Since ITFNZ became an independent body, we have seen an improvement in leaps and bounds in terms of our technical standard. One of the best decisions taken by the executive was to be more involved with the rest of the world and Taekwon-Do on an international level.
The membership has indicated in no uncertain terms that they want to participate in the World Taekwon-Do Championships. Because of this the Executive committee has made a commitment to send a team to every World Championship event.
As a result, over the last eight years ITFNZ has enthusiastically participated in all the ITF world championships. A lot of effort have gone into preparing a team, from planning the management team, selecting the team, training the team, to the seeking of sponsorship.
We have had some successes. The first competitions we went to were the 1994 Championships held in Kuala Terengganu - Malaysia. NZ came away with one Bronze medal in Patterns.
The second was the 1996 Championships held in Russia; again NZ came away with a Bronze medal in the women's power breaking event.
The third was 1999 in Argentina, and again NZ came away with a bronze medal, this time in Men's power breaking.
Then it was the Junior World Championships in North Korea in 2000, where we won the Bronze medal in sparring.
Lastly it was the most recent event held in Italy in 2001. Unfortunately this time NZ did not medal at all. Though we did come very close!
Therefore, it would be appropriate to take a step back and just see what learning we have taken away from all these events, and how we have learned from being exposed to this international fellowship.
I have been in a unique and privileged position, where it would appear that I have been the only person who has been actively involved in ALL these senior world championship events, from the point of view of a competitor, spectator as well as management/coaching team.
I have been through the selection, training and competition process. Experienced the process of preparing myself mentally, physically, and financially.
I have also been privy to the politics, and the 'behind the scenes' goings ons.
I therefore feel it is appropriate to write a bit of my own thoughts and learning from my experiences.
It has to be stressed however, before I continue, that the following is purely an expression of my own point of view, thoughts, ideas, and opinions. It is not a criticism, or justification, nor is it a right or wrong perspective.
I will present my ideas using the very latest world championships experience as my main source of reference.
This work explores the following questions:
The latest world championship was held in Rimini Italy.
Compared to previous championships that I attended, I would classify it as an 'average' event. The actual venue was smaller than the others that I have attended, it also had a more 'toned down' atmosphere with regard to opening and closing ceremonies, medals presentations, and spectator value.
However being in Rimini, which is a beach side resort, it was one of the nicer places to be in when not at the tournament, as the NZ team members found out!
The sparring standard was excellent, however in my own opinion the best sparring that I have seen was in Argentina. In Rimini there were a lot of 'new-comers' competing, as a lot of the experienced competitors would seem to have retired or just did not participate this time round.
The style of sparring was hard, past faced, and very dynamic. A lot of hand techniques, in the form of rushing in punches and flying punches. Leg techniques were fast and furious, with only a few basic kicks being executed such as turning kicks, downward kicks, and sidekicks.
There were a lot of dodging, and rushing in foot skills.
But overall, the use of hand techniques were more common than what we in NZ have been used to. This is one field where we must make advances in to upskill our membership.
It was obvious that the successful countries have spent a lot of time on drills perfecting these very few but effective techniques.
New Zealand still has to go a long way in order to be able to catch up, and we must learn from these other countries. We must practice the drills and other training regime that they use to train their people.
The pattern events were amazing to watch. The main countries that came through had very similar styles of patterns. While we can argue that they were not 'technically correct' from the point of view of General Choi's encyclopedia, I must admit that they have very crisp, standardised, and strong patterns. The team patterns' event confirms that this is true, as the winners all had the exact same style. It was as if they have come up with a recipe and all conformed to the exact same specifications.
There were a number of anomalies that stood out: the 'robotic' and stiff styles of the Koreans, the 'head flicking/turning' at the execution of each movement, and the pulling back of the side kick! These were quite foreign to our NZ way of performing things.
I feel that this is one area where we have to decide on which philosophy we would like to follow. Do we continue to develop our own style, or do we adopt the style of the world for the World championship events?
Special techniques were again fantastic to watch. However, I could not see anything out of the ordinary. The winners were just simply the best jumpers! They would be people with natural good jumping ability. I feel that our NZ competitors were at a par with the rest of the world. There was nothing more we could do to improve our jumpers other than continue to practice, and perform some muscle strengthening exercises.
Power events were nothing out of the ordinary. There were few competitors who were blessed with natural powerful breaking ability. Of course they all had to have effective techniques to begin with, but those who were successful were, in my opinion, naturally of a strong build anyway.
Here, NZ was certainly in the top contenders. The preparation has been very good, and there is not much I can suggest on how to improve it, other than continuous practice together with muscle strengthening exercises.
The standard of judging and refereeing would seem to be fair and consistent. Apart from natural bias, I do not feel that there was any 'foul play'. The judges were judging every event to what they feel were right/correct.
It was interesting to note that there were a handful of countries that won most of the medals, with a scattering of smaller wins for various countries. Out of an approximate of 50 countries, it would appear only about 15 countries medalled.
Most outstanding were Korea, Poland, Argentina, and various Eastern European countries. These countries were also the traditional 'stars' of previous championships.
