Tae Kwon Do – The Building of an Instructor with Master Snelders

I started my interest in martial arts back in the 70’s. There was a local Shotokan Karate club, but I had only attended a few lessons before the instructors closed down and continued with their own instructor in Leicester city centre. I was only 11 and my parents said it was too far and that I was too young to get a bus on my own.

So it wasn’t until 1982 on a night out with friends that a couple of the girls said they were part of a TaeKwon-Do school. We talked about it , and I was invited to come along to meet the Instructor. In those days just attaining the Black Belt was a rarity, let alone a higher Dan grade. My Instructor was a 3rd Dan World champion. His skill level and effortless ability was incredible to watch, but I still maintain it was his teaching style and the atmosphere that got me hooked.

I was never a natural with the group of ten I joined with, and soon saw many of them climb the belts ahead of me. However this was to be a tortoise and hare story as I took up the initial 2 classes a week and then built up to 4 classes a week. At the time this was all going on I was renting crumbling bedsits and had poorly paid jobs. So the TaeKwon-Do gave me purpose and a self belief even if my progress was slow.

Many these days can gain their black belt in 3 or 4 years. After four years I had managed to climb 6 out of the 10 belts towards black. I started university and my acting career after that, which meant a nomadic lifestyle, never being able to commit back to TKD.

I moved to London and again rented small bedsits whilst building my career. I tried four different TKD schools all which I found woefully lacking and thought I would never get that level of tuition and knowledge I had received before.

However in 1992 I had bought my first flat in Balham and saw an article in the local paper of Tooting TKD and their success at a tournament in Scotland. I had to check this school out. I attended after an initial phone call and was introduced to my future mentor, colleague and friend Mr Sangha. He was a small Indian man that had a warm smile and an obvious deep respect from all his students. Once teaching he had a powerful but encouraging tone ,that inspired all. I was struck by the length of each session, unlike the modern 1 hour classes that many seem to do. Each class would be an hour and a half to two hours long ,with never a lull in the intensity or quality. I also sat at the back to watch a grading with the renowned Master RMK Choy. He had a presence unlike anyone I had encountered before. This is when I knew I had found my new home.

It took me a further 3 years to attain my Black Belt 1st dan, and then straight away I applied for the instructors course. In 1995 I qualified and in 1997 opened my first school in Clapham , that is still running 24 years on. In 2010 Master Sangha asked if I would take over the instruction of his Tooting school. This was an honour as Tooting was a formidable school with a pedigree of excellent students. To be held in high enough regard to take this mantel was daunting. However under his guidance the school was transferred to me and has maintained a steady number of quality students. Funnily enough 20th May 1983 was the night I took my very first belt in Leicester, and on that very same night Master Sangha opened the doors to Tooting TKD. I have never looked back and am lucky to be associated with those that run the British United TaeKwon-Do Federation, and the students who train continuously . This year marked my transition to a 7th dan instructor, which I dedicate to Master Sangha and all the students who keep me excited to teach.

Unfortunately Master Sangha was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer, and in 2013 passed away. I was so shaken by this, but it wasnt until 2014 that I thought I should get tested myself. It was staggering to find out I also had an aggressive form of this insidious disease. But I was not on the same level as my friend and so treatment, although harsh, was possible. Mental strength and a strong dose of humour were my key to coping.

Master Sangha had been an incredible model throughout his journey, attending every class he could. He even came to a Black Belt course and shook every persons hand, and sat grimacing every now and then with the pain, but still calling out gems of wisdom on techniques.

I realised I not only helped others but drew strength from continuing teaching and focussing on my students. A week after an operation I attended a class. At the helm was my close friend and training partner of 23 years Mr Chris Joannou. I limped in with a catheter drain and bag attached to my leg under my dobok trousers. As uncomfortable as this was, It was a lift to be in somewhere of such importance.

Since then my own training has been depleted due to the physical effects of my treatment. But still striving to be the best I can, is as important now as it was as a white belt turning up in the hall in 1982. My outlook has probably been reinforced , as my job is to get the best out of others, to help them achieve above their own goals. Investing in others growth and understanding is very important to me. The shock of Master Sangha’s passing and my own encounter with Prostate Cancer has lead me to become a corporate speaker for Prostate Cancer UK, giving talks to raise awareness.

My martial arts training gave me so much in physical and mental strength. I am overjoyed when I see the difference and growth in students of all ages. I have been asked to write references for students applying for new schools and university. As well as numerous duke of Edinburgh awards. I always find it easy to find the positives, and smile when I think of each students individual journey. Each and every one has grown through TaeKwon-Do

All martial arts can be a great accelerator for anyone who wants to build as a person. Go out, find the right school for you, and you’ll never look back

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