There’s a collection of photos in a frame hanging on the walls at Greenquist Tae Kwon Do Academy. Grand Master Eric Greenquist was in his 20s and his younger self can be seen in one of the snapshots. The same young boy was in every photo and that was Neil Stroklund, Wahpeton-Breckenridge’s first junior black belt in 1987.
Fast-forward 32 years and Stroklund returned to Greenquist Academy to take the Masters Exam. Stroklund, a Wahpeton native who now runs a Tae Kwon Do gym of his own in Alexandria, Minnesota, and is opening another one in Brandon, Minnesota, went through a series of grueling tests to achieve his new status. He fell short of passing in a few portions of the test on Friday, Aug. 9, but only 2 percent of the testers pass on their first try.
Stroklund was happy he could do it in the same gym he started his training.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” Stroklund said.
The exam takes about an hour and a half and covers all facets of Tae Kwon Do. Stroklund had to prove his mastery of all of their forms, bow staff skills, knife defense and several board-breaking challenges. He also had an oral portion of the test where he had to prove his knowledge of the United States government and Korean terminology.
There were several challenges viewers were encouraged not to try at home. Breaking bricks, blowing out candle flames with kicks and punches, cutting a cucumber with a sword on top of another black without cutting their body, leaping up and breaking a board with each fist and foot before hitting the ground and laying on top of a pile of glass while another black belt smashes four bricks with a sledgehammer.
Even with all the daunting challenges, Stroklund said the preparation was the hardest part of the exam.
“Just the preparation and trying to make sure and go through everything, to remember everything, to get all the details,” Stroklund said.
He was familiar with all three of his judges, which included his first instructor, Grand Master Eric.
“Everyone is considered family,” Stroklund said. “It’s a second family. You get comfortable with that, which helps also.”
Stroklund will get another try at achieving his Master status soon. The only portions he’ll have to do again are the ones he didn’t pass.