Shaffer: 2-year-old taekwondo champ snaps board

jshaffer@newsobserver.comJune 9, 2013 

— In the fierce circles of taekwondo – a menacing world of knife hands, eagle claws and tornado kicks – young Lydia Miller has already won a coveted nickname at the age of 2.

Junior Tiger.

As far as anyone can tell, she is the youngest fighter anywhere practicing the ancient Korean art known as the way of foot and fist.

On Thursday, she broke her first wooden board using the hammer fist technique.

Then she had ice cream.

“Vanilla,” said her grandma, also named Lydia.

This tiny warrior wears Pampers beneath her white uniform. She enjoys a good SpongeBob cartoon. For her board-breaking feat, she earned a yellow stripe on her white belt – mark of the junior tiger.

In her martial arts arsenal, she carries the screaming fit of the heron, the crying jag of the panther and the flying monkey tantrum.

She stands 3 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs in at 31 pounds. Toddlers cringe before her.

“I broke board!” she boasted over the telephone. “I use hammer fist. Next I get black belt.”

Before this column collapses under the weight of its own cuteness, let’s explore the history of this most venerable martial art. Taekwondo can be traced to the ancient kingdoms of the Korean peninsula, and it really started getting interesting in 1952, when master Nam Tae Hi broke 13 roofing tiles in one punch.

This display so delighted South Korean President Syngman Rhee that he ordered his military to undergo rigorous martial arts training, forever protecting his country from marauding bands of roofers.

While Lydia has not attempted to break any construction materials, her shattered board had an impressive quarter-inch thickness. She proudly held it up to the telephone while we spoke.

“I broke a board!” she repeated.

“He can’t see the board,” Grandma Lydia explained.

Junior Tiger followed fate’s path into taekwondo.

Her mother, Jackie, took up the study while a shy girl growing up in a military family in Hawaii. Soon after, she learned its codes of honor, persistence and respect. As a teenage tiger, she found confidence to introduce herself to new friends, and she spoke to her parents with yes-sir and no-ma’am respect.

As Jackie’s mother, Lydia, watched from the dojo’s sidelines in Hawaii, the master encouraged her to join the exercises.

Today, mother and daughter are both second-degree black belts.

Grandma Lydia holds several national titles.

Twenty years later, watching her granddaughter square off against a slab of wood at Triumph Taekwondo in Cary, she found herself sweating – suffering under the same kind of unbearable stress a parent feels when a child hesitates in the middle of a spelling-bee word.

“I was worried she wouldn’t do it,” said Grandma Lydia. “Because she’s 2 years old.”

But young Lydia snapped the board on the first try, without any help from Master Cho. Then she sat criss-cross applesauce style on the dojo floor, holding her splintered trophy.

Across the board, now broken in two, Junior Tiger’s parents had inscribed a message to their young fighter, telling her of their immense pride.

In their inscription, they also mentioned how greatly they look forward to her mastering the big-girl potty.

That task is the next mountain for Lydia to climb, a deed that will be worthy of legend.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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