What spurred your interest in Martial Arts?
“I’d always had an interest in martial arts since visiting Japan years ago and seeing people practising Tai Chi in the gardens of Kyoto. I suppose Japan is regarded by many to be the place where martial arts originated, so in a way it has always intrigued me. However, it wasn’t something I thought I’d be able to do – there was always a barrier for me in that I thought it was the kind of skill that takes years, even decades to master.
I also think martial arts can be a powerful route to mindfulness. Mental and physical well-being are inextricably linked and this has always interested me.”
Specifically, why did you choose taekwondo?
“I wanted to go to a local class in Otley, so I was on the lookout for the right thing. When I saw the advert for ‘ladies only taekwondo’ on Facebook I thought why not? I work in a school and we always teach the students to ‘go for it’, try new things and take every opportunity that comes along. I think sometimes as adults we forget that we can keep trying something different, just to see what we can accomplish – so I thought I’ll just think like a young person and give it a go!
I also liked the fact that it was ‘ladies only’. That made me feel safer, like I could try something new, make mistakes, get things wrong and it would be fine in an intimate setting.”
What do you most enjoy about the classes?
“I love the physical side to the class, particularly doing work with the pads. I have an older brother and as a kid we’d spend hours on street fighter and watch movies like ‘Karate Kid’ over and over, so there was always a part of me that romanticised the notion of growing in physical strength.
I also love that in one hour I feel like I’ve done yoga, cardio, self defence and mindfulness training all in one. For that hour all my concerns and distracted thoughts just completely slip away, and I’m focussed - in the moment. Afterwards I feel reenergised and rebalanced and I always look forward to the next lesson!”
What have the classes helped you to achieve (mentally and physically)?
“Physically I’ve never been a very flexible person, and I’ve noticed a real difference after only 6 weeks of basic training. I also feel stronger in my legs, arms and core strength. It’s great to find yourself understanding your own balance and feeling genuinely stronger. I think it gives you a real inner confidence in terms of what you can achieve physically and in terms of self-defence, if the need ever arises.
You also become aware of your own ‘space’ and other peoples ‘space’. Simple things like how long your limbs are and the distance you need between yourself and the pads to correctly kick and punch. Every part of the sequence needs you to measure your strength, another person’s strength and the distance between the two to maximise your skills. My body’s memory is also starting to surprise me – it’s lovely when after weeks of classes it starts to remember the moves even if your mind doesn’t.
For me it’s also like meditation, we learn how to breathe in and out correctly, during all the physical exercises, so there’s an added bonus of not just focussing on the physical but the mindful.”
The class you take part in is ‘ladies only’ – how do you feel about this dynamic?
“I love the dynamic. As well as being a fantastic physical workout and mindfulness session, we also have great conversations around our personal development and no topic is out of bounds. So, for me it also feels like a personal therapy session as well as everything else – it’s the whole package.”
How important do you think it is to incorporate mindfulness into taekwondo?
“I think it’s extremely important in building positive relationships with your resilience, outlook, social intuition, emotional context, self-awareness and attention.”
What would you say to other people thinking of learning Taekwondo?
“I would say definitely give it a go! If you want to build strength, stamina, flexibility and focus as well as your mental training, all in a safe environment, then this is definitely for you!”
The class has a unique element of combining physical and mental health – tell us more about this
“As well as Taekwondo I also run, swim and take dance classes every Friday. The other physical exercises have their strengths; however, this class to me feels like a one-stop-shop for fabulous weekly mental and physical development. Emelia is truly unique in that she builds your mental strength/capacity for growth as well as the physical elements.
It’s always baffled me as to why we place so much emphasis on physical health as a social norm, but not so much on our mental health. With physical health we can see landmarks that we can accomplish, but I think a lot of people are genuinely unaware that’s it’s at all possible to also change our mindset, and mental training is barely entertained.
I think we need a new norm of human growth where it’s understood that mental growth is possible and necessary throughout life – just like the physical – and this class helps me to do just that!”
“I liked the fact that it was ‘ladies only’. That made me feel safer, like I could try something new, make mistakes, get things wrong and it would be fine in an intimate setting.”
“I’d like to carry on with the training, get my licence and then possibly look to do the grading. I’ll definitely carry on weekly purely for the physical, social and mental aspects – onwards and upwards!”