on Twitter: @jefftsports.

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