Popularity in mixed martial arts has increased in popularity around the world. The growth of organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, has led to other avenues of the mixed martial arts family seeing similar trends in their interest as well.
One South Dakota athlete has spent the past two decades becoming one of the more decorated taekwondo participants in the nation.
Stephen Rueber of Canton may seem like a commercial broker on the surface, but underneath his friendly smile, he’s a black belt in taekwondo. To Rueber, the sport is more than just a hobby.
He’s a five-time qualifier of the American Taekwondo Association World event, with multiple state, district, and national titles to go along with it.
Rueber started participating in taekwondo when he was a teenager.
“I was just infatuated with martial arts. Anytime I had a chance to watch a Bruce Lee movie, or anything like that it was always a great treat for me," said Rueber. "I jokingly say that Bruce Lee was one of my first teachers, because I would emulate everything he was doing in his movies, and you know, just try to recreate that myself.”
Rueber competed at the American Taekwondo Association, or ATA, Worlds event in Little Rock, Arkansas a week ago.
While it was his fifth time qualifying for the event, it was his third time as an attendee.
“As soon as you walk into the arena, and this is an emotion that I’ll never forget, there’s an electricity in the air. You can feel the adrenaline pulsing through. I mean, these guys are razor sharp – nothing but the best, the elite," explained Rueber. "So going out there, yeah it was a little intimidating, but also exciting. I know that my homework was done and I was ready to show my stuff out there.”
In 2017, Rueber received two gold medals at the Worlds Championship Expo and a second place finish in the Tournament of Champions event, also at Worlds. This year, he fell short of the finals and the podium. But it’s something Rueber said was both humbling and honorable.
So what's next for Stephen Rueber? He plans to work hard this next year to get back to the Worlds competition. And while taekwondo may be just a hobby for him, the skills he's acquired by doing it have been life changing.
"What I've also learned that I apply to my everyday lifestyle are the life skills, the virtues," explained Rueber. "Your discipline, honor, self control, respect, perseverance and integrity - those are items that you learn in taekwondo that you can use throughout the rest of your life."