Enter the dragnet
By ANDREW MCGINN
Along with his patrolman’s badge, Cody Smith was issued a .40-caliber Glock 22 with a 15-round magazine and a Taser.
He can carry pepper spray and a retractable tactical baton if he wishes.
He also has access to an AR-15.
But the Jefferson Police Department’s newest officer failed to make one slight disclosure this fall before he was sworn in.
He is his own weapon.
No one knew Smith was actually a national taekwondo champion.
“I was not aware,” Police Chief Mark Clouse confessed last week. “That kind of sums Cody up. He’s a pretty humble young man.”
If you’ve seen any martial arts movie, you know the past always finds a way of catching up to a warrior trying to start a modest new life in the countryside.
Not that Smith is trying to start over. He’s only just begun — at 22, the past year has seen him get married, become a police officer and move to a new town.
That would be a lot, even for a ninja.
Smith’s taekwondo background just never came up during his job interview with Clouse.
Now that the dragon is out of the bag, though, he admits he’s pretty sure that even in his new police uniform, wearing all that gear, he could still throw some kicks.
Not that he plans to anytime soon.
“You don’t go around saying, ‘You don’t want to fight me,’ ” Smith explained. “You go out and live life and it’s a tool that can help you in multiple situations.”
An Indianola native, Smith became a national collegiate taekwondo champion in 2016 while fighting for Iowa Central Community College’s taekwondo team, then in its first season.
“It would be up there with marrying my wife, graduating school and becoming a cop,” he said.
At 6 feet 4 inches, Smith got to college by throwing a football.
A 2013 graduate of Indianola High School, Smith initially had hoped to follow the likes of Aaron Rodgers from junior college beginnings to gridiron stardom.
After a stint on Iowa Central’s football team, Smith began his ascent, starting the 2015 season at quarterback for Waldorf College.
The thing is, no one ever plans on getting injured.
For Smith, it was a shoulder that kept popping out.
“I decided to just hang up the cleats,” he said.
Returning to Iowa Central in Fort Dodge, he resumed his studies in criminal justice with the goal of becoming a cop.
By April of 2016, he was facing off against a West Point cadet in the semifinals of the 41st National Collegiate Taekwondo Championships at the University of Colorado — and beating him so badly, he won by mercy rule.
Smith had taken up taekwondo only a few months prior.
“When I was little,” he said, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was my thing.”
Smith also had an interest in boxing and MMA, which led him to the Fort Dodge gym of Justin Faiferlick, a sixth-degree black belt and the head coach of Iowa Central’s taekwondo teams.
Master Faiferlick took note of Smith’s natural athleticism, and he joined the Iowa Central taekwondo team having no martial arts experience.
Smith admittedly thought taekwondo was all form — not realizing that a spinning head kick comes by its name honestly.
“I didn’t realize you could get in there and fight,” he said, “and the best man comes out.”
Taekwondo — a Korean martial art rooted in an ancient style of combat once practiced by the Hwarang warriors of the Silla Dynasty — is unlike football, Faiferlick said, in that you don’t have to do it in high school to compete at the next level.
Taekwondo has been an official Olympic medal sport since 2000, one of two Asian martial arts in the games.
“You can start with nothing and we can get you there,” Faiferlick said. “Cody is the perfect example of that.”
Smith remains a blue belt in taekwondo — Korean for the “art of kicking and punching” — the belt class he fought in college.
“Being a quarterback,” he said, “you have to work on your footwork.”
He was able to jump five belts within a month of joining the taekwondo team.
“It’s not as easy as it looked on TV,” he said.
While he won his first competitive match, he was anything but sure of himself.
“What if I’m not good,” he remembers thinking, “and get kicked in the face and break my jaw?”
As it turns out, like the plot of a martial arts movie, Smith may have been destined to take up taekwondo.
The youngest of three boys raised by a single mom, Smith never really knew his father — but he later learned that his estranged dad was at one time the youngest-ever black belt in Iowa, having earned his taekwondo black belt at the tender age of 6.
You could say the art of kicking and punching is in his blood.
“I don’t think I’m Bruce Lee or anything,” he said. “I’m not going to come out with three spinning head kicks.”
As a heavyweight fighter, Smith is admittedly more methodical — even a little psychological.
“I could tell I was in his head,” he said of his foe from the U.S. Military Academy in the semifinals of the national championships.
First, he thanked the Army cadet for his service. Then, Smith confessed that he was probably going to lose, this guy being from West Point and all. Plus, the guy also held a black belt in karate.
Ah, yes, getting your enemy to underestimate you — in kung fu-speak, the old “drunken master” or “crippled avenger” routine.
While West Point ended up seizing the overall team championship, followed by Brown University, Smith had to fight an Iowa Central teammate for the heavyweight blue belt sparring title.
Smith is one of two national champions so far for Iowa Central in its three seasons of competition.
“We’ve done really well for a local community college,” said Faiferlick, who by day is a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Air National Guard and commander of the Fort Dodge-based 133rd Test Squadron.
Following graduation, Smith worked armed security and in loss prevention until his hire in October by the Jefferson Police Department.
“He’s a welcome addition to the city of Jefferson,” Clouse said.
Now that he knows about Smith’s taekwondo background, it’s probably a foregone conclusion who might soon be teaching self-defense to other officers.
“He’d be great for that,” Clouse said.
Then again, Smith isn’t the first local officer to have failed mentioning his college glory days.
“Kyle Terlouw worked here for a year before I knew he played for the Hawkeyes,” Clouse said.
A Sully native, Terlouw left the Jefferson force in May for a job with the Waukee Police Department. Come to find out, he had played on the Hawkeyes’ 2015 Rose Bowl team as a defensive lineman.
Smith feels right at home in his first police job.
“I’m here in Jefferson to be the best cop I can be and to help Jefferson grow,” he said.
“What surprised me,” he added, “is how beautiful of a little town it is.”
Having grown up without a dad, he was always cognizant of the fact that he perhaps didn’t have the picture-perfect home.
“I believe if you treat someone with respect, hopefully they’ll give it back,” he explained. “You don’t realize what someone has been through until you talk to them.”
Like other martial arts, taekwondo is first and foremost about discipline — kicking someone in the head is pretty much always an action of last resort.
“I like talking myself out of a situation,” Smith said. “I know if it ever becomes physical, I can handle my own.”