Matthew Stewart has accomplished plenty in his young martial arts career.
The Cedar Lake eighth-grader has two national titles in karate kumite (fighting) and earned two Junior Olympic gold medals as a black belt through Homann Karate Do in Crown Point. He won the Indiana state title in his age group two weeks ago.
And he’s traveled more than most kids his age and many adults, too. He’s competed in national tournaments in Ohio, Texas, North and South Carolina, Pittsburgh three times and Denver twice.
But his achievement from late last year and subsequent trip might top them all. Thanks to how well he performed in a tournament in Raleigh, North Carolina, Stewart qualified for Team USA with about 25 others young martial arts black belts between the ages of 10 and 21. They’ll all be headed to Ireland from June 13 to 20 to represent the United States in the World Union of Karate-Do Federations Championships.
“I’m really excited, and it’s truly an honor to be asked to represent my country,” Stewart said. “I’ve been training hard for this opportunity for a long time. It’s going to be harder competition on a big stage.”
Stewart has been competing in karate since October, 2009, according to his father, Marc, who also competes, thanks to his son.
“I used to take up karate about 20 years ago for a very short time,” Marc said. “I got back in it three years ago for recreation and exercise. How can I tell (Matthew) what to do if I’m not going to do it.”
The Ireland trip could be a preparation for Matthew’s future, because his ultimate goal is an even-bigger stage.
“Karate is being lobbied for the 2020 Olympics, and Matthew would be 18 years old,” Marc said.
“That’s a goal if it happens," Matthew added. "I just keep setting goals, and eventually I’ll get there.”
Sound advice from someone who isn’t in high school yet. His dad also follows some good advice for handling a youth sports participant.
“At the end of the day, you have to let him be a kid,” said Marc, whose son was hanging out at a friend’s house after school while taking a day off training. “Don’t want him to get burned out physically or mentally.”
Matthew understands that as much as his dad, especially when it comes to friendships.
“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get to his point,” Matthew said. “I maybe lost some friends because of (karate), but I’ve gained so many more while traveling to tournaments and keeping in touch with them on Facebook. It’s definitely worth it.”