The Development Squads were formed in September 1998, consisting of approximately 34 people from around New Zealand wanting to compete in Argentina. Training was conducted in each region consisting of group trainings monthly taking place in Taupo, being central for everyone. The final selection was also held in Taupo where 12 possible candidates were chosen. The trainings thereafter were to be weekends around the region, Levin, Taupo, Wellington and Auckland.
The final selection was a well-organised weekend at the Tauponui College.
The selection panel consisted of Mr Paul McPhail, Mr Harry Hemana, Mr Andrew Salton, Mr Lawrence Mantjika and Mr George Tolley.
Everyone was hyped to perform, myself feeling confident - I just couldn't wait to do my events and give it everything. An agonising wait, waiting for the selection panels decision was quite daunting. Preparing myself for the worst but always hoping, never being too confident. Finally I received advice that I had made the selection and felt pure excitement -
From then I pretty much trained twice a week at Brooklyn Club and weekends at Levin, Victoria University, Taupo and Auckland. Trainings were always intense and all aspects of fitness were incorporated to prepare us physically and mentally for our experience in Argentina. Also during this time fundraising was done to assist the team financially. This consisted of pub charities, which raised $5,000, a nationwide raffle with various prizes, a trip to Australia as the first prize. For myself, $700.00 was raised doing a pizza bake organised by my home club Brooklyn.
There was a huge amount of organising done by the selected team manager Carmen Schwager who managed prior and over the entire trip to make deals on everything manageable saving the team untold amounts of money.
Eventually we were organised - or not - time to go, August 22, 1999, Wellington Airport 8.45am to Auckland. When we arrived we transferred to the international airport with a wait until late afternoon. We boarded the aircraft, smiles abound, ready to "kick butt" - especially our 'team mascot' Mr Tonee Francis "2,4". The flight an agonising 10-11 hours non-stop watching three movies; "Shakespeare in love", "Mighty Joe Young" and "Message in the bottle" to pass the time. Having watched them all and not being able to sleep due to excitement, being my first major trip overseas and first world champs, it was all too much to comprehend and my expectations were of much mixed feelings.
We spent the following six days resting and becoming acclimatised and from all accounts a good time was had experiencing some of the more exotic side to Argentina and their culture. Support from New Zealand was much needed and appreciated in many ways keeping our morale high.
On the 30th of October we got a bus to transport us to Rosorio for the team event competition. We all got up at 6.30 the next day, got ready and went down to the little cafe downstairs next door, we all had a typical Argentinean breakfast which consisted of two small croissants, coffee or tea and a glass of orange juice. After breakfast we piled outside, hailed down taxis, our usual transport during our stay in Argentina.
On our arrival at the stadium we all hopped out, collected our bags and made our way into the stadium. When we finally bowed into the Dojang, I think all those who had never been to a World Champs before, like myself, felt an overwhelming sense of excitement and finally realised what was expected of us. We started amping up for a great tournament. We walked in and could see a little Argentinean blue belt holding a sign saying New Zealand so we walked by groups of teams from different countries, having a look at our possible competition. We then lined up behind him. We finally started walking through the doors into the competition arena, the stadium was huge. There was a brass band playing while the teams entered the Dojang. We all formed up in our teams in alphabetical order. After that was finished there was speeches made by Master Delarraga as well as the General's son, Master Choi Jung Hwa When that was finished we all marched out, one team at a time and made our way to the sitting area, made ourselves at home putting two flags up - the first being the New Zealand flag and the second our black flag with the fighting kiwi holding a taiaha. After we settled in, the team members and I walked down to the warm up area to prepare ourselves for the team pattern against Puerto Rico. We were then called up so we started walking into the Dojang as a team, the five of us, to perform the team pattern where Mr Graham Patterson IV Dan, Mr Matthew Breen III Dan, myself, Mr Justin Jesset I Dan and Mr Chris Fisher I Dan, and also Mr Aaron Lange 11 Dan, although he was not needed for the team pattern. We performed both our patterns as did Puerto Rico but this event was a disappointing one. The referee stood up and raised his hand in favour of Puerto Rico, we bowed our heads.