It would be appropriate then that we must examine and study these countries' training methods and styles, if we wish to succeed in a World Championship event.
In my mind this was the most widely publicised upcoming world competition event to date for New Zealand. ITFNZ did a great job in advertising that there will be a team selection. A lot of the promotions were mostly done via the web-page as well as notices to the club instructors. The examiners were also announcing the upcoming events to the students when they are travelling around the country. TKD talk also made sure that people were aware of the event.
However, the advertising of the actual selection date was quite vague. Those who did turn up were students who were mostly 'in the know', or have formed close friendships and associations with people who were in the know. They were also people that were regularly browsing the web-page. Letters were sent to the instructors, however maybe not enough warning was given for it to be properly promoted.
I feel that maybe the students who were in the 'outside' areas were not as well informed as those mentioned above, and better preparations could be made next time with making sure that every attempt will be made to ensure that every membership will be reached.
It is important that all dates and venues be decided and adhered to, in order that they may be advertised well in advance. This would ensure that all dates could be publicised to coincide with grading rounds, TKD talk publications, instructor newsletters etc. Students would also be able to diarise and plan well in advance of the event, for example booking plane tickets, and training up for the selections.
The team selections were called for quite early on in the piece, approximately 9 months before departure. This was because it was thought that a team needed to have been named to allow ITFNZ to seek for sponsorship. In reality, it was quite difficult to obtain major sponsorship for the whole team as a team! However, we did manage to get Botany Downs Town Centre to sponsor the jackets and ITFNZ as a financial sponsor for the team.
Most of the team either funded their trip privately or attained their own full sponsorship through pub charities.
I would suggest in future that while a training squad could be called to come together quite early, the final selection need only be done 4 months before departure.
This ensures that there are as many people as possible training together to promote enthusiasm and a range of sparring partners, as well as allowing the coaches to observe each prospect on a longer term and truly unearth their true potential.
The team members were then put through a very rigorous training schedule, which were very taxing on their finances and personal time. It involved a lot of travel and long training hours.
The southern half of the team had to meet in Levin every weekend for a 4-hour session (for this people had to travel from Wellington and Palmerston North for approximately a two-hour return journey).
The northern team, while most were based in Auckland had to attend team training twice a week (Thursdays and Sundays) for a two hour session each time. In some cases these involved a one to two hour return journey.
Then every month and a half there were team-training weekends in Taupo. Which involved a 6 to 8 hour return journey for most members.
The advantages have been:
The disadvantages were as follows:
Communication to team members was regular and timely, a credit to the assistant manager of the team. However, information that was requested by the team was slow in coming. There were obviously a lot of issues that need to be sorted out within what is required in the managing of the team.
Early on, numerous meetings were had with the team to decide on uniforms, souvenirs and other paraphernalia, which was good. However, due to communication breakdown, these had to be repeated a few times as time went on.
Budgets were issues out to team members in plenty of time also.
The most glaring lapse in management was in the field of organising the actual travel arrangement. This was left very late, and as result added expenses were incurred to the travel costs, and extra time was added to the journey!
My thoughts on the above are as follows:
Call for a TRAINING SQUAD to come together about 8 months prior to departure. The purpose is to canvass interest. This means that these squad members can then still go out into the membership and generate more interest as they are training and encourage others to come along to join the trainings or even prepare for the final selections on their own. It does not rule out those who had not attended the first getting together from attending the final selections. Currently, all possibility of going for the team is cut off if somebody did not hear the call for the training squad get-together!
A training squad can be formed in a regional basis or on a national basis. With somebody being appointed a 'regional team trainer'. This person then must remain in close contact with the National Team coach.
No minimum attendance should be set at this time.
A fee to cover expenses is set for each person who attends.
A full squad get-together is set every one and a half months in a central place, and attendance is VOLUNTARY! At these camps, the coach issues a training menu. A set of drills and routines are assigned and taught, for the team members to go away and train in their own time.
The menus are presented in bite sized chunks, easy to understand and few in number, as repetition is the important key here.
Sometimes the coach may like to have a little team building session, or a fitness test. The purpose is to encourage and help members to set goals and measure their own progress.
A lot of feedback, visual tools, and if possible, one-to-one training can be given.
Team members then goes back and practices their drills with plenty of repetition until the next camp, where they will be given a new set of drills to go away with.
Promotion for the upcoming selection is done continuously, through ITFNZ promotional channels, as well as word of mouth, and by the squad members.
The team is to be selected FOUR months before the departure date. Reserves are also chosen at this time.
Interested people must fill in an application form, and pay an application fee of $50.00 as 'proof of interest'; it would also go toward paying the costs incurred for venue, and transport and accommodation for official selectors, coaches and managers.
The rest of the money goes to the team account, and used to fund the rest of the training for the team, and may even be used for fundraising purposes.
Once a team is selected, they are then set a minimum training attendance of 80%. Should any of them fail this, or withdraws for any reason, then the person set as reserve will automatically step in.
Team members should be encouraged to seek their own sponsorship through private avenues, pub charities, club fundraising etc.
