Right from an early age my parents instilled in my brother and me the need to play sport. We were always told we had to at least do something. This, like many kids in Australia, meant learning to swim at an early age. As we progressed through our early years my family packed up our home in Melbourne and moved to Far North Queensland where my brother and I took up playing soccer. This was my first dabble in team sports and, being the goal keeper, I was integral to the team. Upon our return to Melbourne we took up the usual sports of cricket and football. I wasn't a very good footballer but I enjoyed playing cricket. In fact, at the age of 9 we both took up playing cricket in the under 12's. Needless to say, we didn't do too well that first year but as we grew older our skills improved. Going through the ranks of under 12's was fun but I soon grew tired of team sports. I didn't like the fact that if you did well the team could still lose and, of course, vice versa. So just prior to beginning High School I spoke to my parents about leaving the cricket field to begin martial arts. They were very supportive and we hunted down a local Taekwon-Do club. The club was new and only had a few members but the instructor was very friendly so I joined up straight away. Prior to my parents making the outlay on the uniform and joining fee they sat me down and explained that if they were going to pay the monthly fee, I would need to go to every class. No pulling out of class just because I didn't feel like training. Unless I was genuinely sick I had to go. I was happy to agree to these terms and even more happy to then own a martial arts uniform! A big milestone for any martial artist is when you receive your first uniform. I was so excited about my first uniform that as soon as I got it I wore it over to my grandparents’ house just so that I could show them!
In the early years I trained hard and progressed through the ranks. As I grew physically my co-ordination developed. Martial arts is one sport where natural ability doesn't help that much in the formative stages. This is predominantly because all of the movements are typically different to those experienced in other sports. That means that when you start to learn you are all on a level playing field. When you first start, your brain needs to take in so many things and you need your mind to tell your body where to place your feet, place your hands and which way to turn. Martial arts are all about building up muscle memory so that the number of messages from the brain to the body reduces to the point of the technique being a reflex rather than the mind telling the body everything to do. Muscle memory is only built through sweat and repetition; there is no other way to build it! This kind of repetitive conditioning, however, does not agree with everyone and so, at times, student numbers at the club I trained with would drop off to just a handful. One year we even went a whole winter where I was my instructor’s only student! This was great in some ways in that I got to have plenty of one-on-one tuition with my instructor, allowing me to develop skills more rapidly than in a group situation.
To progress through each belt level in Taekwon-Do you need to complete a testing session or, as it is more commonly known, a grading. My early gradings were conducted by an examiner named Master Young Ku Yun. He still teaches martial arts all these years later. He teaches his own style and is based in Brisbane. Back in the day I would present for grading under Master Yun and come away with a “recommended” grading result, which meant that I wasn't quite good enough to get a “clean” pass. Essentially this required me to miss the next scheduled grading, having to wait until the following one if I wanted to progress to the next belt level. I never understood why this was the case and neither did my instructor. After many years I learned that the reason behind the recommended passes was because Master Yun didn’t know me or my instructor particularly well. We were only a small club with my instructor having originally learnt Taekwon-Do in the UK, therefore he was not particularly well known here in Australia. The recommended passes didn't discourage me though and I kept training hard to ensure that I could progress through each of the belts.