Whidbey Island has a mixed martial arts world champion.
Jeffrey Chia of Clinton claimed the sparring title in the 50-59 age division at the American Taekwondo Association World Championship on June 23 in Little Rock, Ark. He also finished second in forms and competed in combat sparring. Chia, 52, is a student at Armstrong’s Taekwondo in Clinton.
“It’s one of those joyous moments,” Chia said. “There are people that try and try and it doesn’t happen, and then there are people who come out of no where and they get a title. It’s just a gift. It’s one of those things like, ‘Oh wow, how did that happen?’”
Robert Armstrong, owner of Armstrong’s Taekwondo, said Chia is the island’s first ever taekwondo world champion. Chia is Armstrong’s first student to win a title.
“When he told me he won, I was not speechless because I was screaming,” Armstrong said. “I was very excited.”
Chia won state and district sparring championships to earn one of 16 spots at the world championships, which drew competitors from 26 different countries. Following a bye at the start of the sparring tournament, Chia beat his next three opponents to win the title. A sparring match includes three rounds, with each round lasting two minutes. Judges score points based on strength of technique, style and point of contact on strikes.
Chia’s opponent in the championship match was a familiar foe. The California man had beaten Chia in the past, and had also defeated the top-ranked competitor in their age division in the semifinals. “Any other day, these people could probably beat me as well,” Chia said. “It was who could bring it to the plate at that moment and that time.”
Chia said his conditioning and cardio were the biggest difference-makers in the tournament, which stemmed from his training at Armstrong’s Taekwondo. The mixed martial arts school focuses on developing fitness and the will to outlast opponents.
“It’s one of the things that we really excel in,” Chia said. “We believe that everybody should get their best level of physical fitness that they can.”
Armstrong said Chia set out to become a world champion at the beginning of the taekwondo season. His training in the months that followed, which included two workouts per day, three times a week, reflected his drive to win.
“All he did was train hard every single class,” Armstrong said. “He never questioned why I told him to do something. He said, ‘Yes sir,’ and he did it.”
Chia started taekwondo when he was 13 and continued through college. But, as he began his career as an electrical engineer, he stopped competing. It wasn’t until his family joined Armstrong’s Taekwondo following its grand opening August 2014 when he ended his 30-year hiatus. Armstrong said he recognized Chia’s potential early on and told him at the start of the season that he had the makings of a world champion.
“He’s been training for a full year, nonstop, just for this one day,” Armstrong said.
His son, Joshua, was ringside in Little Rock and saw Chia win the title. Stephanie Chia, Jeffrey’s wife, said she was ecstatic when she heard the news of her husband’s world championship. She believes perseverance is her husband’s strongest attribute. Even when he loses, he finds a way to grow from it, she said. She also considered him a true black belt leader for the way he interacts with other students in the training hall and shares his knowledge.
“His goal is not only personal achievement, it’s to strengthen this dojang, which we think is a huge asset to the community in general,” Stephanie Chia said.
Stephanie Chia also feels that her husband’s victory validates the choices Armstrong’s Taekwondo has made in the way it teaches students, and their philosophies.
“It affirms what we’re doing,” Stephanie Chia said. “It never hurts to have a state champion and a district champion.”
“Now, we have a world champion,” she added.
Trevor Fleming, another student at Armstrong’s Taekwondo, echoed Stephanie Chia’s sentiments. He thinks of Jeffrey as a leader who is all about helping the “lowest belt to the highest belt.” Fleming is an orange belt and will soon begin competing in tournaments. He sees Jeffrey as an inspiration.
“It’s just great to have him here,” Fleming said. “He’s just an all around good guy. It couldn’t have happened to anyone better. You can see how humble he is. He worked his butt off for that.”
He also thought Jeffrey’s win puts the Clinton martial arts school on the map, and shows what can come from hard work in the training hall.