Just over three years ago, Jenny Cisney took up taekwondo. Last weekend she stood on the podium as a world champion.
Cisney, competing in the women’s 30-39 division, finished first in combat sparring and third in traditional sparring at the American Taekwondo Association World Championships July 8-14 in Little Rock, Ark.
The event featured athletes from more than 1,500 ATA clubs spread across 27 countries and six continents.
She was joined at the tournament by three other qualifiers from Robert Armstrong’s ATA Martial Arts dojangs in Oak Harbor and Clinton: Armstrong, who is also her primary instructor, and the father-son duo of Trevor and Braxtyn Fleming.
Cisney, who lives in Greenbank and trains and instructs at both Armstrong dojangs, was the only local competitor to place at the world championships. Just days after the world tournament, the first national meet of the 2019-20 season was also held in Little Rock and most of the athletes who participated in the world championships stuck around to compete. Trevor Fleming finished first in combat sparring in that event.
Cisney is the second student from Armstrong’s schools to claim a world title. Jeffrey Chia earned a gold medal in traditional sparring in 2017.
“It’s always a great thing to have one of your students win,” Armstrong said. “When they win, it is so much better than winning yourself. It’s a wow moment.”
“My master was at the worlds too, and he got to see my student win,” Armstrong added.
Armstrong said Cisney’s success starts with her work ethic.
“Her 100 percent is at a higher level than others,” he said.
Athletes earn points throughout the season (July-June) to qualify for the postseason tournaments. The bigger the meet, the more points earned, Cisney said. Some competitors compete in dozens of smaller, local tournaments to build up points. Cisney chose quality over quantity.
There are few tournaments in the Pacific Northwest and Cisney could not travel to many of the events in other parts of the country, so she chose to attend two of the most important — national tournaments in Orlando in October and Las Vegas in February — to maximize her chances to compile points.
Cisney finished first at both, helping her head to the world championships ranked second.
The tournaments also gave her “valuable experience” competing at a high level, she said. “I wanted to challenge myself by going to the bigger tournaments.”
The strategy paid off in a world title.
This was the first time Cisney attended the world tournament. She earned her black belt in June 2018.
Her son, Gunnar, now 8, was a friend of Armstrong’s son and took up taekwondo. Three years ago Armstrong urged Cisney to give it a try; once she did she was hooked.
Cisney mentioned to Armstrong she wanted to qualify for the worlds, and “he really held me to it,” she said.
Cisney likes taekwondo because of the family atmosphere. It not only provides exercise, but gives Cisney the opportunity to “socialize with other adults.” Each session is “a chance to see friends.”
Cisney said she could not have claimed the world title without the support of the school, her friends and her family (which also includes husband Joe and son Jacob, 6).