Cork Taekwondo 40 Years Reunion

Think of Brazil, and you invariably think of soccer. Visit Cork in Southern Ireland you might be forgiven for thinking of Taekwondo because this city and county has been a passionate bastion of ITF styled Taekwondo since Master Aidan Walsh first introduced it here in the summer of 1974.

group shot

To celebrate this historic martial art milestone, Saturday, September 27th 2014 was chosen to mark the occasion with an open invitation to everyone past and present connected with the Korean art to re-unite once again, regardless of association in a show of solidarity.

With the best of intentions, re-unions can be strange affairs. Most of us had at one time or another crossed swords had fell foul of the virus of silly politics that has blighted our art.

Initially the event was met with mixed interest as the event’s success depended on representatives from all associations attending. A facebook page Historyof CorkTaekwondo was initiated by Mark Crowley, to test the waters.

For months nostalgic black and white photographs mostly from the seventies and eighties flashed across our screens, which delighted some but opened old wounds for others. It was a big “ask” to forgive and forget some of our past quarrels and martial artists from outside of Cork looked on to see if we could unite, shake hands, and train together for the good of Taekwondo.

 

CORK TAEKWONDO and CORK PEOPLE

 

Janice Connelly and Catherine O'Boyle exchanging side kicks

Janice Connelly and Catherine O’Boyle exchanging side kicks

With a population of just half a million people, Cork currently has over 100 Taekwondo clubs spread across the city and county. Four decades of this Korean art seeping into the public consciousness, has rendered it a household name here in “Leeside” as we are sometimes known. In recent years, clubs and even associations have mushroomed here to such an extent that few viable location options remain. This exponential growth can be evident anywhere in Cork around “Tea-Time” when overexcited school children wearing white ITF “Dobuks” can be seen, either coming from, or going to, their lessons in every suburb, town and village throughout Cork.

As Cork people, we wind each other up and slag each other off indiscriminately, our rebel hearts grounded in a down to earth reality. We detest playing second fiddle to Dublin and see ourselves as the real capital of Ireland. We laugh at vice and folly and ensconce ourselves in working class values. We argue and fight and value our fierce independent views. Every one of us is born with a built-in BS radar which can easily detect pretenders a mile off.

These stubbornly held Corkonian convictions (Just think : Roy Keane and you will catch the general drift) remain the driving forces, which have today resulted in a city and county boasting a vibrant and flourishing ITF Taekwondo scene.  

 

BUILDING MOMENTUM

Bryan Walsh and Cyril MacSweeney sparring just like the old days

Bryan Walsh and Cyril MacSweeney sparring just like the old days

Bryan Walsh one of Cork’s organising stalwarts, did Trojan work behind the scenes along with the flamboyant Jim O’Sullivan in putting this event together. These guys ran one of the biggest clubs on the Southside of the city in the heyday of growth, where they were both behind some of the biggest coups in promoting events and now once again found themselves making those calls to Dublin so much reminiscent of times past. Marian Haussmann Keohane researched the Cork library for old newspaper cuttings and Denis Gannon started putting slide shows together.

Once it was confirmed that Master Aidan Walsh would be definitely be coming to Cork the pace of momentum quickened. Everyone wanted to be part of this unprecedented historic martial art milestone, the first for any city. Liam-Og Griffin did a nice press release in the “Cork Echo” and the local radio station Cork 96 FM also got on board.

Little did this future iconic ambassador realise all those years ago when he alighted from the Dublin train, at Cork’s Kent station, that he would be setting possibly Ireland’s strongest Taekwondo foundation in place, and leaving an extraordinary  legacy for generations to come.

Having just returned from Turkey as an Irish international in the summer of ‘74, the young twenty four year old Dubliner had, just like the other original pioneers trained by Master Rhee Ki Ha, set his sights on expansion.

That venue for the very first Cork Dojang was the Arcadia Ballroom, which was conveniently situated directly across the road from the train station. The Bruce Lee phenomenon was in full flight, Carl Douglas was singing about “Kung Fu Fighting” and Taekwondo was in the right place at the right time. The three hour Saturday class soon filled up.

