Instructor Pamela Stoelwinder gives students tips during a sparring session at Fusion Taekwon-do on Jan. 18.

Kicking above their weight

Feet and fists fly at Houston's Fusion Taekwon-do.

“Ready—no contact! All kicks above the belt!”

That last command from black-belt instructor Pamela Stoelwinder sets the girls and boys at Fusion Taekwon-do sparring on the dojang floor.

Feet and fists are flying, but most stop short of contact, coming just close enough to score a point.

Every time they kick or punch, the fighters breathe out a sharp “tsh” sound—a technique that keeps core muscles tight in case of a counter-attack.

Dozens of “tsh” sounds fill the room. After a two-minute round, some fighters are dripping sweat, some are grinning, some are looking serious as they circle their opponents.

Taekwon-do is a relatively new martial art started by a South Korean general in 1955. Its name translates roughly as “the art of the flying kick and destroying punch.”

That sounds intense, and John Anderson agrees that taekwon-do is a good workout that boosts flexibility. But watching his son and daughter practice, Anderson said taekwon-do also teaches a lot of good values.

“I like the conduct here, and the way they ask the kids to learn,” he said.

Unlike UFC, TV’s most popular martial arts show, Anderson said taekwon-do is not all “rock and roll.”

When Anderson’s daughter leaves the dojang to grab her sparring gear—a black helmet, padded gloves and boots that allow her bare feet to feel the ground—she makes a small bow at the door.

Bowing as you come and go from the dojang is a small sign of respect, but an important one for anyone training at Fusion.

Forgetting to bow means doing 10 burpees—cardio exercises where the fighters suddenly squat, drop to their bellies, then quickly snap back up on two feet.

It’s an exhausting, but fun way to remind students to show respect or stay focused in class.

Taekwon-do also encourages people to carry those values outside class, Anderson said. Before a contest, taekwon-do students recite an oath that ends, “”I shall never misuse Taekwon-do. I shall be a champion of freedom and justice. I shall build a more peaceful world.”

Since 2009, Pamela and Ken Stoelwinder have been running Fusion taekwondo in a fitness centre that was once the Houston Elks hall.

In the fall of 2010, Fusion sent a dozen fighters to a national taekwon-do competition in Richmond and came home with 21 medals. They also medalled well at provincials in Kamloops last year, hitting well above their weight for a small club.

Yvette Stoelwinder, a young blue belt, said she was really excited to watch her black-belt mom spar and take home gold at the Richmond tournament.

And even if taekwon-do isn’t all UFC-style “rock and roll,” it certainly has its own show-stopping moves. In Richmond, Yvette also watched her father Ken bust his way to the top of a board and brick-breaking contest.

Paige Stoelwinder, Yvette’s sister, is already following her dad’s footsteps.

A few weeks ago, Paige landed her new favourite move—a flying side kick

“We’d never practiced that kick before. It was just a try, and I broke the board,” she said with a smile.

By all accounts, taekwon-do is a lot of fun. Anderson said his son and daughter are always raring to go, and they even convinced him to sign up for the adult class.

But sometimes taekwondo is serious fun.

Last Wednesday, Pamela Stoelwinder had her kids’ class run a self-defence drill that teaches them what to do if anyone every tried to snatch them.

There was plenty of laughter as the kids lined up against one wall of the dojang and tried to dodge, punch, kick or bite their way past their instructors and get to the other side.

“This way if they are on the street and get grabbed they know how to get out,” Stoelwinder said, adding that the whole point is to get away safely, not to stick around and fight.

As the kids class winds down, parents like Anderson start suiting up in dobok uniforms for their own round of sparring, pad-kicking or patterns practice.

Normally, there are about 10 adults in class. On Wednesday, with temperatures dropping to -35 C, Anderson was looking at an hour of solo sparring with his black belt instructors.

Taekwon-do style, Anderson seemed to take it in stride.

“My goal is to stay a yellow belt forever, but to be the best yellow belt I can,” he said, laughing.

 

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