Dave Sutherland (Cambridge University - 22 at time of writing)

I've been doing Tae Kwon Do for 11 odd years now. I really enjoy Tae Kwon Do, and this is an account of how it has fitted into some of my life and education so far:
I started Tae Kwon Do back when I was 11 years old. At first it was a bit of fun a couple of times a week, but as I grew up and as I started to put more effort in, TKD became really rewarding. In the run up to my black belt I became a lot fitter. Naturally I gained a lot more self-confidence, something lacking in pretty much every teenager. I also found the self discipline gave me a lot more focus. I took my black belt grading in the run up to my GCSEs in April, and I felt a lot more in control of what I was doing. (A lot of the elements of Tae Kwon Do didn't come naturally, especially the sparring - I learnt a lot about determination and hard work.)

Now, during the first time in my life when I really had to manage empty unstructured days of study leave, I was looking forward to an evening's training more than ever. Both the grading and the GCSEs turned out pretty well in the end! I kept up the training throughout my A levels. Lower Sixth proved the busiest time yet and although work, socialising and TKD became a squeeze, busy days with lots of all three turned out to be the best times of all: having lots going on meant I didn't do anything by halves, and the more I learnt to get my head down and work effectively, the better I tried at and enjoyed TKD. It took me a little while to appreciate that the effect was actually more and more in the other direction. I found that I had learnt a lot about clearing my head and focussing at training.
Back at school, whenI felt like there were a few too many different bits of work on my plate, I could relax my mind in pretty much the same way and then just sit down and get it done, one by one. Again, I felt a lot more in control. With a bit of effort, I went to university and got in to Cambridge. At this stage you quickly come to appreciate that you don't really ever get less busy in life, and once again the workload stepped up. It struck me, however, that of the students I met there, a lot of people had a fairly serious hobby they did a few times a week. If they didn't regularly do some sport, they played music or worked on something else.

Anyway, Tae Kwon Do was mine, and I kept training through the holidays and when I was up at Uni, I would do my patterns in the squash courts and once a week I went to the smallish local club. This turned out great for me as both work and college life (in a reasonably small set of 150 or so freshers), although being really enjoyable, would occasionally prove a bit claustrophobic. Once a week I could get on my bike and for a few hours leave it all behind at the town club, then come back, go to bed, and wake up ready to get going again. Back over the summer after first year I trained hard and, juggling it slightly with a move back to uni for second year, graded again. With that a success, I felt such a buzz coming out of the grading hall, and thereafter I felt a bit more empowered to apply myself to things.

Having settled in the year before, I felt totally relaxed at university and got a lot out of it from then on I think. I have never been a great competitor, but I get a real kick out of putting everything into training, and if a training session went especially well I would have a spring in my step for a good day after. I realised all the big things I spent my time on bounced off each other and working hard both on uni stuff and TKD I got into the swing of things. Unfortunately, the local club moved on, but I would practise in the garden of our student house at any opportunity: whenever there was a quiet evening, or if I was stuck on something I was working on. Come crunch time - finals - I was probably doing more exercise than ever before. Before exams there would come a point in many an afternoon where I would have to decide between carrying on working or doing some TKD in the evening. During the day there would be a fair bit of stressful flitting between projects and bits and pieces to revise, and the choice for the evening would boil down to either more of the same, or getting some work done to a deadline and then calling it a day and heading off to train. Although all students came under pressure to give up their lives for a term, and some did just shut themselves in the library, I never regretted taking the latter choice; in fact it's fair to say that I have never come out of a training session without feeling calmer about whatever was on my mind.

This sense of perspective has done me the world of good in the past four years. Now they're kindly having me back to do a PhD - this means I'm old enough to have spent more years of my life doing Tae Kwon Do than not. With all the things I've learnt from it, I've come to see TKD as a steady background to my time spent growing up, and I actually struggle to imagine all of these disjoint rites of passage without it. Given that I find Tae Kwon Do so enjoyable, and that I've got to know some very decent people through it, and given that it has had such a relaxing, positive, stabilising influence on everything else I do, I intend to keep it up for many years to come.

Nathan Dickinson (Leicester University)

Training in Tae Kwon Do as a student has been of massive benefit; I don’t think that I’d have managed to complete both a demanding degree and PhD without it. Having somewhere to go that was unrelated to work meant I could totally switch focus, allowing me to completely recharge, and make it so that I could solve in a few minutes problems that I’d been banging my head against for a few days!

Though it is often neglected when studying hard, physical fitness is extremely important to academic performance; a healthy body provides a healthy mind, and stops you feeling tired and run down. There is nothing worse than turning up to an exam tired, I assure you that many hours hard work are wasted that way! As well as the studying rest period training can provide, the exercise left me feeling able to better concentrate and focus. It was often tempting to cut training heavily over exam season, but I tried extremely hard to train at least once a week. I felt lucky that Mr. Freer has always been very supportive when this has happened. Though I’d be away from the books for an hour, in a studying week of 50-60 hours that ‘lost’ time was negligible and the benefit the training gave me, both physical and mentally, more than made up for it.

Studying hard can also be emotionally draining, and for me there is no better way of dealing with stress and anxiety than a good physical! On a more personal level, having moved away from my family to a different part of the country to attend university, I have found a kind of second family in the club. There aren’t many places you can go and just do your thing, without anyone asking you anything you don’t want to talk about. When you train hard and compete with a group of people for long enough you gain a bond you don’t really get elsewhere that also provides some stability in what can be quite a turbulent student life. I got on so well with one of the other club members I married her!!