Standing Up to Fear: Why Losing in Competition Can Help Others

Standing Up to Fear: Why Losing in Competition Can Help Others

Over the school holiday break my family and I, along with a large contingent of people from my taekwon-do club made the trek to Sydney to compete in the 7th ITF Taekwon-Do World Cup. I was a late entry (thanks to recent surgery) and so my preparation for this event was far from ideal. The reality was, however, that the chances of this massive event coming so close to home any time soon is remote, so for better or worse, it was competition time. The competition was a massive success for our club and it was a privilege to part of such an awesome team.

Just a little back-story:

As a young martial artist, I didn’t compete. It wasn’t part of our club culture. In fact, it wasn’t permitted. I entered my first TKD competition when I was thirty-one, after a six-year break from training, and less than a year after having had my second baby. I got hurt—no surprises there.

Since then I have entered the odd competition, most of which were club-based. They made me so nervous that I finally decided that I simply didn’t have the temperament for competition. Besides, I was overweight and over-the-hill. It was better to leave the competitive stuff to the young ones.

Back to the World Cup:

After four months off for surgery, I had a mere 3-4 weeks to prepare for this competition and at a reduced intensity, I stood up in front of a thousand competitors and gave it a crack. The results (personally) were as good as were to be expected. I lost my first round of patterns, I lost my pre-arranged (choreographed fight, like in the movies) and I failed to complete any of my board breaks. Bummer.

There were many positives, however: I remembered my pattern and while it wasn’t the best I have ever done I didn’t let my extreme anxiety completely overwhelm me; the pre-arranged was pretty good and pretty fun; my power-breaking was by no means a disgrace. Of all the women that entered across all division only three or four made their breaks. Mine attempts came close and I didn’t injure myself—so I’m counting that as a win. I also got to coach many of my fellow competitors, the highlight of which was being in the coaches chair when my husband smashed his special technique competition to take gold (jumping really high and kicking a target).

At key moments across the tournament I asked myself the question “Why?” Why do I put myself in stressful situations for which I am hopelessly under-prepared, and leading to an inevitable sense of self-disappointment? There are a few reasons:

1: I’m an idiot.

2: My instructor is very persuasive.

3: I am constantly banging on that older women aren’t irrelevant and should put themselves out there more often.

4: To encourage other female members of my club (of all ages) that they should get up and try even if they’re scared. I’m proud to say that our team was almost an even split of female:male competitors.

5: I’m an idiot who doesn’t like to give in.

The highlight of the tournament for me came, however, at the after party.

Imagine this: hundreds of young, fit, competitive athletes who have been training for many months and have travelled from all over the world are finally let off the leash. That’s right, by nine pm the little pub where the function was being held was transformed into a shirts-off, dance-battle mosh-pit as everyone let off their pent-up steam.

As I stood having a few drinks with my friends, a lovely lady who was the ring coordinator for one of the rings I had competed in came up and said hello. She told me that she had enjoyed watching my pre-arranged sparring and that it was exciting to see women actually competing. She didn’t like competing, she said, because she was never sure if she would have an opponent or if her opponent would be twice her size.

And suddenly my disappointment in my own performance didn’t matter.

I had achieved something important and tangible.


P.S. Apparently we are going to compete in the next World Cup: Slovenia 2020 here we come.


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September has descended and with it the previously abstract truth that I am going to Sydney to compete in the Taekwon-Do World Cup. Yikes. Scattered amongst training, trips to the physio to patch up my ailing body, trips to the doctor, orthodontist, and school, my brain is trying to organise the tonnes of equipment (sporting, photographic and entertainment for the kids) that will be needed.


I get to go to Sydney.

I have a dobok with “Australia” embroidered on the back.

I get to watch 1000 competitors from across the globe.

I get to experience competition on the big stage.

I get to hang out with some pretty awesome people from my own club and friends I’ve met around the world at other TKD events.


I’m terrified.

There’s a lot of logistics involved.

I’m terrified.

It’s being live-streamed so my family in Perth can watch…

I’m terrified.


Anyway… I’m checking out of this blogging malarkey for a couple of weeks to enjoy some family time—genetic and TKD—graduate from University, sight-see in the Blue Mountains and hopefully not get broken in the course of the sparring or power-breaking events.

