The Black Belt

Hundreds of spectators cheering on their sons, daughters, loved ones and friends. The thud of someone hitting the floor. The sight of St Johns Ambulance staff running to the next injury. The high kicks and quick punches. The clapping and woops for the champions.

Welcome to the South West Tae Kwon Do Championships, and on Saturday I found myself revisiting it once again.

Tae Kwon Do is a bit like Karate, but based more on self-defence and comes from Korea. I can't remember when I started it, but by the time I was 14 I had my black belt, and a few years later I was competing in championships. However, with going to university and already achieving my goal of becomming black belt, I gave up the sport. At the time my sister was training to get her black belt, and all these years later I still find myself at the competitions cheering her on.

When you compete, you can take part in either patterns (a series of set moves, marked on technique) or sparring (ful contact fighting!), or both! In the past I took part in both, and today my sister was doing the same. She had huge success a couple of years ago, with sparring trophies from the Great British Championships, English and South West again. With a couple of years away from competition, it was time to get back into it.

The patterns are based on the technical elements, and to a general spectator it can seem a tad bland. However, the trophies are just as prestigious, so you can imagine the cheer we gave when my sister came first for her pattern.

The sparring is where the excitement really kicks in. You have anyone from small 4 year old girls and boys, to full adults taking part. Each person has to wear protective gloves and helmet etc, and each age group is split into weight categories to make it fair. Then two people take to the area, and literally go for each other over a set period of time, aiming for the point areas of the body whilst defending theirs.

I am going to moan for one moment, because this really angered me yesterday. At some other competitions, there are soft mats on the areas to help if anyone falls. Yesterday, the ground was a standard badminton court floor that is pretty solid. One fight involved two teenagers, and one of them punched the opponent in the face when he was in mid air. He went horizontal and fell to the floor, hitting his head with such a thump that everyone heard. He stood up, swayed around and then fell to the floor with concussion. The protective helmet helped, but surely a protective mat on the floor would have help prevent him collapsing.

My sister managed a third in her sparring competition, which is a great results after so long away from competition. The only problem I had was the slight urge to grab my old kit and join back in with the competition! Then again, there is always next year!

If you want to know more about Tae Kwon Do, then check out their website here.