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Martial Arts Helps Top Students Stand Out Among the Elite
Mr Marco Valdez

Mr Marco Valdez, a black belt instructor at Ripple Effect Martial Arts in Johnstown, Colorado, has been training in American Freestyle Taekwondo since before high school. He recently graduated with honors and the prestigious Daniels Fund Scholarship. Here he shares some insights on how karate has helped him in academics and life at large.

How did you get started in the martial arts?

I actually started training in Tae Kwon Do at another school and earned a 2nd-degree black belt before coming to Ripple Effect Martial Arts. I started (at Ripple Effect) at about age 13, and essentially started over in my black belt training.

What motivated you to do that?

The training and culture at Ripple Effect felt different. It was more professional, with more focus on the martial arts and character development.

You recently graduated high school and received some noteworthy awards.

Yes, I received a scholarship for college and a few awards for my academic performance, including speech and debate.

What was the scholarship?

I won the Daniels Fund Scholarship. 20,000 people (from Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) applied and only 250-300 were awarded. The scholarship awards a full-ride to any school in those four states or $25,000 per semester. Yeah, it’s a lot of money.

Where are you going?

I’m going to Boston College in the fall, majoring in Business. CU Boulder was probably my second choice.

Are you from Boston?

So my mom and my aunt and a few other people I know went to Boston College. My twin sister is going to Boston College as well (she also got the scholarship). In fact, she also has her 2nd degree black belt (she earned it at a previous school where we both trained).

How did you earn the scholarship?

Well, you have to write a few essays and then if they really like your essays, about a thousand people get invited for an interview. One of my essays was about karate and how I demonstrated leadership and how karate talks about bullying. The interviewing consisted of a board of three people. You put on a suit and answer ten questions. I spent a lot of time preparing and practicing. I basically went online and studied what the scholarship is about and freestyled my responses for an hour or two. I actually found it really fun.

How did your martial arts training help you get this scholarship?

Yeah, I think that’s one thing that really set me apart. I think our handshakes are firmer. We look people in the eyes, especially an adult or an older guy. So the first thing is confidence. You build a lot more confidence with meeting new people—you’re confident in who you are so you’re not intimidated by imposing personalities or situations. Obviously achieving a 2nd degree black belt shows a lot of accomplishment. It’s impressive. Also, as an instructor, I’ve developed a commanding voice,  talking in front of a group of people—leading a group of people. It’s just a comfort level of being in that position.

I used to be a super quiet, introverted kid. I’m still primarily introverted, but martial arts has given me the ability to be way more outgoing and energetic. I didn’t really lose who I was, but I also gained the ability to talk to people. I wouldn’t have been able to earn the scholarship without that skill. And I feel like there’s a lot of parents who want their kids to come out of their shell like I did. This is a great opportunity for that.

How has martial arts helped you as a student in school? Or in other aspects of life?

Definitely in my confidence in front of people. As a student, instructors would bring me up in front of classes and parents to demonstrate techniques. As an instructor, I need to lead classes with confidence, speak with confidence. Also, before karate, I was really bad with names. Now I remember hundreds of names. I’ve become the name guy.

Do you have a favorite aspect of martial arts training?

I love sparring. You have so many aspects to put into play in sparring, including speed and how you use techniques without telegraphing. It’s an amazing experience, not only to spar, but to teach students effective techniques and see them progress.

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