From elite athlete to trainer: the story of the Edson Breedy Taekwondo Academy

A brief history behind one of the newest, and fastest-growing martial arts schools in T&T

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IN MIDAIR: Edson Breedy, right, practises a jumping kick, or twyo chagi, as it’s called in Korean, during a training session in his earlier competition days. Photo: courtesy Edson Breedy Taekwondo

It’s amazing how time can change the plot so much.

Almost three years ago, Edson Breedy was eliminated from the 2016 Olympic Taekwondo Qualification Tournament, but little did he know that preparing for and ultimately missing out on Rio, would have turned into one of the best things to happen in his martial arts career.

Back in March 2016 in Aguascalientes Mexico, Breedy felt like he was in with a shot in the men’s +80kg division. Prior to that event, he had spent the last three months training in Mexico, and was one of the first names on the list along with Lenn Hypolite and Melissa Joseph, for the three-athlete team selected to try to make Rio a reality. Plus the year before, he became a World Taekwondo Open (held in Mexico) and inaugural T&T International Open gold medallist.

Lining up against the US Virgin Islands’ Douglas Townsend, Breedy who was ranked 33rd in the world at the time, established a comfortable 2-0 lead by the end of the second round.

Things went downhill in the final round however, as Townsend managed to get back into the match and go into a 4-3 lead, which could have finished 5-4 in favour of Breedy had it not been for a technical issue with the electronic scoring system.

As frustrating as that flashback may have been, Breedy was in good spirits when he spoke to The Sports Kiosk on Monday, as he now is the brainchild behind the Edson Breedy Taekwondo Academy, which is one of the newest martial arts schools in the country, and has steadily grown in numbers and popularity since they started mere months after the Agauscalientes debacle.

Breedy’s story has always been a coming of age journey, which is why he was able to quickly transition from an athlete into a trainer virtually overnight in spite of the demands of medical school and being an elite athlete.

The current medical student at the University of the West Indies (UWI), turned a lot of heads among his academic peers when he paused his studies in 2014 to pursue his dream of competing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

On the sporting side of things, he gained people’s attention when he sought funding through fund raisers, which included a party at the La Soledad Estate, and a Brazilian-themed seven-course meal and open bar event.

That wasn’t enough however, as he also started to build his own brand called “Edson Breedy Taekwondo”, which was an attempt to market himself on various online platforms in order sell merchandise to help fund his upcoming training camps and competitions. This branding was basically the birth of his latest endeavour off the mat, and is a particularly unique story as well, as elite athletes usually go into coaching after they had called time on their careers.

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BACK OFF: Edson Breedy, left, aims a kick at his Mexican opponent during the Mexico Open Taekwondo tournament. Photo: courtesy Edson Breedy Taekwondo

“On my run to go to the (2016) Olympics, the major block that I encountered was not having any athletes to spar with,” he explained with a laugh. “That is, not having anybody my size for sparring partners, so that is why I started an adult programme (at the school) first, because one of the goals for me, was to develop a number of athletes, and the number of sparring partners I might want in the future.”

“I’m focusing a lot on athletic development… I feel that’s one of the niches that I want to push my school into, in terms of really thinking about sports science and trying to get athletes prepared for games and tournaments.”

Searching for the most stable foundation to build on, former national elite athlete acquired help from the highest possible level during his first year running the class.

“When I first started the school, I brought in an elite-level coach from the Olympic Training Centre in Mexico, Erik Rodriguez, and he stayed with me for the first six months, so I could shadow him and see how he conducted his programme.

“He was our first main instructor; it was both of us working together, and I’ve been following a lot of the principles that he uses. He’s trained a lot of Olympic and World Champions.”

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UP AND COMING: Taylor Mitchell, an eight-year-old St Joseph Girls RC pupil and Edson Breedy Taekwondo Academy student, poses with her Best Female Junior Fighter, Best Female Junior Forms, Best Overall Junior trophies after at the National Taekwondo Championships last November. Photo: courtesy Kibwe Braithwaite

Since the brief apprenticeship, the academy has grown, hosted its own national competition last September, and also incorporated other combat sports into their programme, including boxing, grappling as well as tricking, which is an exhibition-based sport based on freestyle karate. Busy times.

Keep in mind however, that Breedy isn’t quite yet finished with the competition rostrum.

