It's the 22nd year for the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) World Championships. Events are being held at the Statehouse Convention Center and Verizon Arena.
A ceremony this morning officially kicked off the event that wraps up on Sunday (June 24).
An estimated 20,000 people, including visitors from most U.S. states as well as South Africa, South America, Europe and South Korea, will attend the week of Taekwondo competition and training.
The week of World Championships will be filled with martial arts seminars, special training sessions, exciting tournament competition, and the elaborate World Ceremony (Saturday at Verizon Arena).
Performances by demonstration teams and national team finalists will provide spectators with an entertaining blend of classic martial arts and modern flips and tricks.
The theme for this year's Ceremony is "ATA Strong: Find the Superhero Within" and will highlight some of ATA's biggest superheroes including ATA's Noah Ringer, star of "The Last Air Bender" and Dr. Harlan Van Over, a ninety-year-old ATA black belt and World War II Veteran. Those unable to attend the World Ceremony will be able to watch videos live on Facebook. Click here to bookmark the link.
For competitors, these championship events mark the culmination of a year of hard work at regional and national ATA tournaments to earn a coveted spot among the Top 10 students in their respective divisions. Students will compete in divisions based on age and belt rank. They will demonstrate their skills in traditional forms, weapons, sparring, creative and ATA-Xtreme open-hand forms and weapons, and combat weapons sparring.
These competitions will be held at the Statehouse Convention Center and will be open to the public. Those participating in the Top 10 will compete Thursday and Friday.
In addition to the competition, visitors to Little Rock can enjoy the beauty and serenity of the H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden, located alongside the Statehouse Convention Center. This $1.4 million landmark is named for the organization's founder and was carefully designed to share the ATA story and elements of Korean culture.
As a philanthropic organization, this year's World Championships marks the 20th anniversary of the H.U. Lee Scholarship Foundation. The Foundation was created by ATA's founder to reward scholarships to ATA students who display the life skills of perseverance, respect and integrity and demonstrate the leadership qualities taught in ATA classrooms.
Also during this year's World Championships, ATA has partnered with the American Red Cross to host a blood drive in the Statehouse Ballroom Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
While the best of the best competitors vie for the prestigious title of ATA World Champion, the Central Arkansas economy will benefit as well. The ATA World Championships represent the largest annual convention in Little Rock, generating an estimated $5.8 million in local economic impact.
The ATA was founded in 1969 by Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee and has been internationally headquartered in Little Rock since 1977.
With active membership topping 300,000 worldwide, including more than 60,000 Black Belts, ATA is North America's largest martial arts organization dedicated to the discipline of Taekwondo.
In addition to teaching Taekwondo, self-defense and weapons training, many ATA instructors are certified in Kidz'n Power stranger safety and Olweus Bullying Prevention.
Click here for the full championship schedule of events.
Click here for more information about ATA or the Songahm Taekwondo World Championships.