Movies exist to give us an escape from reality.
For tae kwon do champion Tyler Kennedy-Woolridge, they introduced him to a career path.
"It all started when I was watching Bruce Lee movies with my mom," the 15-year-old Evanston Township High School junior said. "I liked the way he was fighting and it got me interested in tae kwon do."
So far, so good.
Kennedy-Woolridge, the defending state champion in sparring, enters this week's USA Taekwondo National Championships as the Chicago area's best hope to make a splash on the international scene. The event, which runs through Monday at McCormick Place, is the largest tae kwon do event in the world. Despite the fact that he'll be fighting on a bigger stage, the softspoken teen swears he's not feeling additional nerves.
"It feels like I'm the center of attention where I'm fighting," he said. "I don't fear anybody. I just fight and I leave it all out in the ring. If it goes my way, I'm happy, and if it doesn't, I try to fix it for my next fight."
Now, he's hoping for a big showing at this week's tournament to better position himself for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro.
Kennedy-Woolridge said balancing training for the Olympics with his course load and social life isn't as difficult as one might think.
"As long as I can work out once every day and as long as I have a great coach like [Master] Luciano Medina, I have no doubt that I will become successful at the Olympics."
In fact, Kennedy-Woolridge said the skills he's learned from martial arits have carried over to other aspects of his life in ways he never anticipated.
"If I feel something's coming too close to me too fast, I can move much faster than someone else," he said. "It teaches you discipline, self-control and it teaches you so many things you'd never imagine yourself doing. It teaches you how to prepare yourself, it teaches you self-defense."
And while he's had to defend himself on the mat plenty of times, Kennedy-Woolridge said he's never had to do so off it, something he attributes to the discipline he learned through the sport.
"I have never been in a fight my whole life where I had to use tae kwon do or fight in general," he said. "My master taught me you shouldn't fight, you should just talk it out."
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
The USA Taekwondo National Championships run through Monday at McCormick Place. Tickets may be purchased at the event, the largest tae kwon do competition in the world.
Number of athletes competing.
Number of spectators expected throughout the six-day competition.
Athletes from Chicago competing in sparring at the championships.
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