‘Massive’ black belt achievement for four Taranaki teens

Four Taranaki teenagers have kick started their way to being role models after achieving their black belts in taekwon-do.

Becoming a black belt in taekwon-do as a teenager is not unheard of, but to have four teenage girls, three of whom are just 13 years old, from the same Taranaki club attain their black belt at the same time is an immense achievement, says the club’s instructor.

Instructor Neill Livingstone says the Taranaki Taekwon-Do Club is incredibly proud of Lola Potter, 13, Sarah Taing, 13, Iris Pease, 13, and Lexy Ollington, 18, who successfully graded for their black belts recently.

“It’s massive for us,” Livingstone says.

“In a world full of distractions and other pressures like school work – that these girls have focused on getting their black belts – it’s immense.”

Lexy Ollington, Sarah Taing , Neill Livingstone, Iris Pease and Lola Potter in their black belts.

Several of the girls began in the club’s dedicated kids class as little seven and eight-year-olds, so to witness their progression was all that more special for the club members who provided support and guidance over the years, he says.

“It also means they now become such fantastic role models for our little kids.

“They really look up to them.”

Livingstone says to commit to black belt grading is a lot of work.

First you need to progress through the belts to red belt, which takes many years, and then you spend hours each week preparing for the black belt grading by learning and perfecting new patterns, techniques and theory.

“It great to see the result, but what you don’t see is the hours and hours of practice and commitment to get to this level.”

Lola, Sarah, Iris and Lexy celebrate receiving their black belts with a side kick.

Livingstone, who is a master and has been involved in taekwon-do for 32 years, says the biggest advantage a young person gains from taking up the martial art is confidence.

“Martial arts doesn’t turn you into a superman. It gives you confidence and self-belief, and that can take you anywhere.”

He says taekwon-do is not about the fighting. You learn it so you don’t have to use it. And that gives you confidence to deal with all sorts of situations.

The youngsters say being able to wear the black belt is symbolic of all the work they have put in over years, and in particular the last 12 months.

Lola says it also represents the support from the club and from her family at home to keep on pursuing her goal, even when it got difficult and she thought about giving up.

“It also gives me the peace of mind that I can stick to something when I set my mind to it.”

The four say the biggest benefit of becoming a black belt is the mental achievement, rather than the physical.

They say since achieving their black belts they have received lots of comments, many inferring they were now a physical threat.

However Lexy says despite many people’s perception, taekwon-do isn’t about fighting and attacking, it’s really about self-awareness and defence.

“It’s more about knowing you can protect yourself and how to move your body through space,” she says.

Sarah, Lexy, Iris and Lola before they got their black belts.

Taranaki taekwon-do club member and kids’ class instructor Frances Rookes agrees and says learning a martial art is valuable to all young people.

She says it offers the inner knowledge and the skills needed to move out in the world confidently and with a strong sense of self.

Rookes says watching the four girls grade for their black belts was “particularly cool and impressive”, especially as three of the girls had started out with her in the kids class.

“The fact that three of them are just 13 is amazing,” she says.

“It demonstrates their level of perseverance, their focus and their drive to achieve. Watching them on the day, I was so proud, they were stunning, I was quite tearful.”

In the lead up to the black belt grading the girls trained up to four times a week, as well as practicing on their own, and some of the girls also took additional training sessions with the fledgling New Plymouth taekwon-do club, EmpowerU, which is run by Kirsten Livingstone and operates under the Taranaki Taekwon-do umbrella.

Words and photos by Louise Pease