November the 5th is Bonfire night. It’s also a milestone for club instructor, Mr Luker. He has been training now for 20 years! Here is a reflection on how it all began…..
November 2020 sees a personal milestone for me. Way back in November 2000, I attended my first TAGB Taekwon-Do lesson. It’s been a big part of my life ever since. A parallel life journey where I’ve personally experienced love, heartbreak, death, birth, marriage and the isolation of a pandemic lockdown. Taekwon-Do has been the steady line that has been the distraction, often keeping me sane as the world around me has fallen apart.
To start at the proper beginning, I’d have to go back to 1994, Friday 14th October to be precise. A work college told me about this hobby he had. Taekwon-Do. He was a red-tag who practiced with Leigh Childs. It didn’t take too much persuasion for me to come along. However, I was unfit. I enjoyed a drink. I did swim occasionally. I played football, but not really anything that sporty. In my youth, even though I thought I was pretty good at football, I always got picked last. I played for the school team once or twice, as well as the local under 14s. I can still remember scoring the most amazing own goal where I chipped our goalkeeper from outside the penalty area! A very low highlight of my sporting achievements leading up to my late 20s / early 30s
I had no preconceived idea what Taekwon-Do was. I didn’t really know about any type of martial art. This first class had around 20 other students, most of which were senior coloured belts. I can remember vividly us all running around the dojang. Wigfield’s ‘Saturday Night’ playing flat out over the speakers, as we did press ups and star jumps. We did some padwork drills. I remember putting on loaned sparring kit and sparring with the other students. Each time I trained there over the next month or so, I left with either a black eye or a fat lip. I loved it! I got a buzz from doing this, unlike anything I’d done before.
The dojang was in an old railway building in the centre of Swindon. It had a sports bar where my friend and I would have a protein shake afterwards. The walls of the dojang were full of photographs of Leigh holding mysterious looking swords and impressively kicking vertically in the air in just a pair of shorts, leaving you to admire his muscular physique.
After around 6 lessons, my friend, for some reason he never disclosed, stopped attending the class. I went to one or two on my own but felt incredibly alienated. They were not a friendly bunch, and Leigh himself never had a conversation with me. I didn’t know what happened next. How do I grade? What do I need to do to progress? Do you actually even want me to come along? So, I stopped as well.
5 years later I moved to Wootton Bassett. I bought a house in need of complete renovation and moved in with my cats. In October 2000 a small leaflet dropped through my door saying that a new Taekwon-Do club was opening. I was very excited. I shared my enthusiasm with my girlfriend and my brother-in-law who I wanted to come along as well. I was quite shy and remembered the negative atmosphere I’d experienced in the last school. Safety in numbers! They agreed to come along, and I was excited to start training again
The Sunday of the first lesson came, and they both made an excuse at the very last moment, so we didn’t go. I was disappointed and felt the opportunity to start Taekwon-Do slipping away again. The following Sunday they both made an excuse again. This time I was not going to sit back and miss out. I went on my own, much to my girlfriend’s shock, as I left her sat on my sofa for an hour and a half, as I drove off in a huff. This was probably the bravest and hardest thing I’d ever done. When a new student comes along to our lesson, I always try and remember this feeling and make sure they feel at ease and welcome, as they venture into a room of strangers who look like they know what they’re doing.
The class was small. There were two instructors and around 6 students, all who had started the previous week or were also taking their first class. It was quite different than my previous classes. My instructor, Miss Lovelock was learning her trade as an instructor. She had a very friendly and easy going nature about her. The other instructor, Mr Rowlinson, I wasn’t to meet again for a few years. He had just started his club up in Swindon and I would eventually spend a lot of time training with him.
The next lesson, my girlfriend, not wanting to be left alone again, came along to and also got the bug for training. She would eventually go on to achieve her Black Belt five years later. I have a lot of admiration for her. She failed a Black Belt grading but came back with real strength and determination to get it the next time round. We were also to break up a few months after we had starting training together. To continue training alongside me, and the lady who would eventually become my wife, must have been very hard for her.
The lesson after that, my brother-in-law came along. In essence, there are two types of student. One who has talent and natural ability. Then there is one who doesn’t. The one who doesn’t have ability, has to try hard to improve at every stage. That was me! The one with talent, ability, natural athleticism, that was my brother-in-law! He was awesome at pretty much anything sporty. He stood a lean 6ft 2, was incredibly quick and only needed to be shown something once before being able to master it.
I was fortunate that my brother-in-law also worked with me and we used to spend a lot of time practicing together. Over the years we trained together, I never got the better of him in sparring. There was a day of true personal triumph though, when I landed my foot on his head during a sparring bout. I had progressed over time! I could kick higher. I was faster. This small and insignificant event was actually a large and significant moment to me, a barometer that I’d improved and that the hard work I’d put in was worth it.
The pair of us attended tournaments together where he won a few trophies along the way. We graded together where he achieved a few ‘A’ passes and won some grading awards. I didn’t even win a fight! I enjoyed the whole experience and the preparation, but I was training in his shadow. When we practiced patterns and techniques together outside of the dojang, he became my teacher. I was unfortunately not learning or improving as I had become reliant on him.
When we got to Blue belt, there were some changes that happened. These changes enabled me to grow, improve and gain a confidence that I’d never had before. My instructor, Miss Lovelock decided to retire and a new instructor, Mrs McIlvar took over. I also met Annette, the lady who was to become my best friend, my wife and mother of my daughter.
The structure of the lessons changed. Miss Lovelock liked to join in with us during the lessons. She would put on her sparring kit and lead by example. She would demonstrate techniques and drills, and we would perform them with her. Mrs McIlvar placed a lot of importance on discipline and how a techniques was performed. The lessons were structured differently, and she began getting us, as senior students to help teach the lower grades. My brother-in-law didn’t take to these changes. I was spending more time with my wife (to be!) outside of training, so my brother-in-law and I didn’t practice together as much. He didn’t like the fact that the lessons were stricter. I’ve since come to the conclusion that his natural talent had possibly got him as far as it could. This was the moment his journey stopped, and mine probably truly began. At some point a talented student will be challenged with learning something difficult and their ethic to work hard to improve may not, or ever have been there.
In my time of training I’ve seen that most students fall into these two categories. On a rare occasion, I’ve seen what happens when a student with ability also has the ethic to want to work hard to improve. This is actually truly inspiring to see. An example of this would be one of my instructors, Mr Brad Tombling. He has a natural talent where he can perform almost any technique with grace, strength, fluidity and speed. As an instructor, the years of experience of training through his youth, have given him countless drills to put a student through to help them improve. His end game is to help that student become a little more like him in the mindset. He can also push himself over a class and lead by example. His stamina seems endless. It’s no surprise to see how successful he has been in tournaments over the years. This is what hard work and talent can achieve when harnessed together.
Another student who I believe has this is my wife. She is the only student I know who achieved an ‘A’ pass at every coloured belt grading. She was successful at both sparring and patterns in tournaments. She has fantastic technique and overall knowledge. I’m fortunate to have her as my assistant at the club, more about that another time…….