Support through Sport UK spoke to newly-wed TaeKwon-Do World Champions - Adam and Jenny Swain ...
Hi Adam. So, first-off, how did you get into TaeKwon-Do?
I started when I was 13. I was staying over at a friend's house one evening and he mentioned that he was going to TaeKwon-Do training and suggested that I come along. It was a two-hour session and I loved it ... and I've been in training ever since!
How does TaeKwon-Do differ to other martial arts?
TaeKwon-Do is a fairly new martial art. It came about in 1955 and was based on Japanese karate and an old Korean, foot-fighting martial art called Taek Kyon. Its founder was imprisoned in Japan (during the Japanese occupation), where he learned karate, and he wanted to come up with something that would serve to unite the Korean people. So he merged karate with some flashy kicking and spinning elements from Taek Kyon.
I should also say that there are actually two TaeKwon-Dos! The original TaeKwon-Do is governed by the International TaeKwon-Do Federation (ITF), which is the style we practice. However, in the 1970s, the South Korean government had a bit of a falling out with the head of the ITF - General Choi - which led them to set up the World TaeKwon-Do Federation (WTF). It's this style of TaeKwon-Do that you will see at the Olympics.
You recently got married to Jenny - who also does TaeKwon-Do?
Yes. We met eight years ago at a competition in Swindon.
Was there much kicking at your wedding?!
There was a bit! We both did some kicking whilst fully dressed in our wedding attire! And a few of our TaeKwon-Do friends formed an arch with their legs, which we both walked though!
So how did Jenny get into TaeKwon-Do?
Jenny started when she was seven as her dad was fed up of playing with Barbie dolls and so decided to introduce his two daughters (and himself) to TaeKwon-do! Jenny got her Black Belt after five years of training and then entered her first competition. Four years after getting her Black Belt, she was selected to compete at a Junior World Championships in Australia where she got a gold and silver in two individual disciplines.
What a start! Which events do you both compete in?
There are five main competition disciplines: patterns, traditional sparring, free sparring, power breaking and special techniques. All are contested by under 13s, under 18s, under 35s and over 35s. And there are male and female categories and individual and team categories (apart from for traditional sparring, which is only done in pairs). Power breaking is where competitiors aim to break as many boards as possible using a set number of specified techniques. Special techniques involves kicking a board whilst jumping as high, or as far, as possible. Traditional sparring is where competitors devise and perform their own routines, attacking and defending using traditional techniques (Jenny and I don't currently compete in this discipline - but we'd like to give it a go at some point in the future). Patterns is a set sequence of techniques that are used to defend against multiple imaginary opponents. You are taught patters as you progress through the different grades. Jenny and I are both 3rd Degree Black Belts. And, finally, free sparring is the sport-style fighting, where competitiors earn points by punching and kicking each other, and where competitors are split by weight (usually at seven or eight kilo intervals). I compete in the -70kg category and Jenny competes at -50kg.
You recently became the Male 3rd Degree Black Belt World Champion and Jenny the Female World Champion. That must have been hugely exciting?
Yes it was hugely exciting and great that we both became World Champions.
Given that you both have to travel so extensively to compete, do you get any sort of sponsorship or funding?
We get a small amount of competition subsidy from our organisation, which comes from the training fees from our National Training Session. However, at present, all of our equipment, training and travel is self-funded. One issue we have regarding funding is that most of the government-funded bursaries are set up for the WTF athletes (as WTF is the Olympic-recognised version of the sport). When applying for bursaries, supporting evidence is needed from the National Governing Body - but we're ruled by a different governing body (even though we compete at the same level). Therefore, we really have to fight (no pun intended!) for government funding - or we have to rely on external sponsorship.
The self-funding must be a challenge?
Yes. Training and competing can get quite expensive, particularly given the amount of travelling we have to do. We both have full-time jobs, so can afford it, but having full-time jobs eats into our training time and leaves us with little or no 'down time'. Essentially, we are expected to train and compete at the level of professional athletes whilst working five days a week. We have some big competitions coming up this year - the World Cup in Jamaica at the end of August in particular. This means that we'll have to put in a lot of extra training, do a lot of extra travelling and buy a lot of new kit. Therefore, we are always looking for donations and sponsorship to help us achieve our goals. If anyone would like to help us, please check out our website or drop us an email.
And finally ... why would you encourage people to give TaeKwon-Do a go?
The best thing is that TaeKwon-Do is a sport that anyone can have a go at. For example, Jenny started at the age of seven and my mum took it up in her late forties (after watching me compete for a few years, I finally convinced her to give it a go!). There's been one chap I've known who was blind who got his Black Belt and I also know a wheelchair user who recently obtained his Black Belt. TaeKwon-Do also provides you with a big set of friends. In fact, most of my friends are people who I've met through taekwondo. TaeKwonDo's also great for self-defence, self-confidence, self-awareness, relieving stress and fitness.
Many thanks, Adam and Jenny. Support through Sport UK has never interviewed a pair of newly-weds - who also happen to both be World Champions - before!