Empowering women through Taekwon-Do

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By Ms Vivienne Wood 1st Dan I, Silla TKD

Tauranga, in the beautiful Bay of Plenty, was the place to be for women in Taekwon-Do from February 14th -16th.

iTKD NZ Women's conference at The Mount was hosted by the Hwa Rang and Tamaki clubs and held at The Martial Arts Academy with the socialising happening at a fabulous waterfront property at Mount beach hired for the weekend. The conference was attended by a wonderful bunch of women, both young and young at heart and we were instructed by some equally great and inspiring women from our NZ female senior Dans. The instructing team was Mrs Christine Young-Jasberg (VI Dan) or Hwa Rang Academy, and host of our training venue The Martial Arts Academy, Tauranga. Dr Thu Nguyen (V Dan) and Ms Chanthie Thach (IV Dan) of Tamaki Academy, Auckland. Mrs Trish Rounthwaite (V Dan) RTR TKD, Hastings and Ms Rose Cherrington (IV Dan) TKD Cubs, Levin.

Our weekend kicked off with a meet and greet potluck dinner at "The Beach house" on Friday as everyone arrived from various points around the North Island. Some of our ladies were billeted out by other members from the local Tauranga Clubs, Silla, Hwa Rang and BOP Academy. This was a great idea that I highly recommend other clubs organising events consider as it made the weekend more achievable and affordable for members that may not otherwise have been able to attend. It's also a great way to get to know your fellow members better and to build your connections within the organisation.

Saturday morning's session one was an optional beach training at 6.30am at Omanu and those who attended were greeted by a stunning sunrise over the Pacific that offered a fabulous backdrop for photo opportunities. After the training and photo shoot there was a dip in the ocean for those that felt so inclined and then breakfast at various locations before we all headed to The Martial Arts Academy for the start of the day’s training sessions.

First on the schedule was the option of either a one hour session of Pilates with Ms Donna Brunsden or yoga with Ms Stella Wright. I highly recommend both these exercise classes. As someone who has a back issue, Pilates has played a big part towards me achieving my black belt and it has vastly improved my ability to continue to train and improve.  Both pilates and yoga are a great complement to TKD training especially if you are struggling with flexibility, balance and strength (or have lower back issues) as these are the things they focus on as well as correct deep breathing and the all important core strength, something we all need, particularly women as we age and particularly after child birth to help avoid "issues" when jumping around at training.

Once we were all warmed up and stretched, we moved on to session two, "Kicking Ass"  with scaled plyometrics run by Ms Young-Jasberg. The purpose of this session was to allow us to see that women can jump and did she have us jumping!! Higher and better than a lot of us thought possible. Just by applying some simple principles of plyometrics, (and muscles work in pairs), we can increase our strength and explosive power. We started off by firing up our muscles by jumping straight up and trying to touch our head on a pad, using not only our legs but our arms to drive us upwards. Next was horizontal jumping off the spot with a partner to increase the length of our jump through friendly competition . Once we'd mastered the principles we moved on to flying side piercing kicks, flying split kicks and reflex kicks and there were some awesome kicks to see. Some ladies certainly surprised themselves!!

Session three was a first aid course covering the basic principles of first aid held by Dr Thu Nguyen and Ms Chanthie Thach. We focused on DRS ABC - Danger, Response, Send for help/Signs of life, Airway, Breathing, Circulation/Compression. How to perform CPR and manage head/neck injuries and concussions. These are vital things to know when doing TKD so if you're not up to date with the latest first aid techniques consider organising a First Aid course for your club or region.

Ms Rose Cherrington took my favourite session of the weekend, ground self defence. Not the 2nd Dan ground self defence syllabus but self defence that is more pertinent to real life situations a female may (but hopefully never) face and how to defend ourselves to avoid rape or removal to a secondary location.

