DISCIPLINED and dedicated are not normally words you would associate with a room full of children fighting, but that’s exactly what LAURA LEA found when she visited the award-winning Torfaen Taekwondo club.
TORFAEN Taekwano Club, which turns 21-years-old this year, has around 60 members and is run by Tao and Rita Levan and is producing national and international champions at a rate far exceeding its fellow clubs.
Tao’s love of martial arts started when he was seven-years-old in Vietnam. There, he studied Viet Vo Dao under Master Hung. But it wasn’t until he came to Newport, that he discovered Taekwondo. He saw it in Newport Leisure Centre and decided to give it a go. But he could never have known almost 26 years later that it would be such a huge part of his life.
He said: “I was hooked and I have never looked back.”
Tao’s last major competition was the World Championships in 2005, which he won. But at 53 years-old he says he’s retired now. He said: “I’m committed to teaching now.”
His wife, Rita, is a third degree black belt and another word champion, naturally. But this Sunday, Tao will be given his sixth black belt and made a Master by the Taekwondo Association of Great Britain.
“It’s a big achievement. I will get the certificate from the Grand Master. It’s a big honour.”
On Tuesday evening, around 35 youngsters, boys and girls, were working through patterns in a Pontypool hall. I was surprised to see so many children, outside of school, so quiet and focused. Following their instructor at the front of the hall, the pupils were practising ahead of the Welsh Championships this Sunday, which many of them are entering.
There was a strict rhythm to the movements and “tsch” sounds from the students, only interjected by Mr Levan saying: “Don’t kick the person in front of you.”
Between each pattern the pupils bow and answer “Sir” . After splitting off into partner work, the session ends with combat practise. The pupils get padded up - heads, hands, feet and gum shields- and start fighting.
A girl around 3ft tall started fighting a boy, a good 2ft taller. But don’t be fooled as this particular young girl is a world, British and European champion, all at the age of just 10.
Sofea Levan started Taekwondo when she was three-years-old and said she feels “quite happy” with her accomplishments. She will be competing this weekend and said: “I want to win and if I want to win it, I win it.”
With both parents running the club, it’s no surprise to find the Levans’ three daughters all carving their own path of success in the Taekwondo world.
Maya Levan, 13, got her black belt three years ago and trains around six times a week. she said: “There’s lots of my friends here, but it’s a massive commitment. I want to be in the Olympics.”
Jack Brown, 12, is one of the colour belts and said he joined to learn self defence. Kian Griffin, 9, was awarded his black belt last month and said: “I didn’t use to do any sports, so I wanted to try this. Patterns are my favourite because I normally win something in them.”
Carl Betty is one of the club’s top fighters, having represented Wales and Great Britain travelling to Poland and Switzerland for the European championships. He is a double European champion.
The Pontypool 23-year-old started at the club 16 years ago. He said: “ I started because I saw a few Bruce Lee films and wanted to do a bit of Kung-fu.”
Carl now trains up to three times a day, six days a week. Fortunately, he now works in the leisure centre, making it easier for him to commit to his strict training regime.
“It’s very disciplined,” Carl said. He explains there are five “tenets” of taekwondo: Courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control and indomitable spirit.
“That’s what we are supposed to abide by.
“There’s the whole art part of it as well. If you don’t like fighting, then you don’t have to. A lot do it for fitness.”
But Carl admits he likes fighting and when I asked him why his club seems to produce so many high level fighters, he said: “ We have always had a core group of fighters that train together. But Tao is very dedicated and has always gone a bit further and pushed the fighters in the club.”
The next step for Carl, is to move up a weight. “I want to dominate my weight, then move up one,” he said.
The school enters competitions every couple of months. Tao listed of reels of past accomplishments from his students and when I ask his secret to success, he said: “Perseverance and hard work. They work really hard.
“Without the parents support we wouldn’t be able to do that though. But they do have the talent and if they have that, I will bring it out.”
Tao said a lot of students stay on, which is evident in the broad age range of the club.
“I’m quite lucky in that they do stay,” he said. Although I sensed luck had has much to do with that as the hoard of national titles.
As Tao said, “This is a competition club” and I would add, a club of winners.
The Club train at Cwmbran Stadium on Mondays, Cwmbran Fairwater on Thursdays and Pontypool Active Living Centre on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
For more information contact Tao Levan or Rita Levan on 01633 270943 or 07979037616 or visit the website at www.torfaentaekwondo.co.uk.