“One of my goals is still to continue competing when medical school is finished… if anything, I will be trying to go for Paris 2024, because I need a full Olympic cycle to get ready for that, and I’ll be finishing medical school in November, so I definitely don’t have time for 2020.”

In the mean time however, Breedy has been sharpening his coaching chops, as the school took home a bucket of medals after the National Taekwondo Championships last November. When the school started competing on the local circuit, Siobhan Rogers was his first-ever medallist in 2016, and two years later at the nationals 23 players competed, and 36 medals across the board were won, most notably the promising eight-year-old Taylor Mitchell who was a standout at the competition, andd whom he said won two medals as well as three performance awards, which bodes well for his plan to create an Olympic champion, and to create a number one-ranked athlete.

“I’m focusing a lot on athletic development,” he told The Sports Kiosk. “Taekwondo started as one of the key traditional martial arts… as most people know, it developed into an Olympic sport, and I feel that’s one of the niches that I want to push my school into, in terms of really thinking about sports science and trying to get athletes prepared for games and tournaments.”

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POISED: Edson Breedy displays the balance and athleticism needed for taekwondo in this undated image. Photo: courtesy Edson Breedy Taekwondo

So the athlete, who has been practising the Korean sport since the mid 2000s, still hasn’t given up on his quest to become only the third T&T athlete to compete in the sport at the Olympic Games, and intends to play his part whether he makes it to Paris in 2024, or trains the next athlete to Olympic success. However most importantly, Breedy really hopes to change the landscape of the local martial arts community with the example he has set.

“I hope that other young martial arts school owners who are interested in broadening the skills of their students, would (also) reach out to more styles,” he said. “Incorporating some of their training into their students’ programmes… you have to really expose them to other stressers to deal with real-life situations for one. Though their skill might be great in the sport of taekwondo, in our country where this such unfortunate violence and crime… you have to understand that you have to expose them to more stimuli.”

It’s a wait and see whether Breedy’s Olympic end game will come true, but with his determination and innovation displayed so far, sports fans in T&T could well be cheering on an athlete or two from the sport at the Paris Games in 2024.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/edsonbreedytkd

Instagram: @edsonbreedytaekwondo

Website: http://www.edsonbreedytaekwondo.com

The Edson Breedy Taekwondo Academy would like to thank Primordial Engineering and Consulting Limited, The Venus Clinic, The Brazil Link, KMA Craft Studios, HADCO, Yoplait, Mott’s Apple Juice for their support in 2018.

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Share the road!… or at least learn how

Experts on the sport weigh in on the precarious situation for two-wheeled aficionados on the nation’s roadways 

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LYING IN WAIT: Cyclists wait for the grand finale race at the 2015 Republic Day Cycling Classic at Nelson Mandela Park. Rigtech Sonics’ Varun Maharajh won the event with lots to spare.

“I took a brief poll at the gym with the moms, and they are like: ‘never will I allow my child to ride a bike on T&T roads.’” 

In late 2004, Jacob Charran, a promising triathlete at the time, and an avid cyclist was killed while on an evening ride to his Chaguanas home. The accident which happened reportedly on the Uriah Butler Highway, cut short the career the former Queen’s Royal College student, who may have developed into one of the pioneers of sport – which was at that time, a new one in Trinidad and Tobago. Unfortunately, that story is developing into regular bad news on the nation’s roadways.  

Friends and family of cyclist Aaron Thomas who hailed from Carib Homes Arima (not Victory Heights as stated in the media), have been saying their final goodbyes all week as the rider lost his life on December 8, and based on the quote included at the top from a Facebook forum, opinions about the past-time of cycling in general may have hit an all-time low.  

In some corners, the sentiments about people who prefer the two-wheeled mode of transport have become almost adversarial in nature. In the red corner, is the motorists of T&T, in the blue the cyclists. It’s an imbalanced war that has raged on for decades on road, but the list of casualties only fall on one side – the cyclists. What’s worse, is the number of bicycles torn apart at the side of the road, with their owners sprawled out some distance away while onlookers record videos on their smart phones has comparatively skyrocketed in 2018. 

It’s been a dark year for road cyclists in Trinidad and Tobago. 

As a matter of fact, some could argue that it’s been a dark two years. In 2016, national cyclist Keiana Lester had a near-fatal accident in south Trinidad while on a training ride. That was almost two years ago to the day, and the rider, who along with Kollyn St George, set a Junior Pan Am Record in 2015 in the team sprint, has been trying to re-establish herself in the sport. 

