The family that kicks together sticks together
June 9, 2008 · Updated 7:32 PM
"Lots of 40-year-old moms kick up their heels. But not all of them aim their heels at your head.Step onto a taekwondo mat with Sue Unger, though, and that's just what you'll see. Unger, an administrative secretary for the city building department, demonstrated her prowess in the Korean martial art by taking home two gold medals at the recent Washington state championship in Seattle.She competed in both the sparring and the form portions of the state tournament, and won top honors in both.The sparring is full-contact with chest protectors, mouthpieces and pads, Unger said, and each fight has two one-minute rounds, which doesn't sound like much until you try it. In my first fight, the timers made a mistake and let the first round go two minutes, she said. I thought I was going to die.Taekwondo, which originated in Korea, has some similarities to Japanese karate, with a different emphasis. Karate is mostly arms, Unger said. Taekwondo is mostly legs.Competitors in the sparring competitions score points for landing kicks to designated portions of their opponents' anatomy. The chest and sides are designated target areas, while the back is out of bounds. And the head is a prime target for those agile enough to reach it.With the second girl I fought, we were even on body shots, Unger said. But I got in numerous shots to the head, and won that way.To win a gold medal in sparring, gyroggi in Korean, Unger had to win two bouts.The girls I fought were a lot younger than me, Unger said. My coach said, 'They may be younger, but you're smarter.'In the form competition, called pomse, contestants must demonstrate an array of prescribed techniques. It's mock fighting, Unger said. It's like there are a number of attackers coming after you, so you have to turn in different directions. You also have to look intense and confident, and make crisp moves.Unger followed her children Jason, 13, and Chris, 8, into the sport.My oldest son has been taking since he was seven. I kind of sat weaving in the chair and watching, she said. Then when my younger son started, I thought I'd kind of like to give it a shot, and I kind of took off.It's demanding exercise - really great for toning your legs. It's hard on your knees, though.Unger began studying a year ago at Victor Solier's studio, or dojang, in Poulsbo. She now is an orange belt, an intermediate rank, and will test this weekend for a green belt.She has high praise for Solier, a five-time world kickboxing champion, who is a fifth-degree taekwondo black belt and has earned the title master. It's really a family, Unger said. It's a very supportive group. In fact, a lot of the students there are families.At Solier's dojang, earning a black belt is a lengthy process.Some dojangs hand out black belts like popcorn, she said. But master Solier requires that you take the time to really learn. It's normally five years to black belt. But I hope to go on if I can stay healthy.Son Jason is putting taekwondo on hold to focus on junior-high wrestling, while Chris is still learning along with her. He's a natural, she said. He'll surpass me.That leaves husband Rich as the odd Unger out. He says he'd love to, but it's too hard on his knees, she said. Anyway, he said, 'I don't need to do it - I've got three bodyguards.'The Solier dojang is closed to new students, but one of Solier's top students, Jose Lugo, is teaching classes at the Bainbridge HPC health club."