The average citizen’s exposure to the martial arts usually is limited to images on a movie screen. But for 20-year-old USF student Andrea Ferkile, the martial arts were an intimate part of her life since the age of six.
And later this month, Ferkile will take her expertise to the national level, representing the United States in tae kwon do at the Goodwill Games in Tokyo July 27-28. She said the thrill of competing and winning medals is what has kept her in tae kwon do.
“I really like the competition. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for the competition,” Ferkile said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s very intense and I love it.”
After returning from Japan, Ferkile will begin an 18-month stay at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado where she will receive tutelage from national coach Han Won Lee. The move will be bittersweet, as Ferkile has only had one coach in her life – her father, Bill.
“As far as her leaving, it’s kind of a bittersweet thing,” Bill Ferkile said. “Of course, you’d like to be able to coach them all the way through.
“However, she needs to go, to get there, so she gets more international experience. That’s one of the things the Olympic Training Center will offer them.”
Andrea was just 1 year old when Bill and her mother, Diane, divorced. Bill won custody of Andrea and doubled as father and coach when Andrea was six. Andrea quit tae kwon do at age seven, but resumed after a year and started competing – and winning – at age 10.
“I do think that the fact that I kept teaching tae kwon do, and I’ve taught all these years, was a major influence on her,” Bill Ferkile said.
Andrea added that having a father as a coach was hard at times, but worthwhile in the end.
“He’s very disciplined, very structured,” Ferkile said. “And he didn’t want other people to think that he would be lenient or lax on me, so he’d push me even harder. I think that’s what helped me, though, become so really good right now.”
In a sports world with no shortage of stories highlighting overbearing fathers and prodigious children, Ferkile said her father did not force her to learn tae kwon do.
“He’s always pushed me to do my best,” Ferkile said. “A lot of people think he pushed me to keep in tae kwon do, but he didn’t. He always said ‘It’s your choice.’ I played other sports in high school. He’s always been supportive of me.”
Ferkile admitted that the distinction between father and coach was often hard to draw.
“Sometimes I would look at him, when I didn’t want to go to training or I didn’t want to go to practice, and be like ‘Come on, Dad,'” Ferkile said. “So sometimes it was difficult to separate between coach and father. But it worked out OK.”
Operating out of Ferkile’s Tae Kwon Do in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Andrea has competed in numerous events in most U.S. states, as well as Spain, Turkey and Brazil. She said tae kwon do is comparable to boxing: fights are divided into three 3-minute rounds and are decided by a points system, whereby points are scored via “body displacements,” or blows hard enough to move the opponent. However, unlike in boxing, punches to the head are illegal.
Ferkile also explained that tae kwon do – a “hard-style” martial art as opposed to “soft-style” martial arts like kung fu – emphasizes more kicking and is more cerebral than other martial arts.
“I would say, out of all the martial arts, it’s the (most) strategic one,” she said. “It’s kinda like a chess game.”
In major competitions involving the U.S. team, each of the eight weight classes is represented by only one man and one woman.
Ferkile, a 2nd Dan black belt who competes in the lightweight division (one of eight weight classes), listed a win versus longtime rival Chastity McClain on the way to the national team as one of her proudest achievements. She also draws inspiration from former pupil Angela Prescott, who will join her in Colorado, as well as Kristen Boyer, a soccer player at Miami who Ferkile admired for her intimidating manner in the ring when she practiced tae kwon do.
Spare time is at a premium for Ferkile. Along with training, she teaches tae kwon do and attends classes at USF. A junior in the fall, Ferkile majors in biology and has plans to attend a physicians’ assistant school and pick up a minor in athletic training.
Even if most tae kwon do students never reach the national team, Ferkile said there are many benefits to be gained. She pointed out that, through her teaching, she has helped many children with attention deficit disorder.
“When you start taking it, you see it applies to more than just your sport. It applies to life and you in general,” Ferkile said.