In September, a cyclist was struck by a drunk driver on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway near Tumpuna Road, when the driver sped out of the filter lane and plowed him from the side. He sustained no major injuries. Then in October, a mountain biker was left in a mangled mess in the front seat of the vehicle that slammed into him, sending him through the windshield.  

And by now, most people are aware of the craziness on the highway in the vicinity of the Beetham, where Joe Brown and Joanna Banks died while riding for Slipstream Cycling Club. 

Few could disagree that 2018 has been a year where cycling has been taken a turn for the worst on the nation’s roadways as according to Phillip’s Promotions CEO Michael Phillips, no less than eight riders have lost their lives on the road doing what they love.  

Eight people who were either commuting, trying to stay in shape, preparing for competition, or just simply making the most of an enjoyable leisure activity, because cyclists come in all shapes and sizes; not all are on the road solely for competition. 

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SHARE THE ROAD: Michael Phillips, Managing Director of Phillips Promotions, takes questions from the media during the press conference for the 2015 Beacon Cycling on the Avenue event. The former national cyclist is an advocate for road safety in T&T.

“People when they hear the word cyclist, they think of the person with the helmet and the road bike and then lycra… but the legal term ‘cyclist’ means anyone using a pedal cycle, meaning a tricycle, a snow cone cart, a doubles cart, the man going down the road with a weed-whacker,” he explained. “Anyone with a pedal cycle, is a cyclist… eight people have been killed this year, three of them are people who would be affiliated to the sporting fraternity, the rest of them are people who are commuters. 

“What we’re really looking at is giving voice to road safety in general. It is not a plea for [only] the racing cyclists.”  

Phillips, has pioneered for the sport in the last two decades; promoting the sport after he put his bike on the rack and called time on his national career in the saddle. The man responsible for Cycling on the Avenue, is also a member of the Arrive Alive group, and has understandably been a long-time advocate for the national roadways being used as a shared space. 

“My feeling on that particularly in one of a general concern; which is the ridiculous way in which people tend to drive,” he explained in an interview last Thursday with the Sports Kiosk. “A great number of people are very supportive. Some of them have genuine concern and empathy for the safety of commuters on the road, and then there are others who are totally ignorant of the law.” 

There is a common belief in T&T that the road only belongs to motorists, a feeling that has been echoed on Facebook in the last few months to the point that the entitlement and narcissism was oozing off the screen. The average non-cyclist and, alarmingly, some casual cyclists, will tell you that a rider has to stay off the road and ride on the pavement; which is actually false. 

Pedestrians, bicycles, carts, beasts of burden and other traditional modes of transportation are all part of the public road ecosystem. “When you see a policeman going down the road on a horse, do you figure it’s just police alone have the right to use a horse?” Phillips questioned. “If I feel like riding down Ariapita Avenue on a white horse tomorrow like the Lone Ranger, I’m legally entitled to do that. People don’t realise that.  

“So therefore the snow cone man, the ice cream man and so on that you see; somehow people have an opinion that those are things [rage against cyclists] that the police turn a blind eye to, and drive accordingly.” 

You cannot drive based on your opinion… you have to drive within the parameters of the law.” – Michael Phillips 

The law however, unfortunately, has been flouted and disregarded in all sectors in T&T, with road cycling being seen by a number of people as a trivial case study. I was in a conversation with someone the other night who was convinced that it was illegal to ride on the highways, when in fact it is permitted with a police escort except on the Solomon Hochoy Highway, and the Priority Bus Route.  

Road fatalities have been an issue, and a lot of people have been pointing fingers at the Licensing Office, and their reportedly casual handling of the distributing a driver’s license, as the main source of everyday issues on the roadways.  

“You can’t tell me that people are killing themselves in cars, other people in cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and everybody else has to change their behaviour around the driver?” – Michael Phillips 

“If it looks and smells like a skunk, therefore it must be a skunk,” Phillips said, regarding the way the laws of the road have been observed and enforced. “I remember there was an exposée with someone with a hidden camera showing that he could’ve bought his license, but I am very pleased to say that the Ministry of Works and Transport are feverishly working on it, and are in the final stages of changing all of those things.” 

Phillips was also quick to point out that the CCTV camera system already in use could actually help combat reckless driving. Claiming that up to five million a month in penalties could be collected from the camera opposite the HYATT Regency Hotel on Wrightson Road alone. That traffic light has more than five thousand violations per month. 

