To the onlooker, it appears to be a dizzying display of sparring with high kicks, spinning and jumping.
But a lot goes into the preparation for the martial art of taekwondo: reaction force, concentration, equilibrium, breath control, body mass, and most important: speed.
No one knows this better than World Taekwondo Open Champion Edson Breedy, who has his sights set on making it to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Earlier this year in April 2015 in Mexico, Edson became the first Trinidadian to medal at the World Taekwondo Open, where he brought home the gold.
He hopes to put Trinidad and Tobago on the map for Taekwondo, and is doing everything in his power to achieve his goal — including grueling training days of 6-7 hours several times a week.
“I am a very driven person, but anyone aiming for the Olympics is also very driven and has remarkable tools at their disposal — flexibility, athleticism, strength, and most importantly: the right support team behind them,” he says. “You can’t be at 90% or 95%… at this level, there is no room for error.”
Birth of a Champion
Edson’s interest in martial arts emerged early in secondary school.
“One Saturday morning, the cable was out and I turned on the television, and local TV at that time showed [Japanese manga animated series] Samurai X,” he reminisces. “From that chance viewing, I fell in love with Asian culture, especially their martial arts and sense of discipline.”
He joined a martial arts club at his school Hillview College, where he learnt karate and jujitsu. Realising he had above-average talent and a particular skill for kicking, he was eager to continue martial arts when he left Trinidad in 2005 to pursue his undergraduate degree in Psychology at Howard University in the United States.
He joined Howard University’s Taekwondo club, a well-renowned club that has produced athletes who have won medals at the Olympic Games and World Championships. Edson excelled at the club, gaining valuable experience during his four-year tenure at the school, and honing his skills in the sport.
After graduating, he took a year off before continuing further education in medicine, and travelled to Japan where he taught English as a second language. There, he continued training in taekwondo with a Japanese club.
Upon returning to Trinidad in 2009, he joined Trinidad and Tobago’s national taekwondo team, which he balanced for three years with medical school at the St. Augustine campus of The University of the West Indies.
“It was a struggle to do the two,” he admits. “When I was about to hit Year 4, however, I realised that I would not be able to do national training for taekwondo if I was in medical school, as Year 4 comprises of hospital rotations — there was no way that I could fit several hours of high-intensity training into my day on top of that.”
With the guidance of his coaches, he made the decision to defer medical school for two years, thus enabling him to take it all the way with taekwondo — all the way to the Olympic Games, he hopes.
Taekwondo in T&T
Developed in the 1940s and 1950s, taekwondo is a blend of various Korean indigenous fighting styles and is distinguishable from other martial arts by its high emphasis on head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast kicking techniques. To facilitate these, taekwondo stances are usually more narrow that the broader stances of karate and other martial arts.
Like other martial arts, taekwondo can be a commendable activity for a child’s development, as it has many teachings that transcend the sport: building self-discipline, understanding others, dealing with authority and being authoritative when needed, and learning confidence in oneself and command of one’s body.
Currently, taekwondo is one of only two (the other being judo) Asian martial arts included in the Olympic Games, and has only been included since 2000. The body recognised for taekwondo at the Olympic level is the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), and WTF-style competition is more sport-oriented and less combat-oriented than other taekwondo styles.
In Trinidad and Tobago there are only a few WTF schools — which poses a problem for Edson.
“We do have excellent talent at our local schools,” he says, expressing profound appreciation for his coaches Colin Mofford and Cheryl Ann Sankar. He also notes that two cadets, Chelsea Mofford and Jean Maurice Young, are more advanced in their skills that he was at their age.
“However,” he adds, “with an overall lack of players throughout the country, I have to travel abroad both to compete and to expand my training.”
He recently returned from a one-month training camp in Mexico, and completed a four-month stint earlier this year at training camps in Mexico and Canada. While his nature of travelling abroad for taekwondo may sound impressive, Edson notes that he has a long way to go to get to Rio.
“Realistically, my ‘camp’ is their regular training in their natural environment, so I am only getting a small piece of what they experience throughout the year,” he explains.
“Coming from where I am in T&T, I need to find all the elements that bigger, more established teams already have. This involves me seeking out the best coaches and the best camps around the world, the best training techniques, and basically creating my own path.”
