When Monique Marcum’s oldest son showed an interest in taekwondo, she reluctantly let him give it a try.
In time, her reluctance turned into curiosity.
“I always wanted to do martial arts but I wasn’t sure if it was my thing or not,” Marcum said. “After sitting in the lobby watching my son take classes five nights a week, I figured if he could do it, I could do it as well.”
That was 17 years ago. Now Marcum, 54, is a fourth-degree black belt and a full-time certified instructor at Kids 2 Leaders, a martial arts school in Lee’s Summit. She is also ranked fifth in the world in combat weapons sparring and will compete in the American Taekwondo Association’s World Championships July 10-14 in Little Rock, Ark.
Marcum wasn’t exactly a couch potato when she decided to give taekwondo a try. Growing up in Los Angeles, she played volleyball and baseball and competed on a swim team, but she never really found her athletic niche. The action, discipline and competition of taekwondo, though, turned out to be what she was looking for.
“I looked up to the black belts and really wanted to be like them,” Marcum said. “Their talent, their skills and the way they do their techniques … I wanted to do that, too.”
As Marcum progressed through the different belts and disciplines of taekwondo, she became more enamored with it. In 1999, she began training with Brian Davidson, a four-time world champion who opened Kids 2 Leaders in 2004. Marcum, a former elementary school teacher and paraprofessional in the Lee’s Summit School District, worked part time at Kids 2 Leaders until she became the school’s program director in 2009. She moved back to California in 2011 to spend time with the grandmother who raised her, but Davidson persuaded her to return last fall.
“My heart has always been here,” Marcum said. “I came back because I love this school.”
It’s that dedication, Davidson said, that has made Marcum rise through the ranks of taekwondo. He said that what she may lack in natural talent or ability, she more than makes up for with her determination.
“She has the passion and dedication that his present in most champions,” Davidson said. “She just has that drive and desire to achieve a goal, and that right there would be her biggest asset. That makes her overcome not being able to pick something up five minutes after seeing it. She’ll see something then train with it over and over and over until she masters it.”
While Marcum has spent years mastering the many skills of taekwondo, it’s only been recently that she’s taken to combat weapons sparring. Unlike the other forms of taekwondo, combat weapons sparring involves no kicking – it’s all done with the hands. The weapon is a bahng mahng ee – a padded stick about the length of a tennis racket.
Competitors earn points according to where the strike the opponent’s body with their stick. They use moves like “The Scorpion,” a low thrust that resembles a stinging scorpion, or Marcum’s favorite, “The Bumblebee,” a deceptive move meant to confuse the opponent.
“I love to do traditional sparring with the punching and the kicking, but I gravitated toward combat weapons sparring because it’s all hands,” Marcum said. “My hands are really my strength.”
In the short time since Marcum took up combat weapons sparring, she has placed first in the Missouri state championships and won the four-state Midwest District competition sponsored by the American taekwondo Association. Founded in 1969, the ATA bills itself as North America’s largest martial arts organization, with more than 350,000 members worldwide.
Next up are the ATA world championships, where Marcum will take her No. 5 ranking and top 10 standing in forms and sparring and see how she measures up against the best. She competes in the women’s 50-59 fourth-fifth degree division, but she often faces much younger opponents.
“There aren’t many of us,” she said.
As she’s grown older, Marcum says her goals have changed.
“This keeps me focused during my day, keeps me grounded,” Marcum said. “Now that I’m in my 50s, I want other women to know that they can do this – that anyone can do this. I want to influence women my age with martial arts, to let them know that if you’re really focused and dedicated, you can do whatever you put your mind to.”
At Kids 2 Leaders, Davidson sees her inspiring older and younger students every day.
I think you see her it’s pretty amazing for someone her age,” Davidson said. “When you tell people she’s in her 50s, it blows their minds.”