On Friday 13th March for Sports Relief, you may see one of your English teachers marching around in a white outfit with a black belt around her waist. Some of you may give me a double-take, some of you may roll your eyes and snigger and some of you may ask me, ‘Miss, why are you wearing pyjamas to school?’
That’s because outside of school, I practice the martial art of taekwondo. Some of you may have heard of it, some of you may actually do it yourselves and I’m sure there’s one or two students at SVC who have probably beaten me at some point! For those who haven’t heard of it, taekwondo is a Korean martial art that involves kicking and punching. A bit like karate only with flashier kicks. It isn’t an ancient martial art with secret techniques that have been honed by Buddhist monks on the top of a remote mountain; it was developed by the Korean General Choi Hong Hi in the early 1950s for the Korean army. It’s also one of the world’s most popular martial arts and an Olympic sport but don’t let that stop you from getting involved. If I can do it, anyone can.
My career in martial arts started way back when Channel Four first came on the screens in the early 1980s. They would show repeats of the 1960s show The Avengers and I was so captivated by it, my parents would let me stay up late to watch it, even though it was on a school night. Mrs Emma Peel was my favourite character: fighting the bad guys in her blue and purple cat suit and driving around in her sports car. She was the ultimate action woman and I wanted to be just like her.
I had to wait until I was at university before I got my chance. My roommate dragged me along to a karate class and from the first few minutes, I was hooked. But it wasn’t until I’d been to a university martial arts competition and saw people doing taekwondo that truly I fell in love. Their fluid movements and elegant kicks spoke to me and I knew I was going to do that as well one day.
Fast forward to my early thirties and I was living back at my parents in the early stages of my teaching career and bored senseless with going to the gym. I needed a physical challenge and I looked fondly back to my karate days and regretted never getting my black belt. So I looked up the local club, which was ironically run by a man with the same name as my dad, and along I went. I stood there at the back of the class looking like Bambi in shorts but even though the first lesson left me feeling bruised and stiff in places I never thought possible, I kept going back for more.
Nearly twenty years later, a 3rd Dan black belt, a national, European and a World title (I was a veteran, I came second, it still counts!) a few injuries and a large physio bill and I’m still punching and kicking. Why do I keep going? Because I don’t know how to stop. I don’t train the same as I used to, just a couple of times a week, but I can never imagine not having taekwondo in my life. It’s given me lifelong friends, keeps me in shape and a level of confidence that I would never have had if I hadn’t have started it.
Why would I encourage anyone to join in? Anyone is welcome and we’re a friendly bunch. You’ll get a workout, learn some skills and meet new people. You don’t have to be an athlete to join: male or female, short, tall, large or small, young or old, anyone can join in. Our oldest black belt is a lady in her 70s, I’ve seen another woman with one arm reach world class status and an instructor with only one arm and one leg who could spar whilst wearing prosthetic limbs.
So if you spot me on Sports Relief day in my white pyjamas with the black belt (it’s called a Dobok in Korean), and you’re interested in what I do and fancy having a go yourself, or if you’re a fellow martial artist and want to share stories, then come and have a chat. All are welcome.
By L Jackson
Image courtesy of Adli Wahid @unsplash.com