By Curt Yeomans
Sterling Graham has wanted red lettering on the back of his tae kwon do uniform since he finished third in the forms and sparring fields at the American Tae kwon do Association's 2007 World Championships.
If he became a world champion, that title would be written across the back of his uniform in big, red letters. So, Graham, 12, a resident of Jonesboro, continued to practice his skills and earned a spot in the 2008 World Championships in Little Rock, Ark., in the 12 and Under Special Abilities fields for forms, sparring and weapons.
Graham earned his red letter with a world championship in sparring. The rising seventh grader at M.D. Roberts Middle School, and a student at the ATA school in McDonough, also finished second in forms, and third in weapons.
"I was shocked that my world championship is in sparring, because I've always thought weapons was my strong point, but it feels great to have my world championship," Graham said. "Now, I'll have my red letters."
Winning championships is nothing new for Graham, who is a second-degree black belt. While he only has one world championship, he has six state championships to keep it company.
"I think we need to get a trophy case, they're starting to accumulate," said Jerry Graham, Sterling's father.
Lisa Piper, the chief instructor at the ATA school, where young Graham is a student, said the school is excited about the young man's accomplishment.
"He works very hard, and never quits," Piper said. "All of the instructors enjoy working with him. He'll come up and hug you when he sees you. He's just a sweet young man, but once he gets in the ring, that sweet young man turns into a tiger."
Graham said he has to be aggressive because opponents will be aggressive as well. In tae kwon do, you earn a point for hitting someone in the face, and two points for hitting your opponent in the chest area. Combatants wear padding to protect their head, face, chest, hands and shins.
Graham said a fighter can defend him or herself by blocking, kicking, and throwing punches. "I mostly do punches, but I'm working on my kicks, since I'm doing better in my sparring," he said.