By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Millington Central High School incoming sophomore Chris Southall brought back the gold medal from the 2019 ATA Martial Arts World Championships in Little Rock, Ark., after his victory in Boys Combat Sparring (second and third degree, 13-14 years old).
“It’s crazy,” Chris said of his first world title. “I was crying because I was so happy. I have been in this for a long time. This was the first time I had ever placed in it.
“I was so surprised because the day before I didn’t do as well as some people wanted me to,” he continued. “The next day I won. It all came in so quick. It reminded me of how hard it was and how hard I had to work to get here. I loved it — I loved all of it.”
Southall’s victory in the Tournament of Champions was an accumulation of a decade-long journey. With his mother Sandra Southall’s support, Chris got involved in martial arts and now trains at Bartlett ATA Martial Arts on Stage Road with the likes of Anthony Rosa and Dawson Johnson.
Rosa, Johnson and Sandra were on hand for Chris’ crowning moment.
“Congratulations to everyone that participated,” Rosa said. “Whether you brought home the gold or not, just being there was truly an honor and we are proud of you.”
Sandra, who was busy winning the world championship in the Women’s Traditional Sparring (second and third degree, 50-59 years old), had a break in her competition allowing her to see Chris’ triumph. The mother and son shared an emotional hug.
“Very proud moment for me winning the World Champion on the same day that my son Chris won his World title,” Sandra said. “We train six days a week and often up to three classes a day. Our wonderful instructors, specifically Mr. Anthony Rosa, have really pushed us to another level.
“Believe me, it is with the help of our daily training partners that keep elevating us,” she continued. “Thank you to Master Rosa for providing the exceptional level of training that we have had the privilege to attend. Every one of them are true building blocks to obtaining a championship. Thank you to everyone that supported us on this journey. I am sincerely grateful to all.”
The World Championships were also an expo for the ATA. The first part was seminars and then there was the start of the Tournament of Champions with team sparring and individual events in Forms, Weapons, Xtreme and Combat Sparring and Sparring.
Chris was the best of the best in his division for Combat Sparring.
“Whenever I fight, I don’t really think about it,” he noted. “I just do it. During that final fight, I was in the zone. The other ones I wasn’t really thinking. I was going through what I had learned and to execute it properly. In the final fight, I used everything — everything.”
Other World Champions from the Bartlett group joining the Southalls were Chavela Johnson (Women’s Combat Sparring fourth and fifth degree, 40-49 years old), Nolan Johnson (Boys Creative & ATA-Xtreme Forms & Weapons, first-third degree, 13-17 years old), Austin Parmely (Boys’ Combat Sparring, second and third degree, 11-12 years old), Andrew Hoard (Men’s Traditional Weapons, second and third degree, 40-49 years old) and the Bartlett Brawlers Legends won the Combat Sparring national championship.
“Before I got into taekwondo, I was not a well-behaved kid,” Chris acknowledged. “After I got in, they taught me how to act and respond with, ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘No, ma’am.’ Teaching me how to act and how it would reflect on me and my parents. I took it very seriously. I started to act better over the years after getting into taekwondo.
“It can help you with life skills,” he added. “We teach life skills. We tell you to never give up, never say can’t. You’ve always got to work hard at whatever you’re doing. Even if you don’t like something, find something you like that is worthwhile. Then go for it.”
Rosa and Johnson pushed Southall to set goals and reach his dream.
“I almost quit,” Chris recalled. “Then Dawson and Anthony told me to come on. After that moment I never wanted to quit because I knew I had what it took. They helped me a whole lot to become a world champ. I told myself, ‘I am not going to waste all this potential. I have too many people behind me holding me up.’”
Rosa’s and Dawson’s training with Southall was made possible by the support system Chris had at home.
In addition to his mother’s emotional, financial and spiritual support, other family members like his Godmother Shelia and aunts Kim, Paula and Amanda were there.
“One of the most rewarding things to do is to be able to encourage someone to achieve a dream,” Amanda McClendon said. “Chris Southall has worked when other played and as a result he just won No. 1 in the world in Combat for taekwondo — so proud of you.”
Prior to his World Championship, Chris won titles on multiple levels including state and Pan Am. Now he wants to continue to career in the discipline by going to the Junior Olympics, European Games and eventually the Olympics.
“It made me feel pride to represent Millington,” he said. “Every time I go into a competition, I think about my hometown, where I grew up. I think about everyone who has gone along with me, my friends and my family. There’s no taekwondo schools here. I am a little ashamed there’s not.
“If there was, I would come here and helped them a lot,” Chris concluded. “I would go to Bartlett to learn some stuff and come back to teach the people here so we all could become world champions. I don’t want the city of Millington to be known for something bad. I want Millington to be known for something uplifting and good.”