For about half her life, Sabrina Yu has been practicing taekwondo — perhaps known for its flashy and acrobatic kicks.
Plot twist: She’s only 6 years old.
Earlier this month, Yu became the youngest ever to test for, then earn, a black belt in the Korean martial artform at the U.S. Taekwondo Center in Monument. And she accomplished this feat in front of Master Jay Lee, her family, fellow students and TV news cameras.
“We had great kids in the past and all have exceptional qualities in their own ways,” said Master Lee, the center’s CEO and president. He’s also the son of Grandmaster Sang Lee, the 1988 U.S. Olympic coach. “But this is the first time we had anybody ever to achieve the level of black belt at 6 1/2.”
He added: “She came in early. She trained with her family and she demonstrated exceptional listening skills, the ability to learn and follow, which is well beyond most kids at her age level.”
Yu didn’t expect to be in this position as the center’s young star. She remembers just watching her old sister Sadie and mom from the back of their classes. Ultimately, her parents signed her up at 3 1/2 years old, although the center typically doesn’t accept students until age 4. Nonetheless, she was a quick learner.
Sabrina had about six weeks to prepare for her black belt test, which took place Oct. 3. And it wasn’t easy to get to this point, which signifies a student has mastered the fundamentals of taekwondo. She learned 10 patterns of traditional forms — including sparring, self-defense and breaking boards — along with having to run 3 miles under 45 minutes, doing 200 pushups and situps and completing a written test.
In the process, she and the other black-belt candidates completed tasks outside of the dojang. This included doing 25 acts of kindness and writing a letter to her parents. She made sweets for her neighbors and helped her dad with house chores, as kindnesses.
For some adults, it takes up to six years to achieve a black belt.
Taekwondo has shaped the lives of every member in the Yu family.
For 11-year-old Sadie, it helped her transition from competitive dancing to martial arts. She found similarities in the two, especially when it comes to choregraphed demonstrations. She enjoys it and became a black belt with her mom this past June.
For mom Amanda, it helped her reverse a diagnosis of pre-diabetes in 2019. Through her taekwondo training and dietary changes, she lost 40 pounds.
And for dad James, it’s a way to show his wife and two daughters a better understanding of his Korean culture.
As serious and disciple taekwondo can be, the Yu family enjoys it. They call the martial art form fun.
Recently, the Yus sat down to talk about the role taekwondo has played in their lives. They moved to the Colorado Springs area from the Houston area in Texas after James accepted a job in the semiconductor business.
Amanda said a coworker recommended taekwondo. Soon enough, her two daughters joined. Dad doesn’t practice the martial artform but is around to support his wife and two daughters, who are first and sixth-graders at The Classical Academy.
And now, all three Yu ladies are black belts.
For Sabrina, she didn’t imagine becoming the youngest student to accomplish the feat in the center’s 34-year history.
“It feels kind of amazing,” she said, “because I didn’t think I would achieve it.”