The next event was team sparring, we were drawn up against Brazil, this was a memorable moment for me. We were called up, entered the tournament area again, but this time the rest of the New Zealanders where performing the haka on our entry and the whole crowd went quiet, turning their heads towards New Zealand to watch our war dance. I was chosen for New Zealand to be the first fighter, the Brazilian and I entered the ring eyeing each other down, we faced the judges table and bowed, we then faced each other, bowed, still eyeing each other down. The referee checked that we had all the legal equipment on then we were required to stand in. "Junbi" Then "Sijak" was called and we were into it. In a matter of two seconds my opponent managed a reverse knifehand, my favourite technique, square on the nose, then I covered, luckily for me, his next technique was a reverse turning kick, causing his leg to bounce off my guard. The referee then called "Goman" we were then broken up. Then I noticed I had a bleeding nose and had to be attended to by the medic and Mr Salton, when my nose stopped bleeding we were back into it mixing it up. After two minutes the bell went, the referee stopped us and we both sat down in the ring. The referee collected the four judges score sheets and gave them to the jury to collate the scores. The referee stood between us, the Judge then stood up and raised his hand in favour of my opponent. I was later to find out that my opponent was the previous and again this year the world middleweight champion.
After myself, Mr Patterson was called up. They entered the ring and went through the same procedure as I did, stood back in Junbi then "Sijak". They started exchanging kicks and blows, Graham's fighting was awesome, doing typical Graham kicks, light amazing back kicks and reverse turning kicks, then "Ding Ding". The bell went, the referee then stopped the two fighters. The referee collected the score sheets, the judge collated scores, stood up and again raised his left hand, once again signalling Brazil's win. Our third and final fighter was Mr Justin Jesset. He went through the exact same thing as both Graham and myself with the final result being the referee raising his left arm once again, so that meant Brazil were victorious, the end result 3-0 in favour of Brazil. After Brazil had won, we had to qualify for team destruction which Mr Patterson was called in for.
Graham had to break a six board side kick, this kick would qualify us. Graham bowed to the jury, measured up, stood back in guarding block, he then stepped through and kicked the boards, but the breaking machine was not fair on the competitors because when Graham kicked the boards, the board holder tipped back on two legs taking away most of the power from his technique, resulting in Graham not breaking a single board. That meant we did not qualify.
The next day the only thing we had to do was qualify for special technique so it came time for Mr Aaron Lange to get us through to the playoffs back in Buenos Aires. He bowed into the ring, then bowed to the judges, stepped back into L-stance guarding block and went through the motions to measure up for the tower kick, he went back to his spot and this time for real. He started heading towards the board, he jumped up and the end of the board went flying through the air, he lands, steps into guarding block, stands at charyot, bows and the rest of us jumped up in excitement. "Lange" walked over "cool as" we all congratulated him. We then went back to where the rest of the team were, stood back and let Aaron get all the glory. This meant we had finally qualified for something and we were to make the most of it. That was the end of the competition for us in Rosorio, so we headed back to Buenos Aires for the rest of the competition.
The bus ride back was interesting, we blew a tyre we were held up for about forty five minutes, finally a kind bus driver gave us a hand and we were back on our way home, back to the Presidente. We all went to bed because it was about 2am, except for Mr Breen who was always glued to the computer in the foyer. In fact now that I think about it he was on that computer more than anyone else and spent more time with that keyboard than with the rest of the team .
In the morning we had our usual Presidente breakfast - a huge smorgasbord breakfast. This was our rest day and believe me we made the most of it, except Matthew who was where else but on - you guessed it - the computer using it pretty much the whole day.
The next day we got up at the pleasant time - "NOT" - of 6.30am, again having our usual and very delightful breakfast courtesy of Hotel Presidente. We met outside and hailed taxis to get to the stadium. When we were there we were required to form up beginning with a speech from Master Delarraga. General Choi Hong Hi was also in attendance. For me this was the first time I had seen the General in person Euphoric!
We returned to our spots in the stadium, the event for our individual competitors was to be patterns. Our pattern representatives for New Zealand were Mr Graham Patterson IV Dan, Mr Matthew Breen III Dan, Mr Justin Jesset I Dan and Mrs Nicky Mantjika I Dan. Justin was called up against the Czech Republic but he unfortunately lost his first round. Matthew survived the first round against Wales but was defeated by Finland. Mr Patterson was unfortunate, no sorry I should say robbed of victory against a North Korean. I don't know how the Korean won the gold medal when Mr Patterson was clearly the better pattern practitioner. After the male patterns was female sparring, our New Zealand representative was Miss Laura Mitchell who was a lightweight but barely scraped into that division because if she did not weigh correctly she would not be able to compete. Laura was drawn up against the German but what Laura didn't know was that the German was the previous silver medallist in Russia. So Laura walked in unaware of this women's previous medal, with a cheeky grin on her face and her hair in black and white pigtails, she faced her opponent with the same cheeky grin, stood back in "junbi" and the next minute "sijak". Then they were into it, mixing it up with each other. She fought like dynamite, the fight was awesome. You could not tell who was winning, it was that close. After two rounds the two fighters gave each other a huge hug, both with joyful grins on their faces. After that it was back to business because we still didn't know who had won. After the referee collected the scoresheets, he stood up and raised his hand in favour of her opponent from Germany. Laura came back to the team with a huge grin on her face, she was rapt with her performance in the ring as well as the rest of the team, especially Mr Salton. After lunch Mrs Mantjika was up for I Dan female patterns. She looked strong and crisp in her two patterns against the Pole but she was unlucky to lose.
