Colin McKinney's chums at Hills-Henderson Elementary School in Cecil better not bully him. It's not so much that he's big for his age -- he weighs 70 pounds and is 4 feet, 9 inches tall -- it's that he's a recent bronze medalist at the World Championship Competition of American Taekwondo Association.
Colin, 9, started taekwondo -- a non-aggressive form of self-defense that uses punching, kicking, dodging, jumping, parrying and blocking -- at the age of 4, when he enrolled at the Steel City ATA Black Belt Academy in Bridgeville where he studied under Bob Arent.
The word taekwondo can be translated loosely as "the way of the hand and feet."
"Five years ago, my wife, Lori, and I began considering what sports Colin might like to participate in," said his dad, Harold McKinney, a self-employed graphic designer. "He was quiet, and we felt that martial arts would be a good way for him to get his confidence up."
The family searched the Internet to find sports for children in the area. When they found the Steel City website, they visited the school. Colin liked what he saw and they signed him up for lessons.
"He was a little shy at the start of his first class, but, by the end of the session, he had a big smile on his face, and you could tell he was hooked," said Mrs. McKinney, director of finance and accounts at Gateway Engineers in Green Tree.
On average, Colin practices taekwondo about 10 hours a week at home, in class with other students and privately with his new instructor, Michael Estep, owner of Estep's ATA Taekwondo & Karate for Kids Center in McKees Rocks.
"Colin switched to Mr. Estep two months ago because he's a fifth-degree black belt and is certified to teach Xtreme Taekwondo, a blend of gymnastics, aerial tricks and martial arts, which is something Colin wants to learn," Mr. McKinney said.
As a young Tiny Tiger orange belt, Colin entered his first taekwondo competition in June 2007 in Erie. The first time he participated in the state championship last year, he became the state champion for his age group.
This year, as a second-degree black belt, not only did he defend his state title, but he also was invited to participate in the World Championships held in Little Rock, Ark. in June.
The competition is held each year in Little Rock because American Taekwondo Association founder, Haeng Ung Lee, settled there after leaving his native Korea and establishing the ATA in 1969. This year's event was held at Little Rock's Statehouse Convention Center with several thousand participants from all over the U.S. and the world.
Mr. McKinney estimates that over 15,000 spectators watched throughout the week-long championship. Colin competed in five divisions and was awarded the bronze medal in the sparring division. The other divisions in the competition are forms, weapons, creative forms, creative weapons, combat weapons, X-Treme forms and X-Treme weapons.
"I'm really happy that I went to World, but I was a little nervous because it was my first time there," Colin said. "My next goal is to win the state championship in all eight divisions next year and, if I'm lucky, go on to the World competition again in Little Rock."
"Colin's a very dedicated student and a hard worker," Mr. Estep said. "He's a great addition to my school, and I look forward to helping him make the World competition once again."
"Colin practices a lot and gives up a lot of the play time most other 9-year-olds have," Mrs. McKinney said. "His excitement for the sport seems to have grown, he loves his new instructor and he's also excited about taekwondo combat weapons, sparring and Xtreme martial arts."
Besides taekwondo, Colin also plays baseball and is learning how to skate because he wants to play ice hockey. He said other boys at his school respect his abilities.
"If they push me around, they know the consequences," he said.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: email@example.com.