Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Martial art helped me beat playground bullies

WHEN Carl Davis was six he hated going to school because he was small and the other children would pick

WHEN Carl Davis was six he hated going to school because he was small and the other children would pick on him.

But then he was taken to his first taekwondo class and started to learn the art of self-defence.

Now, at 25, he not only competes internationally in the sport but is also one of the youngest instructors in the martial art that originated in Korea.

He teaches classes at Henley leisure centre and hopes to pass on the skills that he learned as a boy and provide today’s youngsters with the self-confidence to help their development.

Mr Davis vividly remembers those difficult early days at primary school.

He recalls: “I used to wear glasses and was small so I was a prime victim for the big kids. I’m quite a reserved character naturally and was shy.

“My dad took me along to the martial arts class as an escape from the bullying. He could see I wasn’t happy at school and wanted me to get into something.

“Over a few years it helped me deal with the bullies by building up confidence. I had knowledge that I could look after myself — simple things like if someone grabs you from behind, you know how to get out of the situation.

“It improved my overall character. I’m eternally grateful to taekwondo for what it did to help my low self-esteem and lack of confidence that many children these days also seem to have.”

Pointedly, he adds: “I’m never one to seek confrontation — I know how to deal with it but don’t seek it, even now. The way my instructor described it was that it’s like walking around with a loaded gun in your pocket. It means that you don’t need to carry a weapon if you are a weapon.”

Mr Davis has only once been forced to use his self-defence skills outside the dojang, the traditional Korean name for the place where martial arts students train.

It came when he was a student at Portsmouth University. He and a friend were out when they encountered an aggressive passer-by.

He recalls: “My friend never usually went out or drank and he was just unlucky that some guy grabbed hold of him to cause a scene.

“I grabbed the guy to make him release my friend using the pressure point at the back of the ear and let him know in no uncertain terms not to grab my mate. After that, it quickly spread around the university that I wasn’t to be messed with.

“Now I teach people how to avoid situations but also how to get out of one if it’s unavoidable.”

Mr Davis, who lives near Didcot, says he can hardly remember when he wasn’t involved in martial arts.

“It is my life,” he says. “I struggle to see how anyone else in taekwondo could be as passionate as I am about it and I try to pass that on to my students. It channels children’s energy into something more positive and gives them a focus and an outlet. It allows them to concentrate on something other than just school.”

He started instructing adults in 2011 and added classes for children in November last year.

Mr Davis says: “Helping kids learn how to defend themselves is a great privilege. Because I started so young I can relate to them. I know what they will and will not find interesting.”

He teaches self-defence, covering techniques including the grab and release he used in that incident at university. In Korean, tae means “to strike or break with foot”, kwon means “to strike or break with fist” and do means “way” or “method”.

There are five tenets to the sport — courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit.

“It instils discipline,” says Mr Davis. “The kids have to respect me and call me ‘Sir’. It’s a great way for them to interact with other children with whom they aren’t familiar.”

He started the children’s classes because he wanted to help mould the next generation into “good people”.

“You can be with them as they are growing up and make sure they don’t go down the wrong track,” says Mr Davis. “I offer myself outside of training as a bit of a mentor to some of the younger ones. I’m not just their instructor during the class, I’m there for them all the time if they need me.”

Adults, too, learn confidence and social skills from his training.

Mr Davis says: “There’s a 28-year-old in my class with severe learning difficulties and he’s not very confident. He said it had really helped him have a focus and to interact more with people because he has more confidence thanks to the class.

“It’s an environment in which everyone treats him equally. He has a level playing field and feels like an equal member of society. He’d always had a routine and he said he was glad to be able to break it. It was an honour to hear that.”

Mr Davis says that learning a martial art is also a better and more interesting way of getting fit than joining a gym which can be “quite tedious”.

“The rate at which people in my class carry on is very high as I try to make it enjoyable,” he says. “Getting people through the door is the most difficult part but once they come they ask themselves, ‘why didn’t I do it earlier?’” Mr Davis, who has also worked as a sports therapist, says he gets pleasure out of passing on his skills.

“The smiles on their faces at the end of each session make me want to go and do it again and again,” he says. “I love each session and can’t wait for the next one. If they can feed off my passion they can use it in everyday life.”

His students have taken part in a number of competitions and he says he enjoys the “buzz” of this even though he is on the sidelines.

He took a team of nine students to the London International Open Championships last year and finished third in the medals table out of 42 teams, even though some of them had as many as 30 members.

He says this was not the first time his students have punched above their weight at tournaments and he likes to think this is because of a team ethic he instils in them.

For Christmas, they gave him a plaque with the engraving “In pursuit of greatness, together as one” — a phrase he taught them.

Mr Davis says: “It means our class is one and if we work together we can achieve great things. That’s proven by our success in competitions.

“It shows if you have the right attitude in class you can carry it through to competitions and if you carry it in there you can use it in everyday life.

“I remember feeling so proud at our first competition. I had never had this feeling when my students were winning gold medals and I felt like a father watching his son.

“I was nervous for them, which I had never felt before because I’m used to competing for myself. I was booming.

“I definitely want to increase my numbers in competitions and my goal is to finish top of the overall table.”

Mr Davis himself is an experienced competitor and has won 90 gold medals during his junior and senior career. A winner at the 2009 European championships, he is unbeaten in sparring for more than two years.

At the age of 23, he became one of the youngest fourth dan fighters in the country and last year he was named the UK Taekwondo Association’s black belt competitor of the year.

* The adult classes take place at Henley leisure centre in Gillotts Lane on Wednesdays from 7.20pm to 8.50pm and cost £25 per month after the initial two, which are free. Children’s sessions (for ages five to 12) take place at the centre on Wednesdays from 5pm and 6pm and cost £25 per month. For more information, call Mr Davis on 07846 475422.

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