In our new series, ‘Showcase your Sport’, in association with the Irish Federation of Sport, we will be giving you a thorough insight into some of the most fascinating sports we have in Ireland.
This week, our focus is on Taekwon-Do and to learn more about the dynamic martial art, we’ve put our questions to world champion, Jamie Williams.
1. When did you start Taekwon-Do and how did you get into it?
I started Taekwon-Do in November 2002; I was seven at the time. Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were shows on TV I always enjoyed, and I wanted to start a martial art to be like a Power Ranger. Like any kid at that age the first martial art you think of is karate so that’s what I initially asked my dad to join. However, my dad got a number from a friend, for a guy called Adrian Byrne with Shannon Taekwon-Do club. He asked me would I try that; I agreed and fell in love with it pretty much straight away and have been training in the club ever since.
2. How would you describe Taekwon-Do?
Taekwon-Do is both a martial art and a sport. It has the traditional elements such as a grading system and encourages not only physical development but mental development and discipline also. However, it is the sporting side where most people spend their time. This is down to the fact there are four disciplines within the sport each representing a different aspect of Taekwon-Do. Therefore, training for sport also helps improve the martial arts side as well.
3. What are the basic rules?
There are four main disciplines to competition in Taekwon-Do; Sparring, Patterns, Special Technique and Power Breaking.
Sparring is where you try to score more points than your opponent by hitting the legal targets (above the belt to the front and side of the body and the head.) You score one point for a punch to the head or body, two points for a kick to the body and three points for a kick to the head.
Patterns or forms is where you perform a sequence of defined movements, trying to perform them as close as possible to perfection. You start with a score of 10 and for each mistake you are deducted points. The severity of deduction is based on the severity of the mistake. The person with the highest score at the end is the winner.
Special Technique is where you try to hit a target with a jumping kick. There are five techniques and the person who can go the highest wins.
Power Breaking is where you try to break plastics boards, with hand and foot techniques the person who breaks the most boards is the winner.
4. What is your favourite memory from the sport?
Without a doubt my favourite memory is winning the -57kg Sparring at the World Championship in City West in 2017. Achieving something that had been a dream of mine since I was a kid and to do so with my family there was an amazing feeling. It was the first time they had seen me compete at a tournament at that level so to win the gold topped it off.
As well on the same day, three of my teammates, Adam Shelley, Ryan Shelley, and Colm Carrol all won gold medals too. Which is something that to my knowledge has not been done before where four people from the same country win four sparring gold medals.
Another highlight was Ireland finished as the No.1 overall country which was also a first and really showcased some of the incredible work that many of the coaches within the ITA had put in over many years.
5. Best and worst thing about being involved in Taekwon-Do in Ireland?
The best thing about being involved in Taekwon-Do in Ireland is being part of a strong organisation like the ITA (Irish Taekwon-Do Association). Since they took over the running of the national team the level of professionalism is increasing all the time and I would expect that to continue for the coming years so as to see Ireland get to number one in the world again.
The worst thing for me is the lack of funding. Having to cover your own costs to go to these major competitions is a big challenge and often impacts the quality of the team Ireland can send. It can be hard to maintain people, especially at senior level when competitors are expected to fund themselves year after year. Taekwon-Do is one of Ireland’s most successful sports but due to lack of mainstream coverage it goes under the radar.
6. What does a normal training week look like for you?
A training week for me usually consists of around 10 sessions a week. The bulk of those sessions would be Taekwon-Do sessions and the rest would be a mix of strength training and some conditioning sessions. Usually, I will take one day off a week for rest and recovery but depending on how I am feeling and the intensity of the trainings I might take two days.
7. Who do you look to for motivation/inspiration?
For me, there is no single person I would look to for inspiration. From a Taekwon-Do point of view my own coach Adrian Byrne would be a mentor for me and someone with a wealth of coaching knowledge that I look to draw on. There are also other coaches around the country who do some incredible stuff with their clubs that motivate me, Stephen Ryan and Stephen Cooley are two that jump to mind.
Someone like Hong Looi, seeing him compete at the highest level for 20 years and for him to win a European Championships at 40 years of age was an awesome achievement, so that is another person that really motivates and inspires me.
Outside of Taekwon-Do an athlete I love and admire is Lebron James, his dedication, longevity, and professionalism both on and off the basketball court is something unreal!
8. Have you noticed a growth in participation in Ireland?
There has definitely been a growth in Taekwon-Do the last number of years. There has been a lot of new instructors opening clubs which has helped the martial art and sport grow. The growth is also very evident in the 3 ITA tournaments which have grown to where up over 800 competitors are consistently attending these events. For example, the ITA Munster Open had to move to a new venue, WIT Arena, as the old venue had become too small.
9. Why should people try Taekwon-Do?
People should try Taekwon-Do as it offers a great balance of the traditional martial arts values and sporting competition. It is one of the best activities out there for kids. It is also not all about competition. If being a world champion is not for you, Taekwon-Do also sets people up extremely well for life in general, for school, college work and relationships.
For older people, where being a world champion is also not on the cards, there is still competition available at a lower level but also the satisfaction of progressing through the grading system. In our club in Shannon we have people over 50 years of age still training and progressing so there really is something for everyone.
In Ireland, under the ITA, you are pretty much guaranteed top-level coaching as all instructors are required to attend coaching courses and attain a qualification that says they meet the requirements set out by the Irish Martial Arts Commission and Sport Ireland.
Taekwon-Do has given me some fantastic memories and I would recommend to anyone to get along to a class and give it a go, you won’t regret it.
10. What would you like to achieve in the sport?
What I would like to achieve is to be recognised as one of the best Taekwon-Do competitors Ireland has ever produced. I feel I’ve achieved quite a lot already however in my opinion what sets the greats apart from the rest in any sport is how long they were able to compete and succeed at the highest level, so I’m conscious of the fact I still have many more years of training and competing to do. Which thankfully, I am really looking forward to.