WALKING BACK IN TIME

Fast forward 40 years and we were once again ready to relive those halcyon days. We must have all ran through the full gamut of emotions, when we stepped into that room…some of us hurting by slights in the past…some hoping it would be OK…and what a relief!!!! I was at home in a sea of bald heads and grey hair.

…Who would have thought that this event would be the success it was…!

Everyone who attended this historic once in a lifetime event will confirm the day belonged to Master Aiden Walsh.

Niall O'Keeffe, Clive Harrison, Pat Barry, Tim Forde and Sandra Walsh in front row action

Niall O’Keeffe, Clive Harrison, Pat Barry, Tim Forde and Sandra Walsh in front row action

He must have been overwhelmed by the turnout. People like Dave Walsh and Henry Shaughnessy travelled from the US, and Pat Houlihan travelled from the UK. Many black belts travelled down from Dublin including Paul O’Brien & Francis Plunkett. Master Clive Harrison form the UK also made the trip. The Hall was packed with over 100 participants mostly Black Belts, and a large number of spectators turned up to see this brilliant ambassador for Taekwondo, our original instructor in action and he didn’t disappoint.

 

MASTER AIDAN WALSHES SEMINAR

Master Aidan Walsh laying it on the line to Mayfield's Noel Quinn

Master Aidan Walsh laying it on the line to Mayfield’s Noel Quinn

His seminar content exploited functional basics to their full potential. From the warm up you knew this was unfolding into something magic and unique with a palpable feel-good camaraderie factor and round. He meshed sparring, footwork with close range hand techniques and kept his focus on details such as realism and training reaction time.

Master Aidan Walsh showing impressive technique to the head of Terry Donnelly

Master Aidan Walsh showing impressive technique to the head of Terry Donnelly

His willing fall-guy sidekick, the ever impressive Terry Donnelly, was constantly on hand to demonstrate two man drills when prevailed upon.

Master Walsh emphasised the importance of realism when it came to close quarter boxing techniques, and said good solid quality training should be transferable regardless of technique drilled. This was evident as long as you understood the two main basics of distance and timing. He was countering a lead left jab in boxing and was showing how a simple but well timed side step could out manoeuvre the opponent and countering with a high overhand right counter.

He then broke this down when he took the same timing and distance concept and related it to basic three step sparring. The bold Terry once again stepping into the breach putting his best forearm block to good use. We shuddered in awe as his bone crunching forearm blocks met the master’s punches at precisely the exact time. Realism demonstrated in spades.

In one sparring drill he stepped in front of one of Corks most experienced fighters Alan Dalton. Alan has uncanny front leg chamber ability and a supporting leg that could almost withstand a Kyokushinkai leg sweep (ok, perhaps not, but he is one strong focused fighter). When he chambers that lead leg it’s like a heat seeking missile, you can’t tell until it is too late if it’s a sidekick or a hook kick that will come at you.

AVOID THE SET UP TRAP

Paul Delea attempts to outflank Denis Gannon's lead leg side kick in a sparring timing drill

Paul Delea attempts to outflank Denis Gannon’s lead leg side kick in a sparring timing drill

Master Walsh picked Alan Dalton to demonstrate and test his footwork ability in relation to keeping your opponent always on his weak or blind side. “You keep your eyes peeled for when he indicates his intent to move and you never let him get set, so he never has the opportunity to set you up for attack” . When you consider Master Walsh is 66 years old and Alan Dalton (50) an experienced and superb scrapper, was left at best, left flatfooted and unable to use his best techniques to gain any control during this brief but flawless sparring lesson. At times he would break his coaching narrative and exert his authority for some nattering participants at the back unfamiliar with his deeply engrained “Old School” protocols “Don’t Fold Your Arms and show more Respect in Class!”.

This booming authoritarian voice instantly transported us all back to the Arcadia Ballroom in 1974 and was a surreal moment. It sent shivers down my spine and a few of us caught each others eye as we had done four decades ago when we were just teenagers. Throughout his 50 year career Aidan Walsh silently went about his business of training in spit and sawdust gyms while the rest of us were arguing about Sine Wave or Hip Twist and what size stripe we got going down our trouser leg…

 

Apart from being the Man who Pioneered Cork Taekwondo, he Masterminded Ireland’s ITF World Championship Team to Victory in Chaco Argentina in August of 1981 and got little or no credit for it .He never let it bother him, just shrugged it off and was back training with that boisterous boxing optimist Martin Lawless the next day.

