Sept. 21, 2008 — Maritza Rijos is a little lady at five-feet one-inch tall, but she is starting to win big in tae kwon do martial arts competitions.
"My kiyups are big and loud, gaining attention in competition," Rijos said. Kiyups are shouts that release energy and tension during competition.
Rijos, a 2nd degree black belt, represented the Virgin Islands in the 30th Silver Cup International Karate Championship in August in Miami. She won first place in Black Belt Weapons Division and first place in Black Belt Kata (forms) Division. This earned her the opportunity to compete in the Grand Championship Division. Rijos said more than 200 people from all over the world participated in the competition.
Another honor for Rijos at the competition was receiving two Nisei pins from Grand Master Wilfredo Roldan to place on her belt.
Rijos said as a little girl she loved to watch martial arts movies.
"You could say I kinda grew up a little tomboy," Rijos said. "I used to love watching the old kung fu movies with my father." She said she was fascinated and always dreamed of becoming a great martial artist.
Rijos grew up in Gallows Bay and graduated from Central High School. Always athletic, in school she participated in track and field and was in the St. Croix Majorettes for 13 years.
After high school she joined the Air Force Reserves. She made use of the G.I. Bill and received a substantial scholarship to attend Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, focusing on biology and earning two bachelor's degrees.
Following college, she did active duty for seven years in the Air Force, attaining the rank of staff sergeant and working as a laboratory technologist.
While in college she began her study of tae kwon do at the Jung Academy. After 12 years she attained a 3rd degree brown belt.
"I loved the challenge and how it pushed me along to see how far I can go and how good I was," Rijos said.
She said she competed in Iowa and at one point came close to going to the Olympics. But raising her two sons came first.
Her sons Robert, 18 and Micah, 16 both study tae kwon do and are green belts.
"My boys love martial arts," Rijos said. "Martial arts are a good thing for kids — we teach them to control their anger."
She added in learning self-defense they have to learn to use their brain and to avoid confrontation. In the lower belts they learn there is a reason and philosophy behind everything, says Rijos.
She moved back to St. Croix in 1992 and got her black belt under Sensei Joshua Espinal, her coach. She recently begun teaching TKD with at Niser Goju Ryu Karate Do school. "I still think of myself as a student though," Rijos said.
Her weapon of choice is the Twin Tiger hook swords.
They are two sinister-looking, long, shinny silver and dull steel, sharp hooked swords. A couple times during the Source interview she said "that sounds gross doesn't it?"
"I grab the most exotic difficult things that draw attention," Rijos said.
She said she likes a challenge and good competition.
She started to compete again in March 2008, in Puerto Rico. In June 2008 she competed in the Battle of the Beach, sponsored by Good Hope School. She took first place in weapons and katas.
In October she will be competing in St. Thomas and she has been invited to compete in Argentina.
Martial arts competion takes a lot of time and money said Rijos.
Her supervisor at Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, where she works in the infection control laboratory, understands her needing time to compete.
She said sponsors are needed to help her and her coach, to get to competition.
She says she still hopes to go to the Olympics to compete.
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