My Taekwondo journey to black belt
I was born in 1976 in Berlin, the capital of Germany and have been active my entire life. Even if I enjoy running, cycling, and long walks, my passion is always martial arts.
My time during childhood and adolescence was challenging. I experienced different types of abuse, separation, loss of my parents and close family members, bullying at school, violence, money problems, alcohol and drug addiction in the family, and death. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I worked on becoming a better version of myself, took my life into my own hands, made drastic changes and reached out for help.
I started with Judo when I was 13 years old, but soon I realised that this martial art was not the right fit for me. In November 1989, the fall of the Berlin wall happened. I grew up in Wedding, one of the working-class districts full of violence. Gangs were making the streets unsafe. Bullies used knives, their fists and their feet to cause harm to others. So Judo didn’t give me the confidence to defend myself against these people. I only graduated with a yellow belt until I stopped attending Judo classes ultimately.
My Taekwondo journey started in 1992 when my schoolmate took me to a Taekwondo school called “Sportschule Bae” in Berlin Moabit. At this time, I was 16 years old. My friend’s parents were the owner of the dojang. After school, I went to training regularly, often for two classes a day. My instructor was Master Kang Seok Sun from Korea, who has been practising Taekwondo since 1964. I earned my 7th Kup in December 1992. Taekwondo helped me gain more confidence in stopping bullies and defending myself more effectively.
After my mother passed away in January 1993, my life fell apart. Due to profound grief, I lost focus on school education and sports. I only attended Taekwondo classes once or twice a week; it took me some time to get my life back.
The other stroke of fate happened when my father was diagnosed with cancer. After he passed away in September 1996, I was alone and could no longer afford Taekwondo lessons in clubs. Anyhow, I never stopped pursuing it! My mother was just 38, and my father was 44 when they died.
I left Berlin and moved to Hamburg to start over and study Medical Engineering at the University of Applied Sciences.
As a result of tuition fees and financial reasons, I quit university and started a career in Information Technology in 2004. Life was tough, and my budget was minimal, so I worked extra jobs for a living. My temp job as a carer for the elderly followed me during my study and apprenticeship between January 2000 and May 2007. Besides this, I did a cleaning job at least twice a week and gave private lessons.
After my IT training ended in 2006, there was no longer the need to do any extra jobs, so I signed up for Taekwondo classes at Gym Sandokan in Hamburg and attended regular sessions for almost a year.
In 2007, I became a student at the Mo San club. My instructor was Muhamed Kahrimanovic, who prepared me for the grading to the 6th Kup in July 2007 with the German Taekwondo Union (DTU). Muhamed is known under his nickname “Hammer Hands” and his ability to break coconuts, slabs and baseball bats. I took my last belt promotion exam at the end of July 2007, until I left my home in Germany.
I moved to Slovakia to start a new life in a foreign country with a different culture and language for professional and personal reasons. Even if I didn’t have any Slovak language skills, it didn’t hold me back from joining Ilyo Taekwondo Kosice in October 2007. My trainer was Pavel Ižarik, who is holding the 6th Dan grade. I took three exams during my four-years-stay in this beautiful country. The last grading to the 2nd Kup was in February 2010.
After I met my wife, Gabriela, in June 2009, I started focusing more on eating healthily and became a vegan.
In 2011, my wife and I left Slovakia to move to the UK. Since things didn’t work out as expected, in June 2013, we moved to Vienna, Austria, where I started a new IT job in the financial sector.
In October 2015, I started working for a big software company, and things worked better for us. Unfortunately, my role was made redundant after 18 months of employment, so my wife and I had to give up the apartment and stay temporarily with her family in Slovakia for a few months. We decided to move back to the UK, so I applied for an IT job in Greater London.
In November 2018, I signed up for a Level 2 Children’s Fitness Qualification and a Personal Trainer course towards level 4 with a leading provider to build up a second career path within the fitness industry and become an expert. My wife is currently becoming a Level 4 Certified Personal Trainer.
Taekwondo has always been part of my life. Even if I wasn’t signed up in martial arts clubs continuously over these years, I always kept practising. Since March 2017, I have attended three to five weekly training classes in three different clubs – as a student, assistant, and lead instructor at Taekwondo4Fitness.
I obtained a license as a Taekwondo Instructor with British Taekwondo. My first Dan grading was in September 2018, when I earned my 1st-degree black belt. In March 2019, I completed a National Taekwondo Poomsae Judge certification. My last Dan grading was on the 28th of September 2019, when I earned my 2nd-degree black belt. Besides my full-time IT job, I have developed my club in Aylesbury and continued with my Taekwondo and Personal Trainer education.
Since I experienced different types of abuse during my childhood, it has always been my highest priority to safeguard children and vulnerable people in my duty of care. I do my best to keep them safe from potential harm or abuse because I don’t want anyone to experience the same as I did. Children are always the ones who suffer the most, and it can influence their entire life. For this reason, I also participated in a welfare officer-specific education and my professional Level 2 Children’s Fitness Coach qualification with Future Fit Training, regular safeguarding training, and workshops with providers like UK Coaching.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, I stopped offering venue classes. The safety of my family and members was my highest priority. Instead, I moved entirely online to keep my members active, fit and engaged during these challenging times of crisis.
In March 2021, Taekwondo4Fitness became an association of the Independent Taekwondo Organisation (ITO), and I took the role of Chairman and Examination Director – Instructor & Trainer Education in the United Kingdom. As an ITO Examiner, I now have the opportunity to grade my students without being dependent on other senior instructors. So my members can earn higher grades and a Kukkiwon blackbelt that is internationally recognised without any politics involved.
Covid-19-restrictions were lifted on the 19th of July 2021. After over 18 months of teaching online, in cooperation with Active Partnerships, I returned to a venue to deliver physical sessions for the youth and adults.
I took the last National Dan Grading in the United Kingdom on the 20th of November 2021 and earned my 3rd-degree black belt. At the same time, I made an honorary 4th-degree blackbelt with the Independent Taekwondo Organisation. Because of Brexit, we left the UK and moved to Slovakia.
Since April 2022, I have been training at Ilyo Taekwondo. Besides this, I am obtaining an additional trainer license with the Slovak Taekwondo Association WT and offering classes locally in Košice.
COVID-19 is unavoidable, and the virus has become endemic. Everyone is going to get it! Herd immunity is unachievable even with high vaccine uptake, so we must live with it. Depending on age and mobilities, anyone unvaccinated will meet the virus at some point. For this reason, it is time to prepare ourselves to boost our immune system and prioritise our health.
You can be easily tempted to make unhealthy choices to comfort your life, even as a vegetarian or vegan. For this reason, I became a Nutrition Advisor who has been following a plant-based diet for over a decade. To find out more, please click here.
Please keep it going, work harder and NEVER give up!
If you’d like to connect or have any questions, please reach out – I’m here to help.
Thank you for reading, and keep safe!
Lead Instructor Mario
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