We covered grabs from behind from a seated position on our knees, how to throw an attacker over our shoulder and holds and locks, not only to the hands but to the jaw, hooking our fingers in behind the jaw below the ear. There was the "smell my finger" driving the attackers head back with just a finger on the philtrum and pushing their head back and using our fingers in other sensitive spots such as the eyes and throat. We all had a lot of fun and got so much value out of the session that we wanted to cover more. So, on Sunday, time was set aside for a continuation of this session. This time we covered potential rape situations where the attacker has pinned us to the ground. We learnt moves to get out from being held on our backs and stomachs and having our hands pinned over our heads. This is when your hips and legs become useful and it pays to keep in mind that at some point "he" is going to have to have let you go to free up at least one of his hands creating an opportunity for a defensive move. It was an immensely valuable session and Ms Cherrington ran it in a very relaxed and non threatening way which was particularly important as there were a few teen girls present.

Our last session of the day was power breaking with Mrs Rounthwaite. I suggest all girls and women attend at least one breaking session with Mrs Rounthwaite as she has a wonderfully simple way of explaining and demonstrating breaking so it is easier for our female brains to understand. My experience of her seminars is that she always succeeds at getting even the most unconfident of breakers, breaking. It was explained to us that women break differently to men, who can get away with relying on brute strength. Women need to work more on technique and we have a stronger need to understand "how" we break, women often need to have the technique broken down. "Just break it" is not something that a lot of women can relate to. Many women also have a greater fear of hurting themselves and this can be overcome by adopting a few simple rules of Mrs Rounthwaite's - wear protection when breaking such as shoes, gloves or pads. Start with the white board set at ¾ if you need to and break, break, break…. consistently 20-50 times before increasing the amount of board that needs to break. This slowly builds up confidence and muscle memory. Hurting yourself when learning to break can be a huge mental set back to have to overcome.

Saturday afternoon was so hot and humid that once our day was over we all headed home or to the Beach House for a shower or a swim before it was time for more socialising. We had a great meal put on at the beach house through a BBQ by house dad Jason and the food was cooked and provided by Tamaki Club. It was Dr Thu Nguyen's birthday and she was surprised with a cake and candles. It was a great, relaxing end to the day for all who attended and the moon put on a stunning display rising full above the Pacific.

Sunday saw us all back at The Martial Arts Academy. It was bright and early for our instructors so they could run through their Dan patterns, something I heard them say they don't get the chance to do often, never mind in a group of others at the same level. 

Session four was divided into three mini sessions, the continuation of self defence as mentioned above, patterns and sparring. Patterns was broken into groups of rank so we could either learn our new pattern or practise the familiar. As is usual, when you have a different instructor you always pick up something new or look at the familiar pattern or movement in a new light due to the different style of teaching which I find enlightening and refreshing.

Next up was sparring. This time we broke in to two separate groups. One for those were for the fitter, younger or more confident among us and one for the more mature ladies with the slower bodies that don't quite work as well as we want them to. I fit in to the latter and our instructor was Ms Cherrington. She explained to us that we can all still spar successfully by adopting or adapting a few simple techniques that play on our strengths or compensate for any difficulties we may have. Veterans starting sparring need plenty of reassurance and by adopting one good attack and one good defence, learning good body positioning and how to move you can achieve success in the ring.

Our final session of the conference was an open panel discussion with our Instructors. We were able ask questions and raise any issues we'd encountered while practising TKD and we got some great feedback on how to deal with such things. Topics covered included training during and after pregnancy and childbirth/c-sections, the importance of strengthening and maintaining pelvic floor and core muscles, nutrition, injuries and handling our own and others expectations and perceptions of females practising TKD, particularly from our male counterparts as at times they tend to lack empathy towards female "issues" faced during training.

We were given valuable advice about staying focused on ourselves as individuals, only comparing ourselves with ourselves instead or others (or the men) and staying focused on our personal goals and remembering to remind ourselves why we started Taekwon-Do in the first place.

Supporting each other through conferences and seminars such as this and building networks within our clubs and the organisation was another topic that came up in discussion. We need to make ourselves available to our younger female members and set good examples for the younger girls coming through the ranks especially if we are in a male dominated club with male instructors. The Women's Conference instructors were a fine example of this, leading by example and were a great inspiration to us all.

Through the Women's Conference we can build friendships, networks and support for women, to empower them in their training and combining this with our tenets in training and our daily lives we can build strong, confident women and girls.

Go Girls! We can do anything. See you next year!     

Read more about the Conference - and future evemnts here.


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