Funding the Road to Rio
Now a full-time taekwondo athlete, building his dream comes at no small cost.
While he is grateful to his sponsor Body Glow for his supplementation needs, Edson also needs to source funds for every trip abroad to train or compete.
He estimates that getting to the qualifying meet for the Rio Olympics is going to cost around TT$175,000 at minimum, which covers a range of costs such as: equipment, training camp fees, flights to competitions, payment for coaches, hotel stays and living expenses such as nutrition and ground transportation.
“I have been doing taekwondo for ten years, which sounds like a long time — but in reality, most of the competitors I will meet at the Olympic level have started since the age of 5 or before,” Edson says.
“For me to even get close to that level, I have to have everything in my full arsenal. As I am often travelling on my own, I have to think about the minute details: making sure my hotel is close to the venue, my coach is with me on the competition day and I don’t have to depend on foreign coaches, flights are booked with sufficient time for leeway in case of delays, and so on. People would never fathom these administrative things can impact your performance, but they do.”
He reiterates that part of being fully focused is having all the necessary funds needed for his preparation, so that he can keep his own personal focus on the ultimate goal: Rio.
While funding is a problem often cited by various organisations in Trinidad and Tobago, Edson believes that athletes need to be more proactive in raising their own funds.
He has invested in developing himself into a brand by designing supportive t-shirts, buttons and other paraphernalia; as well as creating a formidable presence on social media channels Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He has also planned a fundraiser event series called Let’s go to Rio! The next and 3rd installment will be a seven-course cocktail styled dinner event “Let’s Go To Rio: Meet Me at Fanatic” at Fanatic Kitchen Studio on December 5th 2015.
Nonetheless, he notes that corporate sponsorship and strategic brand alignments are the only ways he will be able to meet his financial targets.
Looking to the Future
With his sights set on getting to Rio, Edson acknowledges that even getting in would be a feat in itself — far less taking home a medal.
“However difficult you think it might be, it is even more difficult,” he says, laughing. “My athletic goal is to qualify for Rio and be in the final — to represent the country at the Olympics with a strong performance. Beyond that, well: we will see.”
Assuming all goes according to plan, he looks forward to returning home after the Olympics, and settling back into the ‘normalcy’ of a regular life — which for him, would be finishing medical school.
In the long-term, he will focus on his career in medicine, and foresees that any further involvement with taekwondo may be in the capacity of coaching or management.
He looks forward to sharing the story of his journey with young cadets and others to whom he has been a role model and an inspiration, and also with the youth and corporate world in the capacity of motivational speaking.
For now, the future is still undecided as he prepares rigorously for the final Olympic qualifier on March 10, 2016.
“It will not be smooth sailing, but I think I’ve done my best thus far, and my plan is the best possible one I can create in terms of structuring my training to best increase my chances of success,” he says.
“This journey has been a great experience. It has taught me so much, and given me an immense amount of discipline which I will be able to use for whatever I do in the future. Whichever way it goes, I know that I have taken the sport as far as I can, so there will be no regrets.”
Edson Breedy can be contacted via email at [email protected] . Also be sure to check out his Facebook fan page and other social media channels Instagram: edsonbreedy_tkd and Twitter @ebreedy.
What You Need to Know
- In Trinidad, some schools are more oriented to sport-based taekwondo for competition purposes, while others focus on forms and more traditional aspects of the martial art. If you are interested in learning more about the taekwondo schools in Trinidad, please message Edson via his Facebook page for advice.
- If your company is interested in corporate sponsorship of Edson Breedy to assist his journey to the Rio Olympics, please contact him directly at 1 (868) 794-7975.
- For those individuals interested in supporting his upcoming fundraiser in December, here are some further details:
- “Let’s Go To Rio: Meet Me at Fanatic” will be held on December 5th at Fanatic Kitchen Studio, which is located opposite COSTAAT at the Cor. Dere Street and Melville Lane, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
- The seven-course dinner features six savoury courses and one sweet course, and there will be an open bar.
- Space is limited so be sure to reserve your spot early! Call Edson at 1 (868) 794-7975 to book tickets.