Michael Sybert, captain of the Penn State University Competitive Taekwondo Team, lives by this motto: “Taekwondo teaches you to never be satisfied where you are and to always strive to be better.”
For the first time in school history, Penn State’s Taekwondo team is ranked among the top 10 Taekwondo teams in the country. Currently, the team is ranked fourth in the Eastern Collegiate Taekwondo Conference, the largest collegiate Taekwondo league in the nation.
Sybert, 21, is receiving much of the credit for helping his Nittany Lions snag this prestigious designation, winning the heavyweight division sparring gold medal at two recent ECTC tournaments.
In late October at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, Sybert went 5-0 in matches that included three technical knockouts and helped Penn State to win its first-ever ECTC championship. The team posted the best black belt sparring record (13-2) for a Big Ten team in the history of the tournament, which drew approximately 25 colleges and more than 500 competitors, making it the largest collegiate event in the country.
On Nov. 5 at Cornell University, Sybert, a fourth-degree black belt from Middlesex Township, defeated his opponent on points in the heavyweight division final after three competitors bowed out by refusing to fight against him.
Sybert said his mother got him involved with the sport when he was only 4 years old.
“She signed us up so she could learn some self-defense and to get me involved in something athletic,” he told Patch in an interview.
Most recently, Sybert has trained with Grandmaster Young Bo Kong, a ninth-degree black belt and owner of Cranberry’s .
Although Sybert spent much of his life competing in traditional-style light-contact Taekwondo matches, he made the switch a couple of years ago to a full-contact sparring style requiring pads and body armor, known as Olympic Taekwondo.
“Coming to Penn State…I found that the most competitive and accredited collegiate league was Olympic-style, so I thought I'd give it a shot,” Sybert said. “After a year of competing in the league and seeing some awesome fighters at collegiate nationals, I became hooked [and] I decided, along with the entirety of my team, to pursue this style and see how far I could go.”
Up next for the hometown champ: the Pennsylvania state championships, tournaments at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, the Collegiate National Taekwondo Championships set for April at MIT and finally one of the most competitive tournaments on the globe—the U.S. Open Taekwondo championships, set for February in Las Vegas.
“If all goes well I plan on traveling to Korea after graduation to train at the Taekwondo headquarters—‘The Kukkiwon’ in Seoul, Korea,” Sybert said. “There is always work to do and always a goal to reach.”