CARMEL VALLEY — When Demitri de la Cruz returned from the 2008 American Taekwondo Association world championship tournament with the gold medal in traditional forms as a first-degree black belt in the 8- to 10-year-old division, he knew it would be a tough act to follow.
But even with a few extra challenges, the 11-year-old Carmel Valley resident managed to top that performance by taking home a medal in each of his four events during this year’s tournament, held June 25 and June 26 in Little Rock, Ark.
Demitri repeated his first-place finish in traditional forms, this time as a second-degree black belt, and took home his first gold medal Xtreme forms. He also was the silver medalist in traditional weapons and the bronze winner in sparring.
The gold medal in Xtreme forms was especially satisfying since it’s Demitri’s favorite category.
“I like Xtreme forms because you can do tricks and you can put in whatever you want, whereas in traditional you have to do forms that they make for you,” he said.
Since last year, Demitri moved up a rank, so he had the added pressure of competing in a higher division with second- and third-degree black belts. He also aged up into the 11- to 13-year-old category. And if that weren’t enough, his birthday is in May — one month before the competition — making him perhaps the youngest in his division.
“Some of my competitors from before moved up with me, but some of the other ones were still pretty challenging,” he said. “It’s pretty tough, especially in sparring because you’re going against the bigger guys. They’re two or three heads taller than me.”
To prepare for the competition, Demitri trained two or three days a week at Church’s Martial Arts studios in Carmel Valley. He also traveled to North Hollywood once a week for private lessons and on occasional Saturdays for conditioning.
“Conditioning is tougher because you have to do three of each form, and after that, put in reps or combos,” Demitri said. While all that training certainly paid off, it still didn’t make the tournament completely stress-free.
“When I’m in the middle of competition I have to push myself through it as hard as I can,” he said. “But when I’m done, I feel great.”
When he’s not in a gym perfecting his martial arts moves, Demitri, a sixth-grader at Santa Fe Montessori in Solana Beach, plays soccer and last year found time to hone his acting skills when he played the role of Jojo in his school’s production of “Seussical the Musical.”
He also recently was part of the 25th anniversary tour of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, performing at middle and martial arts schools, malls and the 40th annual Comic-Con International in San Diego.
For most of the tour, Demitri was the first to performer because he was the youngest member of the group. “It was pretty fun,” he said. “When I did my first performance, I was really nervous. But then when I did it over and over again I got more relaxed and had more fun with it.”
Following his medal-winning performances in Arkansas, Demitri competed in the World Martial Arts Championships in Orlando, Fla., where he was one of eight finalists in five divisions.