After 10 years of training with Master Tony Byon, 15-year-old Valley Streamer Brandon Sealy will represent the United States at the Junior Pan American Taekwondo Championships, in Costa Rica from Aug. 28-31.
“It’s a great feeling to finally get there, because it’s been a long time of trying and trying, and almost getting there last year,” said Sealy, who lost a competition to join Team USA last year by one point.
He started taking classes with Byon when he was four years old because his parents did not like the lessons he was receiving in karate. “It was a very offensive sport and the teachers weren’t very nice over there, so we tried taekwondo,” Sealy said. “We could just see the difference about how Byon cared about his students so much and about how he instilled qualities in us, and taught us how to defend ourselves, not to start fights but to walk away.”
Those lessons were encouraging for Sandra and Leonard Sealy. “When we discovered Master Tony almost 10 years ago, and that he embraced the principles we wanted to instill in our children, we have been consistently coming here since,” said Sandra.
Brandon’s brother, Bradley, also takes classes with Byon, and even won a silver medal at the taekwondo nationals in Richmond, Va., last year. Both brothers have competed in international competitions.
In Brandon’s first one, he received a gold medal. “So I think that’s when his parents saw the talent in him,” Byon said.
Sandra and Leonard fund all of his international trips, and try to make it to every competition. Leonard runs back and forth to ensure his son has everything he needs to compete, according to Byon. “You’re looking at an almost football [field] size, and he’s running from one end to the other,” Byon said.
Sandra brings Brandon to the Taekwon V Academy, on Merrick Road, to train with Byon every Monday, Wednesday and Friday — and even some Saturdays, in preparation for the championships and the Costa Rica Open immediately afterward. At the training, Brandon does target kicks, warm-ups, among other exercises.
His dedication impressed State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who helped him train on Aug. 4. “To be at such a young age, but to be so poised and focused, is something special,” Kaminsky said.
Brandon said he trains frequently because he knows matches can be difficult. “International people, they take this sport like super-seriously and they train almost all the time,” he said, “so I know it’s going to be a big challenge, but I know I’m going to be up to it.”
Byon said it is more important for Brandon to be prepared mentally. “Once you’re at that high level, everybody’s just as good as one another, but I think more than physical is mental readiness,” he said, adding that international competitors face more pressure to win.
In contrast, Byon’s students know that winning is not the most important part of the competition, according to Sandra. “Master Tony has always been the one to say, ‘Don’t worry about it, you did your best,’” she said.
Sandra also said she doesn’t care whether Brandon wins or loses at these competitions. She would be proud no matter what happened. “We just want him to strive to be the best that he can be,” she said. “So as long as he puts out his best, I’m good.”