A few weeks ago, my fellow taekwondo students and I had the chance to train with Olympic medallist and talent scout Sarah Stevenson. The session was arranged by our instructor, Glenn Horan, a sixth degree black belt with over 23 years teaching experience, in preparation of our trip to the European Championships, to be held in Barcelona in July ….

Despite Miss Stevenson being a practitioner of WTF (Olympic-style) taekwondo, which differs mildly from our system in terms of point-scoring and etiquette, students were unanimous in their praise of her approach and the tips she shared with us. Her attitude towards the class provided a more laid back and sports-orientated view on the art than we were used to, removing the need for traditional formalities and encouraging us to focus on the exercises at hand. One thing that has stuck in both mine and my instructor’s minds, as well as my those of my training partners, was the answer Miss Stevenson gave to the question: “How do you prepare for a fight?” Everyone leaned in with salivating curiosity. Here we were, about to be told by a world-class fighter how to prepare for battle; what secrets would she reveal? What quick-fix solution would she let out of the bag? Surely she would equip us with inside information no opponent could ever be prepared for. “Erm…” She muttered. “You know I’m not so sure I really think about it like that. You can’t go into the ring focusing on winning. Of course you want to win. But my mindset is always that I’m just going to go in there and do what I’ve been training to do. As long as you try your hardest, no-one can really ask anything else of you.”I think I actually heard a penny drop inside my own head. I thought of all the times I had gotten on the mats, my mind overrun with suffocating thoughts of winning, winning, winning. It’s a vulnerable obsession that falls apart the moment my opponent got in a swift downward kick to my head or a sharp jab into my stomach, leaving me demotivated and lethargic. I know I’m not the only one to have felt this, combined with the dizzying anxiety of a cheering audience and sweat dripping into my eyes. But Miss Stevenson’s words were inspirational and influential in how I now approach competitive sparring and deal with the pressure.

She was clearly as confident and competent teaching the children as she was the adults (although we may not have been quite as quick on the uptake). These sessions demonstrated that despite our differences, there is more room for crossover between different divisions of taekwondo than ever before and this is something we should be embracing, forgetting the politics of the past. Overall, the whole day was an excellent experience and something I know everyone would love to see repeated in the future.