Wellington The Magazine-August 2016
Story by Jason Stromberg • Photos by Abner Pedraza
Grandmaster Gustavo Pope-Guerriero takes pride in being humble. He doesn’t consider himself better than anyone else. He tries to lead his students with actions and life lessons, not by telling them how much recognition he has received over the years or how many black belt ranks he has moved up.
“My goal in martial arts is to make my students better people,” said Pope-Guerriero, director of Xtreme Tae Kwon Do at Ultima Fitness in Wellington. “My personal achievements, I kind of put them to the side because my students are my personal achievement.”
His students, ranging from 3-year-olds to adults, can all take a bow the next time they see their grandmaster. That’s because Pope-Guerriero was recently promoted to the rank of 8th degree black belt.
This highly prestigious honor was presented by Grandmaster Patrick Petitjean, a 9th degree black belt, the highest ranking. At the May ceremony, many of Pope-Guerriero’s black belt students were on hand to pay their respects to their grandmaster.
“I think, personally, achieving this ranking is better for my students,” Pope-Guerriero said. “There comes a point in martial arts, because you’ve been doing it for so long, that you get this recognition. When I received the news, I was very excited, but I’m not going around telling everybody I’m an 8th degree black belt. It’s for my own personal satisfaction and growth in martial arts.”
Tack on another accolade to the long list of achievements for Pope-Guerriero, who is also a Hapkido 4th degree black belt. He placed first in the 1980 South American TKD Championship. He placed third in the 1983 World TKD Championship. He’s a former Argentine national champion, a two-time champion of the J. Park International Tournament and a 1999 Florida Winter Cup heavyweight champion. Pope-Guerriero is a three-time Florida state champion (1999, 2000 and 2004), who placed first in the 2003 Atlantic Games and third in the 2004 AAU Nationals.
Just don’t expect to hear him bragging about it. “I think being humble is a very good characterization of people. It’s good to be recognized on the things that you do, but if you’re humble, I think it goes a long way. It’s very important,” said Pope-Guerriero, a native of Buenos Aires. “You don’t go walking around telling people, ‘I’m a black belt, I’m a black belt, I’m a black belt.’ That’s something that you need to keep for yourself. My last promotion for a 7th degree black belt was seven years ago. Now, I need to wait eight years for my 9th degree black belt.”
Confidence, determination, respect and strength are the true qualities that each student learns from Pope-Guerriero’s teachings. The grandmaster first started training in 1972 and received his 1st degree black belt in 1979. He has been with his instructor, Pedro Florindo, every step of the way. Pope-Guerriero’s program has been located in Wellington for 14 years and counting.
“I teach self-defense, discipline and all the great things that come with tae kwon do,” Pope-Guerriero said. “The best part about teaching martial arts for me is that I can see kids come in here, very scared and very unsure of what they’re going to do, and then to see them progress and become more confident is what it’s all about. It’s kind of like a diamond in the rough. You see a rock, and I kind of start shaping them, and then they become black belts, and you can see the confidence, and you can see how much they have progressed. And this carries on in all aspects of life. The confidence that you get, the discipline that you learn, it helps you at work and it helps you at school. That’s why I love teaching martial arts.”
Pope-Guerriero competes extensively in Argentina and in the United States. When it comes to training his students, he allows each one to spar, wearing a full complement of protective gear. The protection isn’t for just you, it’s for your partner as well. Everyone has to follow the rules.
“I think it’s very important for every child and adult to know at least something to protect themselves,” Pope-Guerriero said. “Whether it’s a technique, a front kick, something you know that can get you out of a situation.”
He loves to teach self-defense. Rule No. 1 of self-defense is being aware of your surroundings. The Little Dragons, ages 3-5, are his most challenging students.
“With the little ones, it’s discipline being taught. Having the attention span. Looking someone in the eyes, saying ‘Yes, sir, No, sir. Yes, ma’am, No ma’am,’” Pope-Guerriero said. “I introduce them to the very basics of martial arts, which are the front kick, the stance, the balance. With the other age groups, we get a little more into the martial arts. We still work on the discipline and concentration aspects. My goal with the adults is teaching the self-defense aspect.”
Xtreme Tae Kwon Do offers classes at Ultima Fitness, located in the Wellington Plaza at 12799 W. Forest Hill Blvd. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (561) 795-2823. Learn more at www.ultimafitness.com.