MURRAY Dave Skousen was smitten with the swords.
"It was so cool," he said of seeing an ad for HaiDong Gumdo, a form of Korean martial arts that uses swords. "I'd never seen the sword stuff before."
It would be three years later before the 34-year-old Orem man actually signed up at the Lotus Blossom studio. Two years later, he signed up to go to the world championships in Korea "just to try it."
Skousen ended up doing what no other American has ever done he won the Grand Championship for colored belts in his age division.
"The Koreans have always won every championship in every division and age group," said Skousen's instructor, Marshall Parnell. "They just dominate these World Championships, which include competitors from 30 countries. He's the first non-Korean to have taken that title."
Skousen said before he arrived in Korea he hoped just to make it to the finals.
"Once I got there, I got very competitive," he said. "I thought, 'I can't come all this way and not do well."'
And once the professional photographer put his mind to seeing what he was capable of, he did what no other foreigner has done in the four World Championship competitions in Korea.
Parnell said he knew Skousen and another student, Cathleen Martinez, had an opportunity to do well.
"Dave took it to a whole new level," said Parnell. "You never know what's going to happen in competition. ... I knew he had the skills, but we saw his best at the world championships. He certainly rose to the occasion."
Competitors compete in a number of areas, including forms, sparring and a free-flow sword dance, in which competitors make up their own dance using the HaiDong Gumdo forms. It is a form of martial arts that made its way to Korea when the Japanese occupied the country for a while. It focuses students on self-defense.
"It's designed to make people less aggressive," said Parnell. "It's never to be used offensively, to fight or to be abusive."
Most of his students say they chose HaiDong Gumdo not only to get in shape but to find a way to compete in a nontraditional sport.
Parnell has taken students from his Murray studio to the World Championships since 2002, and while they've always done well, the most recent group exceeded expectations.
"Our students are pretty ambitious and unafraid," he said. "Every time we've gone, we've done a little bit better. We're considered to be in kind of a remote part of the U.S., but because we've done well at these competitions, we've earned a lot of respect."
The youngest competitor was Evan Magelsen of Salt Lake City, who is just 9 years old. He had been taking Taekwondo and playing basketball when he discovered HaiDong Gumdo.
"It teaches you discipline, to defend yourself, and it's a good workout," he said. Magelsen's first trip out of the country was a bit intimidating at first.
"The arena was big; I didn't think it would be that big," he said. "I was nervous, but I just ignored it. I just pretended I was practicing with everyone else."
Magelsen made it to the last round of competition and finished fourth in his age group. In addition to his athletic accomplishment, he said he loved learning about Korea.
"The food kind of tasted the same," he said. "I had rice every day."
Steve Chadwick of Sandy said he sought out Parnell's studio in an effort to exercise without injuring himself.
"It's definitely challenging," he said. "It's low impact and everything is very controlled, very disciplined. I'm a competitor, so the opportunity to compete was an incredibly rewarding experience. We were competing against folks from all around the world."
The group spent 10 days in Korea, and all of the students were impressed with its beauty and the friendliness of the people.
"It was awesome," he said. "We watched Korean professionals demonstrate HaiDong Gumdo and it was awesome."
He said it increased his desire to perform at a higher level himself.
"It was inspiring to see the level at which they performed," he said of the champions. "I want to do that."
After winning the top award, Skousen decided to make the trip even more memorable."I did the test for my black belt," he said. "I passed the next day. It was the icing on the cake."