Alexander Paulson makes history as Devils Lake's first ATA Taekwondo World Champion.

Hanging on the wall at ATA Martial Arts is a whiteboard with an underlined word that reads: ‘RESPECT: It’s not what you know, it’s what you do.’

Every student who enters Master Ryan Arndt’s studio bows before even stepping foot onto the mat.

“A bow is a promise to show respect. You’re not in there as an enemy, you’re in there as an opponent for that match. … I’m going to respect you, I’m going to take care of you but you’re my partner to train with and we’re going to make each other better,” said Arndt.

Alexander Paulson earned much respect during the the weekend of July 13-15 when the 22-year-old became a world champion at the 49th ATA Taekwondo World Expo in Little Rock, Arkansas.

In the decade that ATA has been, and Arndt has trained, in Devils Lake, Paulson is the first student to become world champion. It’s even more impressive that Paulson has Down syndrome.

Paulson has Trisomy 21, which is described as to having the presence of three chromosomes rather than the usual matched pair. This is the form of Down syndrome that is found in most cases. And despite Taekwondo being a family thing (both parents and sisters were once students) Alexander was placed in ATA for more practical reasons.

“We were looking for a physical activity that he can do at his own pace,” said Alexander’s father Kim Paulson. “And to keep him in shape,” Paulette, Alexander’s mother, said interjecting. “People with Down syndrome can have health issues so we wanted to make sure that he had a sport that he can do on his own. So we wanted to get into a sport that he can do on his own.

“But still be social. He still gets to do a lot.”

It’s human nature, or parental instincts, to be slightly apprehensive when putting your child into anything new, especially one with a disability. But despite not knowing how Alexander was going to respond, the result has been masterful thanks due to Arndt.

“Master Arndt said he’ll take it one day at time but made him do what everybody else did and he told me if he needed to back off, he will but treat him like everyone else in class. He gets tested the same way everyone else does,” Paulette said.

The result paid dividends. Alexander not only captured gold in Forms, but he also finished third in both sparring and weapons. He finished the season third overall in the world in the Special Abilities Division. He concluded the weekend, which count as the beginning of the new season, with top three finishes in Traditional Forms (empty-handed patterns such as blocks, strikes and kicks) and Combat Sparring.

“He’s really thrived with competition,” Arndt said. “It’s giving him a lot more purpose to go (to competitions). You can see it in his attitude. He’s worked hard.”

To be world champion, sacrifices have to be made and for Paulette and Kim, that came in the form of bypassing the traditional family vacation to travel with Alexander to his competition.

“We talked as a family and said ‘do we want to take this year and spend all our time to travel as a family to all of his events,” Paulette said. “It was a good experience for us.” “He’s going to be the example for others,” continued Arndt.

“He’s accomplished something that they can now have a visual goal like ‘yes, being a champion is achievable. He’s going to become my role model for the others.”

As Alexander was leaving ATA after finishing his one and half hour training session Monday night, the second degree black belt was asked how it felt to be a world champion. “It feels awesome,” he said.

Chris Harris can be reached at charris@devilslakejournal.com and on Twitter: @ChrisHarris_DLJ