The Pocket Watch: Pocket Martial Arts school lifts students to national prominence

Matthew Pimentel, a Pocket resident, won first place in his division for sparring at the USA Taekwondo 2014 National Championship at the San Jose Convention Center earlier this year. Photo courtesy

Matthew Pimentel, a Pocket resident, won first place in his division for sparring at the USA Taekwondo 2014 National Championship at the San Jose Convention Center earlier this year. Photo courtesy

Ever watch the rain hit a window, and the individual drops weave their paths as they drip down the glass? Sometimes, those droplets can be inches apart, and, yet, they manage to find each other, join forces, and pick up speed and strength as a single unit. I know there’s some sort of scientific explanation for this attraction, although I can’t explain it, and I don’t even know what it’s called.

I’ve come to believe that the same principle exists with humans. I’ve seen it occur time and again, generally in the stories told to me of people doing great things here in the Greenhaven/Pocket area. Good people traveling their independent paths somehow find each other and help one another to become great or to do great things. At the confluence is usually a pretty compelling story, the best vantage point for which is the view from the satellite, where you can best see the paths come together.

I was afforded this view, as I learned about the remarkable achievements of Matthew Pimentel in the world of martial arts, Taekwondo, specifically. A recent graduate of John F. Kennedy High School, where he was a standout as a runner in Cross Country and Track, Matthew became exposed to Taekwondo through his little brother, whom he began to watch take lessons at the newly opened school, “iYa Taekwondo”, here in the Pocket. To be completely accurate, “iYa” wasn’t exactly newly opened. The school had existed in limited exposure for a couple of years prior, due to its original location, in a classroom at the former Lisbon Elementary School, and, later, as its enrollment grew, in the school’s cafeteria. When the school was compelled to find more expansive digs, Xai Lor, its co-founder, was able to secure a more commercially prominent home for the school in a small mall on Greenhaven Drive.

So, on one hand, we had Matthew, already a fairly accomplished athlete in his own right, being a good big brother, accompanying his younger sibling to Taekwondo lessons in the absence of their father, who was now permanently living hundreds of miles away in Southern California. “I felt that I should be there to support my little brother,” explains Matthew. “The things they do in class are challenging. He needed me to be there with him.”

On the other hand, we have Xai Lor, “Miss Xai”, as she is known as the school’s co-founder and instructor, and to whom Matthew’s caring and consistent presence had not gone unnoticed. Xai had taken her first Taekwondo class as an elective during her freshman year in college at Sacramento State and was immediately hooked. Although the ensuing few years found her completing her education, getting married, giving birth to three children, and enjoying a successful career as a paralegal, she only stopped taking Taekwondo intermittently, to accommodate the births and care of her children.

When the decision was made for Xai to leave her career in law in favor of becoming a stay-at-home mom, the opportunity to teach Taekwondo at her daughter’s school soon presented itself. “We started in a 900-square-foot classroom,” she recalls. The popularity of her instruction soon gained predictable momentum, and her school within a school was soon transferred to the 3000-square-foot multipurpose room on campus. “It began to occur to me that this could become a viable career for me,” she says, and, last year, she moved her Taekwondo school, now known as iYa Taekwondo—named for the phonetic kiai, the short yell emitted by practitioners of the art that expresses the energy involved in a movement—to its present location on Greenhaven Drive.

Xai took notice of Matthew, who seemed always to be in attendance at his brother’s classes, and something compelled her to approach Matthew to suggest that he join the school as well. “I was a little surprised,” Matthew remembers, “I went home and thought about it. I knew that Taekwondo is really big around the world. People use it to defend themselves, but it also teaches discipline, and that’s a good thing for people my age and younger. I’ve always watched martial arts movies. I’ve always loved those movies, and I’ve always been interested in all of the martial arts. The more I thought about it, I decided that, yes, I want to try Taekwondo.” And so, Miss Xai and iYa found itself with a new student.

After a single lesson, Matthew was convinced he’d made a great decision. Like his instructor when she was back in college, he was instantly hooked. I thought, “Whoa! It feels so good! It made me feel better, free! And, another thing, I met a lot of new people, younger students and older students, and they felt like a family really quick.” That feeling of family seems to be a recurring theme with everyone who is involved in classes at iYa. “We go through a lot together,” explains Miss Xai. “We kick and punch each other, yes, but we encourage and love each other, too—you can’t get any closer than that! There is a feeling of mutual respect and support among the students that’s a little difficult to explain.”

When the opportunity came up for Matthew to compete in the State Championships at the Fresno Convention Center in April, Miss Xai encouraged Matthew, now a Green Belt, to participate. “I was a little hesitant” says Matthew, “but my fellow students were really supportive. They pulled me through and gave me the confidence to do it.” Despite Matthew’s reluctance, he emerged from the competition with a 1st Place in Sparring, and a 2nd Place in Poomsae, or “Forms”. Nationals were slated for May. “I was a little shocked by my success in Fresno,” he beams, “But I said, ‘I’ve got to do this!’ and I signed up.”

Nearly 5,000 athletes registered to compete for gold medals in the USA Taekwondo 2014 National Championship at the San Jose Convention Center, Sunday morning, July 6, 2014, in San Jose, Calif. And Matthew was one of them. When he left that day, he had earned the official National Championship in Sparring in his division, and he also came in 3rd in Forms. “Please mention this in whatever you write,” he asks. “I would not have made it this far without my teammates from iYa. We push each other and support each other. It means everything to me. And Miss Xai gave me the confidence and motivation that I needed to carry me through this. I couldn’t have done this without these people.”

You get the feeling that’s it’s a little more than the great instruction at iYa that propels students like Matthew Pimentel to do great things out in the world. There’s more to it than that. Gaps are being filled in the lives of the students, and Xai Lor has clearly received as much as she’s given, as well. iYa has become the confluence where all these individual streams have come together to form one great river. It’s carrying all of these valuable principles that are taught at the school—things like courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control, indomitable spirit, and victory—and headed out into society. Here’s hoping that it can bring some kind of balance in a world gone crazy.

“The Pocket Watch” appears in every issue of the Pocket News. Jeff Dominguez can be reached at

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