By Ryan Lucas
In life and in sports, greatness lies on the fringe of the definable and the indescribable.
Expressing the term in words is like reaching to grab a curl of smoke, its slow turn and roll evident to the eyes but impossible to touch.
Taekwondo coaches around the country—and now the world—are looking on in wonder as they try to explain the talents of Joshua Kosloski. Quiet, studious and unassuming, the high school freshman is also unfazed at all times on the taekwondo mat.
Late last month at the 2014 World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) World Cadet Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, Kosloski (Aurora, Colo.) fought to five straight victories in the flyweight division, winning a gold medal. In all, he outscored his opponents by a 44-4 margin, an astounding performance for an athlete competing on a world stage for the first time.
Kosloski, USA Taekwondo’s August Athlete of the Month, is atypical in that he thrives on intensity, standing tall with the hard breakers of pressure crashing upon him.
“I wouldn’t even say that’s just rare at his age; I’d say that’s rare for everyone,” Master Bill Pottle of Korean Academy of Taekwondo (Aurora, Colo.), one of Kosloski’s numerous current coaches, said. “I tell most of my students that however they do in practice, they’ll probably do 80 percent as well at a tournament.
“They could be nervous, there could be something going wrong that day—maybe they couldn’t eat, maybe that got called and then were told to wait—and that kind of stuff happens all the time at tournaments.
“It’s really rare to see people who can just raise their game up so much when it counts. You see that often in great athletes in other sports: the higher the stage, the higher the game. They just deliver, and it’s almost like they’re affected positively by nerves instead of the negative impact most people feel. Joshua’s a rarity in that respect.”
Even in the finals in Azerbaijan, when he faced Russia’s Andrei Kanaev—who’d already defeated him earlier in the year at the U.S. Open—Kosloski never strayed in his approach.
“It was the same as a regular tournament,” he said, referring to his method of remaining in the moment at all costs, including in overtime of the championship match, when he landed more strikes just under the threshold of scoring to defeat Kanaev for the title.
Kosloski’s relentless desire to improve keeps him moving forward as a competitor. Throughout the year, he cross trains on a regular basis with Master Henry Cruz of Manila Taekwondo (Union City, Calif.), Master Dean Vargas of Quest Taekwondo (Redondo Beach, Calif.), Master Andre DeOlivera of Champion Taekwondo Academy (Thornton, Colo.) and several others—all while maintaining a spot on the honor roll in school.
Success is a natural consequence of a tireless work ethic. Since 2008, Kosloski has earned more than 60 medals—most of them of the gold variety—at major national events.
“Number one is that he just works really, really hard,” Pottle said of Kosloski, who also competes in AAU Taekwondo. “I think few people understand just how hard he works, how many classes he goes to, how many miles he runs and how many tournament he goes to.”
Kosloski also seeks to learn from as many elite martial arts personalities as possible. Whether having USA Taekwondo Assistant National Team Coach Russ Gale in his corner or speaking to Isle of Man luminary Aaron Cook for advice, Kosloski is untiring in his drive for competitive knowledge.
Each year, Kosloski squares off against a continuous line of opponents, a process that keeps his growth on the mat a constant. The push to win also spurs his development.
“With sparring, there aren’t many styles that he hasn’t seen,” Pottle said. “Whether they use the front leg, the back leg, like to spin a lot or like to attack, it doesn’t matter; he’s already sparred many people with each style, so I think that’s really helpful for him.
“For his age, he’s very experienced. But he’s always been smart with how to win. Even when he was a little kid and just playing games at the dojo, he’d always just find that way to win.”
In the future, Pottle believes that his star pupil’s savvy and motivation will only strengthen. As he prepares for the junior level and beyond, all the ineffable qualities that define Kosloski’s greatness will press him on to the fore of the sport, Pottle said.
“If I were a betting person, I would definitely not bet against Joshua,” Pottle said. “Any level of this sport is achievable to him—Olympics, Olympic medals, anything—because he definitely has that special ability.”