Matthews claims second world title|[7/3/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Joni Matthews couldn’t believe what she had just done.

After years of training, months of practice and countless hours of repetition, she had simply forgotten to do three moves.

Three, out of an 81-move sequence.

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Immediately, she realized her mistake – and that her chances of keeping her world championship were finished. So Matthews did what any angry martial artist would do.

She went out, beat some people up, and took another title.

Matthews, a 59-year-old Vicksburg resident, won the American Taekwondo Association’s 50-59-year-olds’ world championship in sparring in June in Little Rock, Ark. It was the second world title overall for Matthews, who finished first in forms and second in sparring at last year’s world championships.

“The forms, I love the forms, and I just blew it this year,” Matthews said with a laugh. “Sparring is the really fun part.”

As great as the 2004 tournament was for Matthews, this year’s edition couldn’t have had a more ominous beginning.

She has battled health problems for several years, including a disease called autoimmune hepatitis that attacks her liver. Treatment has brought the disease under control, but a week before the world championships she was hospitalized after her blood pressure spiked to “260 over something,” she said.

Tests revealed no lasting problems, however, and her doctor cleared her to compete just one day before she was scheduled to leave for Little Rock.

“It just spikes for no reason,” Matthews said of her blood pressure. “We were supposed to leave on Thursday and (the doctor) called me Wednesday morning and said you’re good to go. They knew I was going to compete if at all possible.”

And then when the competition began, Matthews flubbed the competition she was best at.

In forms, a martial artist goes through a routine of kicks, punches and strikes. The higher the person’s rank, the more moves the routines include and the more complex they become.

As Matthews, a first-degree black belt, was progressing through her routine, she simply forgot to do two of the moves and used incorrect technique on a third.

“I scrunched my face, and the judge said ‘you might have gotten first if I hadn’t seen that,'” Matthews said with a laugh.

The miscues dropped Matthews to third in forms, with the sparring competition still to come. It proved the perfect outlet for her frustrations.

Unlike last year, when she lost the championship match in sudden death, Matthews was never seriously challenged. She overcame a field that included three women who were just moving into her age group and eight new opponents to win both of her matches and win the world title.

The field at the world championships had 10 competitors who qualified based on points accumulated at tournaments throughout the year.

“What’s cool is that she didn’t really practice for the sparring part. She put most of her effort into forms,” said Kevin Vaughan, head instructor at Vicksburg Black Belt Academy, where Matthews trains and is also an instructor. “She had several matches and dominated pretty well in every one of them. What probably helped her was she didn’t feel the pressure about sparring this time. She was relaxed.”