Sr. Master Sandoval earns World Champion title

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Master Rick Whitehead (r-l), Master Tomas Sandoval and Master Derwin Yee stand on the World Championship winners podium. Photo submitted.

By MICKEY ALVARADO

Senior Master Tomas Sandoval of Tecumseh has earned an astonishing seven black belts and is awaiting the results of his testing during the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) World Championships, July 8-14, in Little Rock, Arkansas, for an eighth degree ranking.

While testing for the new belt, Sr. Master Sandoval accomplished something that had escaped him his entire career, a World Champion title.

A certified instructor with more than 30 years of teaching experience with ATA, Sr. Master Sandoval opened an ATA martial Arts studio in Tecumseh in May of 1984 and has since expanded to six facilities under the name of Sandoval’s ATA Martial Arts.

He estimates he has graduated more than 300 black belts since that time, and trained three world champions, for which he is extremely proud.

After earning numerous championships, placing second and third at world competition, winning four state titles and amassing loads of trophies dating back from his first black belt, Sr. Master Sandoval earned the World Champion title in forms for the first time this year.

And his timing couldn’t have been any better. If he is awarded an eighth degree black belt his days of competing are all over. Seventh degree is the highest rank in ATA allowed to compete.

“For me to come out with a World Championship title on, what I hope is, my last day of competition was pretty good,” he said with a huge smile.

Sr. Master Sandoval competed in the 50 and over division, being 53 years old, and feels he performed well during testing despite pulling a hamstring during his form routine. He had completed approximately half of his extremely difficult form, Jeong Seung with 98 moves, when he overextended a kick and pulled a muscle in his left upper leg. He accepted the pain and completed the form well enough to earn the World Champion title, as judged by eighth degree masters.

Still, he was unsure if his performance was good enough to help propel him to the next ranking. The competition was all part of his testing for his eighth degree black belt.

“I did well,” he said. “I don’t know yet. I wasn’t really happy with myself because I got hurt.”

He trained hard for six years before testing this year. In addition to form testing, sparring and board breaking are also part of the requirements. Because of his injury, Sr. Master Sandoval did not compete in sparring but sparred for testing, and went through his board breaking session with but one misstep. He was unable to break one of five stations with a sidekick, on his first attempt. With two boards set up at each station, he first completed a twist kick, missed breaking the sidekick, and completed an elbow strike, hammer fist, and a 360-jump kick.

“If I don’t pass it’s because of the missed side kick,” he said. “Which I never in my life miss a sidekick.”

An MRI confirmed the pain he was feeling during his form, sparring and board breaking was due to severely pulled hamstring.

“It might require surgery. I don’t know,” Sr. Master Sandoval said.

If he does not pass his eighth degree test he will try again in October at National competition, if the doctor and rehabilitation are able to repair his injury in time.

Including Sr. Master Sandoval there were four Masters testing for eighth degree, the next to highest achievable level in the organization. The highest level awarded in ATA is ninth degree black belt, a Grand Master. ATA allows just one Grand Master at a time and each runs the organization for a period of 10 years. There have been only three Grand Masters to date including the founder, Haeng Ung Lee of South Korea, who was awarded an honorary 10th degree black belt and title of Eternal Grand Master by Grand Masters of other major martial arts organizations upon his death in 2000.

Currently, there are approximately 12 eighth degree black belts in ATA so it may be impossible for each to become a Grand Master in their lifetime.

There are various other advancements the eighth degree Masters can achieve including the title of Chief Master, which Master Sandoval is interested in attaining. As well, a Grand Master Founder’s Council is another elite level that can be reached.

“It’s titles now,” Sr. Master Sandoval said of his future advancements if he attains his eighth degree black belt. “With 12 people in front of me, realistically, even if only 50 percent of them make it, it will be a long time, 120 years, before I make it.”

Sr. Master Sandoval is content that he will be instructing top-level camps for top-level black belts and expects to be given additional duties on council once reaching the title of Chief Master.

When beginning martial arts at the tender age of 16 he had no high aspirations of becoming a black belt, let alone a Master of martial arts.
“My only goal was to learn how to fight,” he said of his start. “That was my attitude. I had four brothers older than me and you have to defend yourself somehow, that was my goal.”

When moving to United States at the age of 16 into his sister’s home, she suggested he join karate at the local YMCA. He did and never quit. “I just fell in love with it,” he said.

He trained hard and received his first-degree black belt and the knowledge that there is much more to the art than he ever imagined.

“I’ve come a long way from there,” Sr. Master Sandoval said. “There were 25 people who joined that same night, it was a brand new class. Out of those 25 people I was the only one who made black belt. Which is kind of neat because it was the kid who could speak hardly any English and everything else.”

Several years later as a young black belt instructor, he purchased the Tecumseh ATA where he started off with 12 students. He is still in the same building and has had hundreds of students pass through his doors.

Since taking the studio over there have been thousands of martial artists visiting Tecumseh as Sr. Master Sandoval began a local tournament where competitors from around the state and country participate. Last year he estimates 3,000 people attended the event at Tecumseh High School. He anticipates even more in the future. His next Tecumseh Tournament is in November.

“I have been honored to work with some pretty awesome people,” Sr. Master Sandoval said. “The thing that makes me feel good about it is now the students that were eight and nine years old 20 years ago, they’re bringing their kids in for me to teach taekwondo. To me that’s a statement with how happy they were with the program.”

While Sr. Master Sandoval owns the licenses of his other ATA facilities, Adrian, Saline, Toledo, Chelsea, and West Bloomfield, they are all run by his black belt instructors. Sr. Master Sandoval oversees operation and visits each location to give instruction at least once a month.

In October, Sr. Master Sandoval will have been involved in Martial Arts for 37 years. In addition to all of his martial arts teaching, training and overseeing, he has worked full time for 25 years with Englewood Electrical Supply in Adrian as a VMI (vendor manage inventory).

“It is very challenging,” he said. “I work on average 14 to 16 hours every day. I’ve been doing that since 1985.”

After working that many years for another company while building his own, retirement may not be too far off in the future.

“I would like to some time in the near future, the next five years, maybe, step back and turn the school over 100 percent to my instructors,” he added.

Sr. Master Sandoval will be rewarded in the upcoming weeks with a new uniform that lists his World Champion title on the back and he can’t wait to wear it, however there are several other accomplishments he carries on his shoulders that make him even prouder.
“We have three World Champions,” he said, not counting his recent title. “My daughter [Laura] was a 1996 World Champion and Mrs. [Theresa] Gritzmaker, who won three XMA, back-to-back-to-back, World Championships. We also have Mr. [Paul] Teboe who won three back-to-back-to-back combat weapon World Championships.”

Mr. Teboe picked up a pair of World Championship titles this year, also placing first in traditional sparing.

“Tecumseh’s always been a very beautiful town, I love being here,” Sr. Master Sandoval said.

Not much could pull him away but family connections have a way of changing long-term plans. His daughters moved to Texas for college, stayed there and now want their father to move there with them.

“I’m not ready to do that, just yet,” he said. “Maybe in a few years.”




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