The management team should also be actively involved in fundraising ventures such as raffles, approaching companies, government bodies, and other private sporting enterprises to seek sponsorship for the team. This should be done as early as possible (one year in advance). It would be good if they could organise two national raffles!
The management should have been seeking prices for travel 6 months before the trip, and as soon as the team has been selected, bookings must be made.
Supporters must also be encouraged to travel with the team. Not only will this help with the promotion of Taekwon-Do in NZ, it would also help reduce travel costs for all involved.
Each patterner must be taken through each pattern on a one to one basis. They are corrected, and notes made on the areas they are to improve on.
They themselves must study the encyclopedia, and pattern diagrams, to ensure that they are executing each technique correctly eg: heights, attacking tools, timing.
Then it is repetitive work. Keeping in mind the saying 'perfect practice makes perfect'. Patterns should be performed for half-hour intervals, and a rest is allowed in between.
During this time a dedicated patterns coach must be there to correct and teach.
It would also be beneficial if the patterner sits to watch a number of pattern videos. This would help with mental retention of how the pattern should look, and would aid visualisation of techniques.
Mirrors and video recordings would be excellent training tools for immediate personal feedback.
Most importantly, the competitor must also practice to perform the technique under pressure of spectators, and competition situations where they will experience being under the spotlight. This is the most important part. Many a time, somebody who knows the pattern inside out and usually performs a beautiful pattern will get a mind blank when they are put on the spot.
The important aspects are: fitness and stamina, speed, skill, and experience.
In all team preparations, we had done the same things again and again. All sparrers are subjected to fitness building exercises which are just that- fitness building. It wastes a lot of time and effort, and promotes injury!
Sparrers should be given a basic fitness exercise drill, and they are then left to execute it themselves. These are to be carried out over and above the usual sparring sessions. They could join a gym and perform strengthening and muscle-conditioning, and cardiovascular exercises. The coach should not have to set a time to take them through fitness exercises.
The best way to become fit in the way that they need to be fit in is to perform the exercises that they are required to perform! Specific training!
Therefore the best way to build stamina and fitness for sparring is to SPAR, or do exercises that involve SPARRING!
Skill training should be done in the following way: a technique is identified and practiced in drills. They should be practiced on pads, to ensure that power and speed is developed.
Techniques done up and down the hall, kicking air should be minimised. They can be done for the person to get used to the task they are to perform, but then they must repeatedly practice it by hitting targets.
So many times we have practices a combination involving 5 to 8 techniques up and down a hall, and then moving on to the next combination. As a result, by the next training session they have forgotten those combinations and would never ever use them in actual sparring situations anyway.
The coach must set 4 drills which will then be practiced continually for a long period to ensure that those techniques then becomes instinctive. A set of combinations should not be more that 3 techniques!
For example, a single Turning Kick… can be practiced numerous ways: on a pad while stationery, while moving forward, backwards, or dodging sideways, with a partner or on their own.
Each technique is perfected, and then one more is added on, then these two are practiced as a unit, until another technique is added.
Pad work is the key! Repetition is the perfector of the technique, speed, muscle condition, and power.
Only when a lot of skill practice has been done should they be in actual sparring practice.
Currently in NZ we are lacking the skill of footwork, in dodging, and in speed. To overcome this, we must take a slice of the movement that we require to be done, and practice each one before moving onto the next.
It is important also to simulate actual competition situations, such as sparring in the ring, with a referee and a whole lot of noisy distractions.
Watching a video of others sparring is also necessary to help reinforce visualisation in the sparrer's mind. They must also watch themselves in action to pick up points that they need to work on.
It would be good if the competitor can join a gym, or be involved in muscle strengthening exercises.
They then need to be coached in the correct technique. From then on it is repetition!
A video recording their actions would also be a good feedback tool.
The members must be taught to perform each technique the same way.
Techniques must be broken down and re-learned so that each team member will do the exact same movements.
Practicing together will be good to ensure synchronicity, and timing.
From then on it is practice, practice, for timing, power, and togetherness.
New Zealand has participated in 5 World championship events, while we have also seen a lot of improvements for the whole organisation. We are not making progress with regard to being successful in attaining medals.
This is due to the fact that while we are good with organising the team and selecting the team, we have a long way to go to get the recipe to give the team the right training.
We seem to be repeating the same old recipe year after year, and training the members the same way we have been training them when we first started in 1994.
It is time we recognise this fact, and accept that maybe our counterparts overseas may have a lot to give. We should approach them and get their training regimes/routines.
If we wish to get a GOLD MEDAL in the pattern event, we should be performing the patterns the same style as the top countries that are winning medals. Regardless of whether we feel they are performing them right or not.
Likewise if we want to medal in the sparring. We must select the people with the correct bodily ability, and give them the right training. Increase our skill level is a priority. We have very good techniques compared to other countries, but our skill in utilising them in the sparring field can be improved so much more.
Special technique and power, I feel we are on the right track, we must maintain this strength, and look at ways that we can improve even more.
We must be in closer contact with the European countries, South Americans, and if possible the Koreans themselves.
We could bring some of these coaches over to NZ to teach us, or attain training tools from them.
We have much work to do, if we wish to be successful in a World Championship Tournament.