DECATUR — Never underestimate the power of the quiet, small or young ones.
“It takes a lot of dedication,” she said. “You have to stick with it to get good enough to compete.”
The soft spoken teenager has won American Nationals, the International Open, Fukuoka (Japan), ADCC Open in Las Vegas, and other city championships. According to her father Michael Karas, IBJJF Pan American is the largest children’s title in the world. “And she’s won it the last two years,” he said.
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Sun-Yoon also competes with grown women. “She beats them pretty regularly,” Dad said.
However, the pint-sized competitor wants to help other women defend themselves.
“I teach them scenarios, like if someone grabs them from behind, if they try to choke them or grab their wrist,” Sun-Yoon said.
She teaches women how to get out of sexual assault situations, although she is still learning herself through some of the stories. One of the tools that she teaches is how to defend yourself with a bed sheet.
“We are very realistic with our self defense,” Michael Karas said.
The next free Women’s Self-Defense Seminar will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, at Old King’s Orchard Community Center, 815 N. Church St., Decatur.
Sun-Yoon also teaches youth beginning and advanced Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes. Her sister, 11-year-old Kaori, is a drilling partner, providing examples for the students. The money she earns from the classes is often used to help others.
“I just want to be nice. I just want to have free water and food for everybody,” she said about those who want to take lessons but feel they can’t. “I’m still working on the money part.”
Blake Howland brings a group of children to classes, including 11-year-old Jack, 7-year-old Colton, and 8-year-old Nolen, who are at different skill levels.
“She does a good job of working with everybody and making sure that everybody’s learning,” Howland said. “They seem very comfortable with her.”
Jonna Burgener’s son Ross, 11, is another student in the Thursday night class in Moweaqua. “He always looks forward to it,” she said. “They’re not intimidated at all.”
As a teacher, Sun-Yoon is able to relate to her students, the parents said. “Where she is not as strict and tries to make it more fun for the kids,” Howland said.
“This is just a fun time,” Burgener said.
Many of the competitions and classes incorporate various forms of martial arts, including judo, wrestling and jiu-jitsu. The competitors are often found on the mat trying to pin the other one down.
Sun-Yoon began training at age 7 doing moves similar to the cage matches seen during mixed martial arts competitions. “They did kicking and punching and ground (moves),” Michael Karas said.
Before Sun-Yoon met her current coaches, Chad Hawkins from Effingham, Ronnie Putnam from Moweaqua, and Heath Pedigo from Mount Vernon, her family was told by others in the industry that they saw something special in the child.
Her father’s motives, however, are to encourage his daughters to be prepared to defend themselves. “I’ve never wanted my children to be targets,” Michael Karas said.
Sun-Yoon describes herself as a creative person with other interests. “I like to paint and other artistic things,” she said. “The other languages (Spanish and sign language), I like to practice that.”
Training for jiu-jitsu provides its own creative side, she said. “There’s a lot to learn and I’m always learning,” Sun-Yoon said. “Even the black belts are still learning from other people.”
Creativity can be used through making up her own moves. Coaches have credited Sun-Yoon with creating moves called the Gift Wrap series. “She is evolving to where she is making up her own moves,” her dad said.
The teenager can earn a black belt at 19 years old. She is currently an orange belt. “But she has to win a lot,” her father said. “That’s the track she’s on right now.”
When she loses a match, Sun-Yoon said she accepts it as a learning opportunity. “I’ll watch my match over again, see what I did wrong and fix it,” she said. “I really do like the sport. I just want to be the best.”
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