West Kelowna  

Black belts in life skills

​Students of the Westside School of Tae Kwon Do are training for not only their black belts but for life.

Master Instructor Michael Smith may have more than 190 students, but his affection for each of them and dedication to preparing them for the challenges of life are evident and undeniable.

“It’s rare that I get through a black belt testing without choking up,” he said.

“These are people that we’ve spent years with.  You learn a lot about a person in that kind of context and over that length of time.”

“These kids are like family to us.”

​Jeffrey Mock was one of Master Smith’s first students. He was promoted to 4th degree black belt, earning him the title of Master Mock. It is an important milestone that represents the culmination of years of training and hard work.

“It’s not just a sport,” he said. 

“It’s life lessons.”

“(Tae Kwon Do) is more about wisdom and maturity,” agrees Adam Turcotte, another student who was being tested for his black belt.

“It’s a lot of kicking and a lot of hard work but it teaches you how to be a good person more than anything else.”

“Tae Kwon Do teaches you how to adapt, it teaches you versatility and it shows the students that it’s not just for the young people,” said Andrew Kiesewetter who, at 52 years old, is testing for his third degree black belt.

“It’s a new threshold to cross for me.”

​Today, Rachel Pavlakovic is the only female testing for her black belt, but it's not the norm. About 40 per cent of those attending Master Smith's classes are female.

"I know a lot of girls who've gone through it. They're very determined," says Pavlakovic.

She has a broken nose from a sparring incident a few weeks ago, but that's not stopping the 15-year-old from testing this day. She's been doing Tae Kwon Do for seven years and she would not miss this day for anything.

"It's a great sport. It contains everything in it to do with mind, balance and self defense, and it's really cool to build relationships here."

Ryan Bystrom is over 40, he is going for his third degree black belt. He says the sport has lots to offer young and old.

"Great physical conditioning, good discipline I think the sport helps in all avenues in life so it's going to help with your career, your job, not to mention with your weight."

Brenden Nichol has spent more than half his young life learning the disciplines of Tae Kwon Do. After eight years he is testing for his second degree black belt. We asked him what he would say to his friends when they asked him to come and play.

"I usually say, 'I have Tae Kwon Do afterwards and frankly it's a little more important than playing'", he says with a smile. "It is a great sport. It teaches you how to be a good person, it teaches you responsibility, how to work with other people, teamwork. Everything that you would need for society and your future."

“Tae Kwon Do is a process of change,” says Master Smith.

“It’s really a means to an end.  All of the tenets of Tae Kwon Do, etiquette, modesty, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit; they practice those things every day.”

“They learn that hard work brings rewards and that if they want to progress they have to work for it.”

We are happy to report that all students moved on to the next rank.

For more information on the Westside School of Tae Kwon Do, visit their website.


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