After patterns was male individual sparring, the first of our male fighters was Mr Aaron McIlwee 11 Dan in the lightweight division. His opponent was from Japan but he was a Korean, in a team called Koreans in Japan (KFJT) - this was pretty much a second Korean team. Aaron absolutely wiped this guy all over the ring, the Korean couldn't catch him. After the two rounds, we were all amped up for his win. Aaron was sure of victory but again another disappointing decision was made against us and when the referee raised his hand in favour of the Korean, the crowd watching the fight all reacted with an disagreeing tone, people were coming up later saying "New Zealand deserved to win that fight".
rope, he cleared the second rope, looking like he was going to fly over the board, kicked the board, broke it, landed in a guarding block. We all jumped up with joy. He was the only competitor in the entire competition to successfully break the board. This meant that we had made it through to the finals. After that, only one competitor could be chosen to do the rest of the techniques. The first technique was the tower kick. The only person to break that was the competitor from Greece. This meant that they had the gold medal. The next technique was a flying turning kick. We had a chance of either a silver or bronze medal with this technique. So Aaron bowed into the ring, he measured up his run up, he went through the motions, he jumped, he landed then he put his hand up to measure the height. He then walked back to his start point. He stood back in guarding block then all of a sudden the referee stepped into the ring to disqualify him. Aaron asked why he was being disqualified, the referee replied "you took two measure ups, the rules only permit for one measure up". We all saw a medal chance slip through our fingers. We were so close it was not funny.
The last event was the medal ceremony but before this, the entire team decided to dodge the security guards and run onto the stage to perform the haka. The crowd absolutely loved it, we looked up into the crowd and just saw cameras flashing. One funny thing that happed during the haka was that Aaron McIlwee's pants fell down round his knees in front of the crowd, so he had to run to the back, pull his pants up and continue with the war dance. After we finished we walked offstage, we had people shaking our hands and wanting photos of us with them. After that, they proceeded with the medal ceremony. This was an awesome feeling seeing one of our guys up there with our national flag above him - hold on that's not our flag, that's the Australian flag above him - how appalling! After Mr Patterson received the medal we went back to the hotel to get ready to leave for the airport.
When we got back to the hotel I think the first thing everyone, except Mr Salton, did was start drinking after about 8-9 months of not being allowed to drink, so I cracked open my 40oz of Vodka, along with everyone else. By the time the bus came we were all pretty tanked getting on the bus. Our next stop was to pick up two Australians, we gave those Australians lip hassling them the whole way to the airport.
When we got to the airport we had to sort out our luggage. When the flight was called we started to board the aircraft - it was an emotional farewell for us. We said goodbye to our translators as well as Carmen and Soya, Carmen's sister. So we all got on the plane, settled down and prepared for a long flight home. When we took off I think all the liquor which I had drunk back at the hotel had a huge effect on me and I coma'ed about nine and a half-hours of the eleven hour flight. When I woke up we all decided to have another drink, except of course Mr Salton.
We landed in Auckland at about 5.30am. The Wellington guys had to wait until about 8 o'clock for the flight to Wellington so we had a while to wait. We had a final photo of the team in Auckland before we went our separate ways. We boarded the plane destined for Wellington. When we finally got to Wellington airport that was the last of our World Champs experience.
My final note on the World Champs: This event was the most exciting thing I have ever experienced in my life, but I was very disappointed with the organising and the seemingly biased decisions made throughout the entire tournament, this will not deter me from wanting to go to Italy next time.
I would like to thank everyone in New Zealand for their support and their tremendous help with fundraising to get the team to Argentina, we couldn't have done it without their help.
Also a very special thank you to Mr Andrew Salton, IV Dan and Mrs Carmen Schwager for their time and effort put into the team to make us a team. Thank you so much.
This tournament will always be one of the most memorable highlights of my Taekwon-Do career.