In The News: Local Martial Artists Find Success at Top 10

 In School Updates

Vialdores wins sparring world championship

Three other local martial artists find success at Top 10 World Championships

School Owner and Instructor Mitchell Church with Top Ten Finalist from ValdostaMark Webb, Jennifer Powell, Ali Vialdores and Brittany Johnson, all of Performance Martial Arts in Valdosta, recently competed at the Top 10 World Championships in Little Rock, Ark. From left to right: Mark Webb, chief instructor Mitchell Church, Jennifer Powell and Ali Vialdores. Not pictured: Brittany Johnson.

Adam MacDonald The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — VALDOSTA — Four members of Performance Martial Arts in Valdosta traveled to Little Rock, Ark. last week with the common goal of becoming a world champion in Taekwondo.

When the Top 10 World Championships were over, TitleTown had its newest champion in Ali Vialdores, a former Valdosta State football player who won the world championship for sparring in the men’s first-degree black belt division.

Last year, Vialdores entered the Top 10 World Championships ranked No. 1 in the world in sparring. However, it was his first trip to the World Championships, and the pressure of being the favorite and an injury led to a second-round exit.

Not this year.

Vialdores entered the Top 10 World Championships this year a little more under the radar, ranked fourth in the world in sparring, and he was determined to enjoy the moment this time around. He did, and it resulted in the first of what he hopes are many world championships.

“Everything slowed down,” Vialdores said about his final sparring match. “The first person to five wins, but if you haven’t made it there yet, they throw in a yellow bean bag to signal the match is over with. I remember that yellow bean bag took forever to land. You could hear the Chariots of Fire music playing. While it was taking forever, I looked at the score and realized I won.

“It all hit me. It was great.”

While Vialdores was the only member of Performance Martial Arts to claim a Top 10 World Championship this year, three of the school’s other members that competed exceeded or matched their world rankings.

Mark Webb, a former world champion who was ranked third in weapons, narrowly missed becoming the weapons world champion in the men’s fourth- and fifth-degree black belt division. He finished tied for second, then won the tie-breaker over last year’s champion.

Judges awarded Webb scores of eight, nine and eight, with nine being the highest score possible.

“I was thinking, ‘I just won this thing,’ because that’s a near impossible score,” Webb said.

However, one other participant registered scores of eight, nine and nine to win.

“Having been world champion before, there’s not as much joy in second,” Webb said. “I was pleased with how I did. I don’t feel like I was robbed or anything. I think most people out there are going for the gold medal, the one Mr. Vialdores has. So yes, it’s good to get second and be second in the world, but I wanted to win. I think it rubs off on you here in Valdosta.”

Jennifer Powell, who was ranked third in sparring in the women’s third- and fourth-degree black belt division, finished third in the world in sparring.

Ironically, Powell admits that she isn’t very fond of sparring and that she likes the forms competition much better.

“I am really good at protecting myself,” laughed Powell. “They have taught us that at this school. With all of the self-defense you learn, I think from a sparring standpoint, I’m more defensive. I can protect myself well, and find that open spot where there’s nothing else I can do but punch and kick.”

Powell is a multiple-time world champion, having previously won titles in first- and second-degree black belt competition. She said her goal is to win a world championship in every belt level. Next year could be her last chance to win as a third-degree, because she will be testing for her fourth-degree belt at the same tournament.

“I’ve never met three more determined people in my life than these people,” Performance Martial Arts chief instructor Mitchell Church said of Vialdores, Webb and Powell. “I’ve been around some of the best martial artists in the world, and I know a lot of good people, but these are very determined people.”

Performance Martial Arts’ other participant in the Top 10 World Championships was 13-year-old Brittany Johnson, a Valdosta Middle School student. She finished third in sparring in the girls’ second- and third-degree black belt division. She entered the competition ranked seventh.

Johnson is a straight-A student who runs track and plays on a travel basketball team.

“For her to have her hands in that many fires, and to still place third in the world (in the junior division), that’s pretty awesome,” Webb said.

Vialdores, Webb and Powell all agreed that the reason for their success is Church’s training.

“Usually about two or three weeks before Worlds, when you’re in the Top 10, Mr. Church starts really picking apart the things you need to fine tune,” Powell said. “He’s trained you all year to do as well as you can in the tournament, and then he takes those parts at the very end and says, ‘This little tweak is going to give you that extra edge.’”

Church shrugs it off.

“They’re being modest,” Church said. “I’m very fortunate to have students that train as hard as they do, and are that committed.”

“When you have people like these guys, I love these guys to death. They’re really good people. It’s easy to teach them when they want to learn. I learn from them, too. Every one of them is different. I wish every one of them could win a world championship, but realistically, they’re not. They’ll get it. Next year we’ll have more, I’m sure.”

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