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NEWS | Oct. 17, 2007

Commander’s family brings home the hardware

By Shauna Heathman 437th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Through a Governor's Proclamation, Governor Mark Sanford declared September 29 as Tae Kwon Do day in the state of South Carolina. In recognition of this, the 17th Annual Tae Kwon Do Governor's Cup was held in Greenville, S.C., hosted by Grand Master Bill Huggins and his Tae Kwon Do Academy.

Schools from across the state competed in Forms and Sparring, for both individual and team honors. Maj. George Unsinger, 437th Airlift Wing Maintenance Squadron commander, captured gold in both the Forms and Sparring categories. But, more importantly, his 8-year-old son, Ryan, took bronze in Sparring and 5-year-old daughter, Katie, won bronze in Forms. About 300 people participated in the Governor's Cup.

Major Unsinger started his son in Tae Kwon Do in January 2005 to see if it would help with his Asberger's Syndrome, a neurological disorder which shares many characteristics of Autism. Later that same year, Major Unsinger joined the sport to ensure his son was learning correctly and to enjoy the opportunity to spend some father/son time together.

"One of the areas people with Asberger's Syndrome have trouble with is social interaction," he said. "My son always preferred being by himself and really had no desire to be with children his own age. If he did interact, it was usually with someone older."

Organized sports weren't an option because of Ryan's interaction behavior. In addition, he suffered from both gross and fine motor skills due to the syndrome. Martial arts presented an opportunity to work on all of this.

"He is very small for his age and always has been," Major Unsinger said. "This and his social skills would seem to lead to being picked on by others, and I do want him to be able to stand up for himself."

Both Ryan and Katie are part of the Ray Smith Tae Kwon Do team from Summerville. Major Unsinger said his son quickly excelled and continues to do so.

"He quickly remembers techniques and movements usually faster than most adults," he said. "Tae Kwon Do has also allowed significant progress with his interaction with others and his self-confidence."

Master Ray Smith, the family's Tae Kwon Do instructor, agrees.

"Most children aren't able to comprehend the 28 movements related to each Tae Kwon Do form," he said. "Ryan has excelled, and I mean excelled, at learning these difficult sequences. They honestly give adults in the club trouble learning, memorizing and perfecting."

Both here and in Oklahoma, Ryan has received numerous accolades for his technique and abilities which are significant achievements for his age. He has a room full of trophies and medals, and the sport has definitely sparked his competitive side.

"I want to do this forever and I want to have my own school," said Ryan.

His sister, Katie has also excelled at the sport. She officially started this past July but always liked to practice at home with Ryan and her dad prior to taking lessons. Major Unsinger said it took a little convincing to get her to actually join the class but now she is also excelling.

"I was awesome," said Katie in regards to her bronze medal win.

She has been honored with one gold medal and two bronze medals in her first two tournaments and, unlike Ryan, her father said she isn't shy about it and enjoys the attention.

"Katie is extremely athletic to start with but, like Ryan, has the ability to comprehend and memorize forms," said Master Smith. "It is very uncommon for children her age to have the motor skills matched with tremendous balance. Girls tend to be more focused than boys and Katie is extremely focused. Our club motto is 'Packing Heat with our Feet' and Katie very much represents that motto."

Increased self-confidence and interaction with others are two major benefits of Tae Kwon Do for the children said Major Unsinger.

"They both can see that what mom and dad say in regards to discipline, courtesy and proper behavior is also taught and expected by others," he said.

Master Smith said he knew right away that Major and Mrs. Unsinger had two fantastic children. Besides being very disciplined, when you talk to them, they talk to you like young adults, he said.

"Fact is, you flashback to a time when everyone was courteous to each other," Master Smith said. "I am so proud of Ryan, Katie and George."

Master Smith's group ultimately brought home the team championship trophy at the Governor's Cup, something they have done for 15 of the 17 years the competition has been in existence. Approximately 34 members from the club attended the championship.

"I told Mr. Unsinger early on that he better build a big trophy case because Ryan and Katie were going to win a ton of awards as a result of physical prowess," said Master Smith. "And George is very good himself."

Major Unsinger has already competed at some very high level regional tournaments with great success. He has an opportunity to compete in the largest regional tournament in the Southeast in Raleigh, N.C., and also to represent USA Tae Kwon Do at the 2008 U.S. Open in February 2008.

One sure fact, said Master Smith, is that both Ryan and Katie will be 4th Degree Black Belts (master level) before they get out of high school. Major Unsinger will be testing for his 1st Degree Black Belt in December. Ryan is not far behind.

Their black belt certification will be recognized by the International Olympic Committee. This is known to the Tae Kwon Do community as the "Kukkiwon" certification. It comes from the World Tae Kwon Do Federation, the world-governing body for Tae Kwon Do in Seoul, South Korea. Major Unsinger's ID card will say he is a registered weapon.

The Unsinger family participates in four tournaments a year. Since being in South Carolina, they have been in two Governor's Cups, the State Championship, the Lugoff Tournament and also a regional competition in Knoxville, Tenn. Their next competition will be the West Wateree Tae Kwon Do championship in early November at Lugoff, S.C.