When Nelson Duque moved to the East End from his native Colombia more than a decade ago, he was eager to continue participating in his sport of choice, taekwondo. The 28-year-old Southampton resident had developed a passion for the martial art as a child growing up in Colombia, and he spun that passion into talent, winning national and even international titles while competing in his home country. But he quickly realized that keeping up the pursuit would require him to spend a lot of time in his car, driving to as far as Islip to find the nearest taekwondo academy, and sometimes as far as New Jersey to compete and train with the best.
A year ago, Duque began a project hoping to address the lack of taekwondo training and competition in the Hamptons, creating the Evolution Hawrangs Taekwondo Academy in Southampton. Duque now trains six adults and six children from Southampton, Hampton Bays and Sag Harbor at the Evolution Fitness gym in Southampton Village.
The name “Hawrangs” refers to ancient South Korean warriors who were charged with protecting the kingdom.
Duque trains his students twice a week, although he said several students participate in extra private sessions, some working out as often as four times a week.
His goal in creating the academy was to give taekwondo enthusiasts of all ages a chance to improve and compete, but Duque said that he hopes his younger students, in particular, can ascend up the state and national levels of competition and perhaps even compete for a college team.
Taekwondo hails from South Korea, and is a martial art that combines combat techniques using both the hands and feet. Taekwondo training generally includes a system of blocks, kicks, punches, and open-handed strikes and may also include various take-downs or sweeps, throws, and joint locks.
Unlike many other martial arts, Duque emphasizes that taekwondo is “constantly evolving,” and he pointed to the fact that it is an Olympic sport and also a varsity sport at many colleges. Duque also pointed out that the system of scoring the sport has evolved as well, with competitors wearing electronic chest protectors that register points for blows that are accurately struck by the opponent.
“It’s really fast, it’s really dynamic and anybody can practice it,” Duque said.
Duque and five other members of the Evolution Hawrangs traveled to a competition at Queens College on March 31 and had great results. Duque, a black belt, qualified for nationals in the adult 18- to 32-year-old bracket, taking a bronze medal in the featherweight division, while his training partner, Carlos Ramirez of Sag Harbor also qualified for nationals, winning a silver medal in the same age bracket in the lightweight division.
Richard Rodriguez of Sag Harbor won a gold medal in the children’s 8- to 9-year-old bracket in the yellow belt heavyweight division. His brother, Oswald Rodriguez, won a bronze medal in the children’s 6- to 7-year-old bracket in the yellow belt lightweight division. Southampton High School students Eduardo Cruz and Joe Zuhusky also competed, with Cruz winning gold in the adult 18- to 32-year-old yellow belt featherweight division and Zuhusky taking gold in the same age group in the yellow belt middleweight division.
Duque and Ramirez will compete at nationals in Texas from June 29 through July 4.