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Poppy Tomkinson - World UITF Taekwon-Do champion

17-year-old Poppy Tomkinson is a current World UITF Taekwon-Do champion, and a long-serving member of Heart of England Unified ITF Taekwon-Do. Here she explains how the sport of Taekwon-Do has had a positive impact on many areas of her life – not just her fitness – and has helped her to feel more confident.

I have been doing Taekwondo for most my life and so looking back I strongly believe it has shaped the person I am now.

Poppy on the podium at the World Championships.

A valuable life lesson

It has taught me to be self-reliant as it has proved to me that it is my effort that is what matters and what is going to get me where I want. For example, when training no one else can truly make you put in the effort if you don't want to; so by cutting corners when training by slacking off, it is only yourself you are cheating as you won't reach that next goal. This is a life lesson that is really valuable and I have applied to many other areas of my life; such as my school work and my other hobbies which I believe I am more successful at because of the life lessons I have learnt at my training. Such as I always will put in all my effort when doing work at school as I have learnt it means there is less work to do when actually studying for a final exam.

Because I have been brought up with Taekwondo, the five tenets of taekwondo have been integrated into my own beliefs. I believe strongly that courtesy, Integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit are all qualities that we should try and use in our own everyday lives. For me-even though they are all very important- it is indomitable spirit that the one I hold most dear. Having an indomitable spirit is something that I try to have every day. I always want to be the best, but to be the best I know I need to keep trying over and over again to become good at what I do.

Life can mirror taekwondo in many ways, for example when you're learning how to do a technique when training you must try again and again, analysing and mistakes and learning from them until when you finally get it right. The same goes for life. When something has gone wrong you just keep picking yourself back up, even if it feels like you are running onto a top class side kick while you yourself have no guard. But even then it is important to work out what is going wrong and change it.

This has given me a large increase in my self-confidence as I know that is gives me the power to change things in my own life. I don't feel like I need to wait on fait or destiny to shape my life, because I know that if I choose I want to be successful at something I can work towards achieving that.

Not afraid of being independent

However, Taekwondo has also impacted more practical parts of my life which I think are very important. As a teenage girl I feel like it is very important I feel confident in myself and doing this sport for so long I feel like I have a better chance of handling myself and situations I find myself. Such as, I will soon be 18 and then going off to university and the skills I have learnt from taekwondo mean that I am not afraid of being independent. What I mean by this, is that when I first move away from my home and my friends I won't be able to rely on others to look after me, whereas I don't feel like I am unable to defend myself.

I know very well that I still have lots to learn and hopefully through gaining my next belt and carrying on my development I will become more and more able to take control of any dangerous situations. But I have learnt how to be aware of my surroundings and how to avoid putting myself in a potentially vulnerable circumstance.

Also I know if I did find myself in a situation where I had no choice but to use what I had learnt, I know I can hit hard and put up a good fight. It is this knowing that I have given myself more of a chance through my training that makes me feel confident. I know that there is still a large chance I could be taken off guard and so unable to defend myself, however I know loads of girls my age who wish they knew, even just a little, how to protect themselves. Many of my friends would have no idea how to even punch, which to me puts them in a very vulnerable place.

I don't have to conform to stereotypes

The knowledge that Taekwondo has given me makes me feel like I don't have to conform to gender stereotypes and rely on a man to protect me from the world. It also gives me a strong support network of friends and people who care about me so I can become my own person and not try and fit into what people expect of me.

When people find out that I am committed to Taekwondo and love it they always act surprised; apparently I "don't look like the type" or I'm "too friendly" to possibly do this sport. However doesn't this prove the very idea that anyone can take up taekwondo and enjoy it, you don't need to fit the stereotypes? Plus from my experience those who are the best at martial arts often never seem aggressive or are involved in many fights as through our training we are also taught how to avoid these circumstances.

Commitment and enthusiasm is what matters

This is something I really like about Taekwondo. Anyone from any background can take it on. But very importantly, I know lots of girls who are just as committed to it as me. We often hear in the news how the government is putting new policies in to get more girls to do sport, but in Taekwondo girls defiantly hold their own. When training at the elite squad there are so many amazing female role models who have inspired me to continue and become the best I can be. It is also the point that these people are looked up to by both genders and the same goes for male role models. In our organisation gender isn't something that is highlighted and pointed out, what matters is that your commitment and enthusiasm.

This has definitely had a direct impact on me. As when I was younger I was often told by my peers that I couldn't do something because I was a girl or I really wanted to join in I had to be in the background. For example when I was much younger I used to play football every Saturday, but being the only girl I was often told by the other boys that I could only play as the goalie so I didn't get in the way-it is at this point I'd like to point out I soon became a better goalie than any of the others. Whereas, within Taekwondo I have always been treated like anyone else, if I do something wrong I am told and if I do something right I am praised.

To me this is extremely important as it showed the younger me that the idea that boys can do some things and girls other things is stupid and simply untrue. In fact, when I am training those who I train with often say "don't go easy on her because she's a girl, because if she sees an opening she'll hit you, and hard". This just shows how taekwondo is constantly challenging gender stereotypes in this country. And so I have always been the one who would give anything a go and tell someone if they were wrong about what I am 'allowed' to do. It has also meant that I have many friends that are guys too because thanks to my training I don't feel like they are any different to me.

More than just a sport

The final reason taekwondo has helped developed my confidence is the environment that this organisation has created. There is a very positive and supportive attitude that the members have. This goes from a club level where we work together to help make each other to the best we can be through sharing tips and ideas, to the large unity that is felt when fifty of us are all shouting a competitor on at a competition. We seem to all be obsessed by getting each other to their goals and help in any way we can; even if that is shouting until you lose your voice in support for one of your team mates.

To me it has the ability to bring out the best in people and now that it has made me into a confident young woman, I feel like it is my responsibility to do my best so others can have the same experience that I have had in this. In fact, I one day hope to go into instructing so I can make this happen.

I think it is pretty obvious that I think very highly of taekwondo and I see how it has helped to create the person I am today. It reaches into parts of my life that seem totally unconnected to sport- like my school work- but actually it has had an impact in almost all areas of my life, and for that I am thankful. I look forward to carry on my journey.

For more details about Heart of England Unified ITF Taekwon-Do visit www.heartofengland-itf.org.uk