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‘Hold on to it’: Taekwondo Academy kicks off in 10 years with anniversary celebration in St. George

‘Hold on to it’: Taekwondo Academy kicks off in 10 years with anniversary celebration in St. George

Street. George – Current and former students helped the local Taekwondo Academy celebrate 10 years in business at St. George’s on Saturday night.

The Taekwondo Academy at Villatoya celebrates its 10th anniversary in St. George, Utah, November 5, 2022 | Photography by Nick Yamashita, St. George’s News

Philatoya’s Taekwondo Academy spent a night at the dojo with food, dancing, and a celebration of martial arts education.

“I honestly didn’t think I’d get up to 10,” said Ms. Polly Filatuya. We were doing good until the epidemic. The epidemic struck, and it thrived.”

The academy, which was once a very successful business, opened in November 2012 and has seen over 50 students. And while that number has dropped to about 20, Villatoya said she has recently seen students return.

School started when Villatoya moved out of the San Francisco Bay Area. Focusing on the more traditional Taekwondo, she stressed the importance of practical self-defense, especially for women and children.

Villatuya began her taekwondo training in 1982 in a studio located in South San Francisco, California.

After moving to St. George, she started with only church children as her students, but soon after, she was asked to start teaching at the recreation center two nights a week. Teaching four nights a week helped expand the diversity of her students. She also works a day job at Katering Koncepts.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I moved into a former dance studio located at 1495 S. Black Ridge Drive. With more space, she said, she was able to increase her class sizes.

Lined up in the studio are photos of her students taking each belt test, from when they started to where they are currently. She also has larger over-the-mirror images with all the black belt candidates during their auditions.

The Taekwondo Academy at Villatoya celebrates its 10th anniversary in St. George, Utah, November 5, 2022 | Photography by Nick Yamashita, St. George’s News

Referring to a particular black belt photo, she said, “That was a special photo. It was during the pandemic. They had to stay in their training longer because nothing was open and they kept training at home. They stuck with it.”

Several black belt students were present during the festivities and one even joined in on a video chat from Nashville, Tennessee, where she currently lives and works.

“She really knows every one of her students,” Cameron Carroll said. “With each lesson, you really push us a little bit more and help us know my limits.”

Carol is one of her original students who is a current teacher and a second degree black belt. He is currently studying at Utah Tech as a high school student through the ACE (Accelerated Cooperative Education) program.

Carroll and two other black belt coaches, Destiny Garcia and Elliot Hedges, commented on the key role Filatuya played in their personal growth and as leaders. She said it makes them teach at the brown belt level, which puts them outside their comfort zone but also helps them.

Garcia, a homeschooled high school student, is a first-class black belt and helps teach classes. Haediges is a first class black belt at Pine View Middle School.

Villatoya Taekwondo Academy celebrates its 10th anniversary in St. George, Utah, November 5, 2022 | Photography by Nick Yamashita, St. George’s News

All students mentioned the fact that the martial arts style focuses more on self-defense and is more aggressive.

“It’s not Olympic-style. We do more Korean karate,” said Velatoya. “More power, deeper stances, more power.”

With about 50 people in attendance, the party was a dance, dinner and a chance to catch up with the former students. Festival sounds provided the music.

“This school is family oriented, but I also try to train teens to be leaders,” Vilatuya said during an interview.

She said she studies building trust, understanding and being prepared for bullying and attacks, physical and mental challenges lessons, positive thinking and perseverance.

After 10 years of providing inspiration and life lessons to her students, she has continued to move forward even when times have made it difficult for her.

“I just want to do it to have a positive impact on someone’s life,” she said. “To teach self-confidence and empower them.”

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