Sandoval awarded title of Chief Master in Year of the Blue Horse

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ATA Grand Master In Ho Lee (left) awarded the title of Chief Master to Tomas Sandoval. Photo submitted.

For the first time ever, the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) has a Chief Master in Michigan. Tomas Sandoval was awarded the title of Chief Master by the ATA after an elite ceremony in Little Rock, Ark., on July 9, where he and five others were honored with the title in a traditional Songahm Master Ceremony, Year of the Blue Horse. This year marks a significant time in the Korean culture — the Year of the Blue Horse, which symbolizes strength and renewal.

The month of August is also special to Chief Master Sandoval as it is his 30th anniversary of opening his martial arts studio, Sandoval’s ATA Black Belt Academy, in Tecumseh. “It’s been in the same building, same place, same location for 30 years. I love Tecumseh. It’s a great little town,” he said.

Last year Chief Master Sandoval tested for and was awarded his eighth degree black belt. The Master’s Council considers eighth degrees for the title of Chief Master and makes nominations. It is not an automatic designation. Once nominated, there is a process of conditioning put in place that involves physical and mental training. Chief Master Sandoval trained in Anaheim, Calif., in the spring of this year for five days. The Chief Master candidates then met in June for two days in Little Rock, Ark., at the headquarters of the organization. Before the Chief Master ceremony in July, Sandoval was required to fast for five days to cleanse his body. He began his fast the day after the fourth of July.

“When you’re training for 12 hours, the last three days you have no food,” Chief Master Sandoval said. “So, that’s the hardest part. The challenge I had was you have to be approved by your doctor to do that.”

When testing for his eighth degree black belt last year, Chief Master Sandoval injured his left upper leg muscle when he overextended a kick and it took six months of rehabilitation to heal the severely pulled hamstring.

“If you don’t have any physical issues, then it’s your own integrity if you want to fast,” Chief Master Sandoval added. When his fasting was over, the head of the ATA, Grand Master In Ho Lee, served Chief Master Sandoval his first meal.

“One of the things people don’t understand is if you’re in the military, an eighth degree in martial arts ranking system is like a four star general,” Chief Master Sandoval said. “There really are only a few of us who get that opportunity.”

He said at that level in ATA a master must be very active within the organization.

“You have to be able to contribute to the growth of the organization,” he said. “You need to train, and able to be on call when they need you to do something.”

Chief Master Sandoval began his martial arts career at the age of 16 after moving from Mexico to his sister’s home in the United States. He opened his ATA martial Arts studio in Tecumseh in 1984 and has since expanded to six facilities under the name of Sandoval’s ATA Martial Arts.

Chief Master Sandoval estimates he has graduated more than 300 black belts since that time, and trained three world champions.

In addition to all of his martial arts experience, he has been employed full time with Englewood Electrical Supply in Adrian for more than 25 years.

ATA is celebrating its 45th anniversary and has two ninth degree Grand Masters, In Ho Lee, who is currently head of the organization, and Soon Ho Lee, who is retired from the position. The founder of the ATA, Haeng Ung Lee, passed away in 2000, and was awarded the title of Eternal Grand Master.

Chief Master Sandoval said that there is talk in the organization of promoting additional ninth degree black belts in the future to create a group of leaders to choose from when time comes to select a new Grand Master to lead the ATA.
“In my class there were six of us who became eighth degrees, three gentlemen, older than I was, are involved with the military,” Chief Master Sandoval said. “As a matter of fact, Chief Master [J. Phillip] Wargo is a Lieutenant Colonel in the military and he flew in from Afghanistan just for the ceremony.”

It will be a while before the new Chief Masters are even able to begin thinking about testing for their ninth degree.

“For us to even think about testing for a ninth degree, well first of all we have to wait 12 years,” Chief Master Sandoval said. “And the thing about our organization is they don’t just give you the belt. You actually physically have to test in front of thousands of people and perform.”

The ATA organization is in 23 countries and currently has 18 Chief Masters throughout the world.

Chief Master Sandoval is 54 years old this year.

“Of course I stay active and try to stay in shape as much as I can,” he said. “But, I’m no dummy. My body is saying ‘ok now, you need to stop.’ I don’t know that I will ever stop working out but I will need to obviously be smart about how I train.”




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