Risk and reward for Roseville black belt

Susie Gulde's return to Taekwondo included ignoring the dangers of a trip to Uzbekistan
By: Sara Seyydin/Special to the Press Tribune
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“You learn the most when you are the most uncomfortable.” Poised in the center of an arena to compete for the title of World Taekwondo Federation poomsae champion, Roseville resident Susie Gulde found that mantra to be truer than ever. It was her commitment to the words of her Taekwondo Grandmaster, Clint Robinson, owner of 19 Robinson’s Taekwondo studios in the Sacramento area, which earned Gulde an opportunity to represent the United States and Robinson’s Taekwondo in West Roseville at the fifth annual WTF Poomsae Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Gulde placed third at the national competition and was the only medalist willing to risk traveling to Tashkent, just 250 miles north of the Afghanistan border, to compete. Gulde, a first-degree black belt, is no stranger to taking risks in pursuit of a goal. At 39, she decided to rejoin Taekwondo after a 20-year break, with her original teacher, after enrolling her two children. Robinson saw great potential in her as a teenager, which lay dormant for many years. His encouragement helped Gulde realize it. “Everyone experiences disappointments, and you have to keep going back,” Robinson said. “Susie had the patience to keep doing the work, even though it can be a lonely journey.” Gulde practices a form of Taekwondo known as poomsae, which is comprised of different movements placed in a meaningful order to block attacks from assailants. It’s more fluid and expressive in motions than other forms. Robinson compared the sequences in poomsae to the beauty of figure skating. As Gulde learned the choreographed kicks and blocks, she found that along with the physical aspects, the mental principles in Taekwondo were becoming a way of life that transcended her time in the studio. “I am even seeing the flipside of patience and commitment pay off in how I parent,” Gulde said. “I have learned to teach my kids at their level.” These principles pushed her to compete despite obstacles. A ruptured eardrum that occurred on her flight to Uzbekistan had doctors warning her to opt out of the competition, but with characteristic perseverance, she resolved she had come too far to abandon her goal. Amidst a crowded arena, with what felt like the whole world watching, Gulde stilled her nerves and controlled her balance, providing a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the crowded city of Tashkent. Finishing 12th in the world in the women’s individual 41-50 age category, she felt the rush of representing her nation and Taekwondo studio and defied the expectations of many who told her Uzbekistan wasn’t a safe place to travel. Gulde said those who were fearful for her trip expressed concerns of possible anti-American attitudes that could be held by citizens of a Muslim nation. Also, being so close to the border of Afghanistan put Gulde near a country at war with the United States. “Not only was safety not an issue, but the people were incredibly friendly,” Gulde said. With a world championship behind her, Gulde is part of a group that is pioneering competitive poomsae by dedicating herself to competing and teaching a relatively new sport by competitive standards. Though some date this form of Taekwondo to ancient times, championships were only instituted five years ago. Standards and scoring procedures were created. Poomsae includes age brackets for those over 50, and the movements are more age-forgiving and have less chance for injury. Gulde assists in teaching classes at Robinson’s Taekwondo and helps hone the skills of her peers. She wants to see more women join the sport. “Now paying forward my experiences to the younger generation or people my age is something I am focused on,” Gulde said. She expects to compete at the national championships in San Jose next July and hopes to get her entire family involved in Taekwondo. Anyone considering undertaking Gulde’s challenge to try Taekwondo would do well to remember her journey from a novice to competing for a world championship in just a few years and the words that inspired her: “You learn the most when you are the most uncomfortable.”