CORK 40 PRESENTATIONS

Photographs, some presentations and renewing old friendships made up the rest of the day. Doug Minihane was everywhere with his camera and captured most of the photos shown here. Mr Alan Walsh made a special presentation on behalf of the Irish Armed Forces for the contribution Taekwondo has made to the Army

Nicole Canty, part of the emerging generation of Cork Taekwon-Do

Nicole Canty, part of the emerging generation of Cork Taekwon-Do

Former Ladies World Champion Anne Slocum and one of Cork best middleweights former international Mick “Haulie” Fitzgerald accompanied by Pat Field made guest appearances. Eleven year old Red belt Aidan O’ Donavan from Rathpeacon, said he never saw so many black belts in one place, Teresa Sanchez from Bandon a blue Belt said it was a privilege for her to attend, while another Bandon Blue Belt, Rolf Bromberger said that it was nice to be part of a bigger family.

Thirteen year old Ross Doyle, a 1st Dan from Blarney said it’s great that we all came together for this one great day and he was honoured to train with the founder. Paul O Connor a 1st Dan from Carrigtwohill said it will be hard to beat this event for the way everyone got on and trained side by side. Janice Connolly a 5th Dan GTF practitioner said it was an opportunity that she jumped at and 3rd Dan, Dwayne Crowley said it was a great achievement for us all to be together to train under someone he had heard about for so long and at last had met Master Walsh.

 

FUTURE RESPONSIBILITY

We finished the Celebration that evening with a Dinner in his honour and made a number of presentations. Jim Sullivan, who had made his River’s Edge Fitness Centre a point of contact and ticket outlet, did a marvelous job as master of ceremonies and paid tribute to each and every one who made the event the success it was.  Speeches were made by Cyril MacSweeney, Dermot Walsh, Alan Dalton, Clive Harrison, myself and the charismatic Terry Donnelly before Master Walsh addressed us in his usual humble manner by saying he was absolutely overwhelmed by the reception he received and Cork Taekwondo will always have a special place in his heart.

This reunion proved we could do it, and raised over €700 which was distributed to two local Cork charities, Penny Dinners & St Mary’s Hospice. We showed the world that we can forgive and forget and we proved to ourselves that life is far too short for any hurt to be held for too long. As we tucked into the roast hake fillet wrapped in prosciutto fennel and mussel ragout we reflected on our collective journey and knew we had come a long way from O’ Brien’s Ice Cream Parlor on the Grand Parade. It was here was where Norman Creedon Pat McCarthy,Eamon Brierly, Tina Petrasi, Shirley Catchpole and Jimmy Fouhy and a few more of us would meet on Sunday mornings after training. We would argue over which of us got to drive the “Big Boss” back to the train station so he could catch the return train to Dublin. This was a monumental career defining event for the man who is more comfortable with anonymity than fame. We enjoyed a few drinks and we all wished each other the best for the future and promised to keep in touch.

That day, Saturday 27th September 2014, belonged to us all. Looking back, it was way easier not to come, to isolate ourselves and compartmentalize, yes way, way easier, but as we all proved, definitely not worth it!!!

As instructors we learned a lot more than spatial awareness and deft sparring skills that day. Master Walsh is one of the best role models any student could wish for. He made us realise that we all share a huge responsibility when we tie that belt and stand in front of our students, who look to us for direction and guidance.  We all have a duty and an obligation to ensure the standard inside and outside the Dojang reflects values of the five tenets just like Master Walsh shows by his manner and attitude.

We need to see that we are not really all that different from each other. We all experience some pain, some hurt , we may judge  incorrectly and we rise and fall throughout life. The remedy is in consistent and honest training, because it keeps you grounded and has stood the test of time. As long as you put in regular effort you tilt the law of averages in your favour. No big secret just train as best you can each day.

Be just like Master Walsh, a humble guy who just loves to train, an icon with an easy warmth. He remains treasured in all our hearts. So from all of us to you Master Walsh “Thank you for everything you have done for Cork, Irish and World Taekwondo.”

 

Frank Murphy

 

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