And yes, I could have pre-written some blog posts to automatically go out while I was away but I’m just not that organised. It’s not how I roll. I also know myself well enough to accept that I’m unlikely to write much while I’m away as well. I think it’s important to recognise and accept your failings for what they are.

See you in October 🙂


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Mind Over Matter: Taekwon-Do and Feminism

Mind Over Matter: Taekwon-Do and Feminism

Seven women cluster at the edge of the sparring ring. Some are more nervous than others but the heightened chatter, anxious laughs and exaggerated body movements suggest that even the coolest among them are apprehensive about their upcoming bouts. It’s a cool day, but the dojang is bright and the vibrant red and blue of the sparring ring’s mats makes it feel oddly festive. And why shouldn’t it? Tournaments are a celebration of the years of work that have preceded them.

This group of women range from their early twenties to their early fifties and though some have known each other for more than twenty years and others have shared the intense journey through the ranks together, most have never met in the competition ring as opponents. Those recently minted in their jet-black belts with startling gold embroidery, collectively downplay their chances of victory against the more seasoned competitors. To the right of the women’s ring, the men’s sparring is in full swing but at this point the cheering and clapping is just background noise.

The first two competitors step onto the mat, bow to the jury president, bow to the referee and to each other, then adopt the guarding stance that signals they are prepared to spar. The referee says “Sijak!” and the timer begins.

One round. Three minutes.

Three minutes is an interminably long time when someone is trying to punch and kick you in the face, no matter how much you like them. Three minutes is relentless when you are pushing, dodging, running, kicking and punching your way around an enclosed space.

The competitors circle each other, throwing test punches and kicks that miss. They tease their opponent, feinting and dodging so as to test distance and speed, courage and resolve. But as the three minutes become two then one, more blows land and the women’s movements become hurried and urgent. A judge sits on each corner counting points: one for a punch, two for a kick to the body, three for that all-elusive kick to the head. In the dying second of the bout the competitors breathe heavily as their fast footwork slows, and their arms begin to drop from fatigue. They are cheered on from the sidelines: Guard-up! Side-kick! Again, again! Keep going!

The winner is announced.

Relief, surprise, disappointment.

The women smile, shake hands and, more often than not, hug.

At the end of all the bouts there are two tie-breaks. The first is the expected re-match between the two-most senior and two most-experienced competitors for the gold and silver medals. The second, however, is between the youngest and the eldest competitors whose ages are separated by almost thirty years.

The two women step onto the mat, bow-in and prepare to fight. Behind them, the other women discuss tactics. The youngest competitor has all the advantages—speed, fitness, flexibility, rank, and experience. The older competitor has a strength and height advantage.


The young black-belt starts fast, trying to gain a points advantage straight away. The elder refuses to be intimidated. She guards well and presses forward, shutting down the space and the effectiveness of the young black-belt’s legs. The elder competitor knows what she needs to do. She needs to be more aggressive, more attacking and push the younger girl out of the ring. Over and over she pushes forward, despite the younger girl’s speed and flexibility. Three steps out and you lose a point. Nine steps out, you lose three.

So much about competitive sparring is in the mind. It is in the ability to control your temper, your fear and your determination. It is about grit. The elder competitor’s tactics frustrate the younger girl and the bout is lost, not on a lack of ability, but because she underestimated the power of determination and control. Because the older woman played her own strengths rather than trying to better her partner’s.

As the winner’s hand is raised by the centre referee, the women at the back of the mat cheer in collective delight for what the win symbolises.

We are still in this. We, as mothers and women over forty are still totally kick-ass.

With the fighting over, the chatter is light and the smiles wide. Each blow is recounted: You were so awesome. That hit was incredible. How did you land that? Sorry that kick was a bit heavy.

I love these women. They are awesome. Clear and simple. But they aren’t awesome because they are young and spend tonnes of hours in the gym. They aren’t awesome because they are world champions, or professional athletes. They are awesome because they do it and they do it because they can. They do it because they are supported, nurtured, encouraged and above all valued.

Is taekwon-do a feminist sport? I think so because taekwon-do doesn’t discriminate against gender, age or ability. It is a pursuit wholly about your own journey and your own mindset that you get to share with a huge extended family.


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