Monday, December 05, 2011


Way back at the start of the year I applied to be a volunteer at the 2012 London Olympics. This weekend I attended a test event - one of many that's been going on across London for some time. On Friday I attended an introduction/training day and on Saturday and Sunday I was a volunteer at the 'London Prepares' Taekwondo International Invitational

I knew almost nothing about taekwondo until this weekend. In the UK it’s very much a minority sport. On Friday evening I did some basic research on the rules so I would not spend the next two days being completely clueless because what I did know about taekwondo was that it is not a sport that is easily accessible to the casual observer. 

Taekwondo is a martial art and is the national sport of Korea. Bouts are short - typically only ten or so minutes including stoppages. There are three two minute rounds with a one minute break between rounds. Participants score points by hitting their opponents in the head or torso using their feet or using  punches to the body. Participants wear headguards and also leg and body protectors. There are sensors in the body protectors which automatically record a 'score' if a blow of sufficient force is made on the opponents body. Strikes to the head are scored by observing judges.

The skill is in the technique involved to make a scoring move. In that respect it is similar to Olympic boxing where the emphasis is also on technique and skill. It is not like professional boxing where the objective is to batter your opponent with the intention of knocking them out. In taekwondo injuries are relatively rare and knockouts almost non-existent. It’s not bloodthirsty but the action is fast and explosive.

It's a very regimented sport full of very formal gestures and acts. The participants bow to their coach before stepping on to the field of play. Opponents bow to each other before commencing a bout and again at the end. Match officials bow to each other before discussing a ruling. Respect for the officials and your opponent is acutely observed. In two days of competition I never saw a decision questioned by a participant however they do operate an extremely formal appeal process where the coach can request a video review of a contended point. This appeal process of course involves a lot of bowing.

A particularly generous gesture during one particular bout involved a participant being injured and unable to complete the bout. His opponent lifted him up and carried him off the field of play and back to his coach where he was then stretchered from the arena.

I was incredibly lucky in the volunteer role I was allocated. I could easily have been placed in a role where I was not even in the main arena. What I actually ended up doing was being one of four video camera operators positioned at the four corners of the competitive area. We had to operate the cameras which recorded the bout. If a scoring move was appealed by the coach during the bout, our footage was reviewed by the judges to check whether the appeal was valid and if so, the score would be adjusted. This is as close as you can get to the action without actually being a referee or contender. 

Taekwondo has both male and female categories. In this event (and I assume others like it) the women had an equal number of bouts as the men and their competition was every bit as enthralling, hotly contested and enthusiastically supported as the men's. This does not appear to be one of those sports where the women's version is seen as sub-standard to the men's. Isn’t that how it should be.

I’ve never been inclined towards any sort of sport like this and I dislike boxing intensely. I’ve always assumed martial arts are just for people who like hitting other people but I’ve become a bit of a taekwondo fan. It’s technical, disciplined and very skillful – my kind of sport – remember, I like cricket. 

The only thing that got to me was seeing the female competitors – young and attractive – arriving at the start of their bout looking all fresh faced and enthusiastic. Some ten minutes later a good few of them left exhausted, bewildered and dishevelled having just been kicked about the head several times by some steely-eyed Korean whirling dervish. My chivalrous side (if I have one) made me want to console them and remonstrate with the Korean and explain to her it was really not acceptable to strike a woman under any circumstances.


nursemyra said...

Sounds pretty exciting Nick

Terra Shield said...

I've always thought that Taekwondo is more of an art than a sport. It's so cool that you're a volunteer for the games though.

King of Scurf said...

nursemyra:It was a lot of fun and I've acquired a respect for a sport that until now I'd thought was rather silly. You live and learn.

Terra:The last Olympics in London were in 1948. I wasn't around for those. We have them in 2012. Based on those stats. I won't be around the next time the Olympics are in London so I'd better make the most of them this time and as I haven't got tickets and I am in no way an athlete, volunteering is my best way to get involved. I'm looking forward to it.

Gia said...

That's kind of a high pressure cameraman gig you had (they depend on YOU if they need to review footage!). That's awesome though.

King of Scurf said...

Gia:I was very surprised they gave this job to a bunch of amateurs like us. I'd love to be doing the same job at the actual Olympics next year.

Thanks for stopping by - I thoroughly enjoy your blog.

Nota Bene said...

Excellent for volunteering!

Shallow I know, but there's nothing like a girl fight...


King of Scurf said...

NB: And well done to you for getting involved as well.