Florida woman breaks tae kwon do barrier

Brenda Sell faces a panel of Korean tae kwon do experts as she tests for an eighth-degree black belt in the martial art Thursday in Seoul.


50-year-old is first non-Korean female to achieve eighth-degree black belt

By HWANG HAE-RYM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 22, 2005

SEOUL — For 35 years, Brenda Sell has been getting her kicks and breaking down barriers in the male-dominated martial art of tae kwon do. On Thursday she knocked down one more barrier when she became the first non-Korean woman to attain the rank of eighth-degree black belt.

Sell, 50, now is one of only four women in the world to hold the ranking. She showed off her skills last Saturday at a performance at Hannam Village Chapel and the theater at Yongsan Garrison.

“When I started tae kwon do in early 1970, there were no women doing this martial art — only men,” she said. “Even in the tournament competitions when I competed, I had to compete with the men.”

The journey to eighth-degree black belt began with a chance encounter at a bus stop when Sell was in 10th grade.

She said she had just moved to a new city when “one of the girls at the bus stop asked me if I’d like to join the tae kwon do class. I thought it was the good way to meet the new friends, and I like doing sports.”

Her father supported the idea of her learning tae kwon do, she said, but one of her earliest obstacles was her mother. Sell said her mother told her “tae kwon do is not ladylike.” It took three months for her mom to finally say yes, she said.

Now Sell, from Lakeland, Fla., sees tae kwon do as a way of life.

“From the time someone gets the black belt, tae kwon do begins to become part of life,” she said. “… I love God. I love intensity, dedication, concentration, focus, all of these things are part of tae kwon do.”

There are 10 levels of black belt in tae kwon do, but the highest level that can be attained outside of Korea is a seventh-degree black belt. So Sell and her husband, Edward, a ninth-degree black belt, and her 20-year-old son, a fourth-degree black belt, came to the World Tae Kwon Do Federation Headquarters here so she could take Thursday’s test before Korean authorities.

She said her family has performed tae kwon do at military bases across the world, including performances at Osan Air Base in 1999 and Camp Stanley in 2001.

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