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Taekwondo Takes Over Downtown Little Rock

Almost 20,000 marshal-arts aficionados in their brightly colored uniforms have once again descended on downtown Little Rock for the 26th annual American Taekwondo Association World Expo. 

Jenny O'Conner of ATA International estimates up to 20 nations are represented at the organization's biggest event of the year, which includes the crowning of champions for the just concluded competition year and the opening competitions of the new year.

"You've got people who come in from all over the world who may not speak the same language," O'Conner says. "But then they start doing their moves, and they're doing the same forms. And it just shows how much martial arts and ATA International specifically unifies people as a group."

Competitions run through the day Sun. (7/3) at the Statehouse Convention Center with other events scheduled at the Rivermarket and the Riverfront Ampitheatre. 

Little Rock hosts the event every year because the founder of ATA International, Eternal Grand Master Lee settled on the city as the headquarters for his organization 39 years ago after passing through town. 

O'Conner says Little Rock reminded Lee of his hometown in South Korea.

"A lot of people refer to Little Rock as the Mecca of taekwondo," O'Conner says. "For a lot of people in ATA, coming to events like this, that's their family vacation for the summer.

Little Rock has embraced us, and in return, we've embraced the city and state."

David Wallace was a reporter and anchor for UA Little Rock Public Radio from 1991 to March 2021.
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