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FRIEGHT TRAIN: A column of cyclists set the pace during the fourth stage race at the 2015 Tobago Cycling Classic in Plymouth, Tobago.

Years ago, bicycles were the main form of transport for a lot of people, especially in rural T&T, however the emphasis on owning a car skyrocketed in the last four decades which pushed cycling back to a past-time for six-year-olds in public opinion.  

With the spike popularity in the cycling culture established since the turn of the century, provisions have been made mainly on the Diego Martin Highway as well as around the Queen’s Park Savannah for riders on certain days of the week. Add to that an increasing number of mountain bike trails built primarily in the northern range, and one could say that there are a lot more safe places for riders to enjoy their favourite past time than ever before. 

But road cyclists need to train for competition on the roads, especially riders who represent the red, white and black and compete in big international competition. A standard still has to be set for the safe traverse on the public roads across the nation. Phillips claimed that it’s only a matter of time before the government picks up the slack.  

“Let’s put it this way: like the rest of the developed world, the bicycle has always been a valid means of transport… it is one that no government can afford to take off the table. Why? Because it is very inexpensive with regards to wear and tear on the road, and in addition to that, it requires no gas subsidy, it creates no pollution and it takes up far less real estate when its parked, so it’s impractical for any government to take it off the table and that’s why it’s not going to happen. 

“There needs to be an update [to existing laws] to the specifics instead of just being generalities, meaning how much room you need to give a cyclist when overtaking, what is the behaviour of the motorist compared to the vulnerable road user… most people look at the speed limit as the speed that I need to drive at… what it really is, is the maximum speed you are allowed to travel given that you have the clearance to do so.” 

As things stand however, changes in a positive direction continue to come at a trickle, and with the number of accolades our young athletes have accomplished in the past eight years, more youngsters will need to use the road in their quest to become the next Emile Abraham or Njisane Phillip. 

“Road cyclists need to be training five to six times a week,” explained Gary Acosta, former Trinidad and Tobago Cycling Federation (TTCF) racing secretary, and current cycling blogger. “If you want to reach at that level, you’re talking about four to five hours a day.” 

Cyclists are badmind too, I know that they will try their best to put that behind them, and continue to represent Trinidad and Tobago.” – Gary Acosta 

According to Acosta, the athletes will push on in their chase towards cycling excellence regardless of the perils.  

“This is not the first time we are facing these issues, this isn’t the first time cyclists have been killed on the road,” Acosta explained. It’s a risk every cyclist knows when they put on that helmet and jump on their bike to go out in the morning.” 

With all the attention turned towards the carelessness on the road the Acosta believes that the sport itself will soldier on regardless. The negative attention may the final nail in the coffin to get the powers that be to truly crack down on motorists endangering lives on the road, which would be a small victory for not just riders, but for road safety in general.  

“People have some reservations, but I think once you have a campaign that raises awareness of cyclists on the road, I think it wouldn’t affect the future of the sport.” 

For those of you keeping tabs on the team sprint cyclists who represented T&T at the latest UCI World Cup in London they are currently in 10th place in the Olympic ranking, just two places away from the top-eight ranking needed to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. 

The cyclists have clearly made up their minds to continue the battle, albeit under international floodlights, as will the local infantry on the increasingly precarious nation’s roads. May the battle continue.  

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ROLL CALL: Cyclists roll up to the start of the final event of the 2015 Republic Day Cycling Classic.

Local karate club seeks financial support

Winning as many medals as possible each tournament seems to be a breeze for Team Elite Karate, but the expenses of overseas competition have proven to be a tougher challenge for the club.

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SHARING THE SPOILS: Chelsea Winter displays the two gold medals she won at the recent 2018 Curaçao Open, which was held at the end of September. She was victorious in both kata and kumite. Photo: courtesy Sabrina Khillawan

Karate in its Olympic format is an expensive sport. That statement may seem obvious to any national athlete, but for most sports fans in Trinidad and Tobago, the often-suffocating drama of the more traditional sporting disciplines, can take focus away from the needs of the martial art, which has been practised in various incarnations since the 1960s.

But like football, cricket and even athletics and cycling fraternities across the land, the elite levels of karate requires elite-level funding which has been an issue plaguing most other martial arts clubs for some considerable time now.

The Team Elite Karate Club are one of the latest protagonists in need, as they are actively in search of corporate sponsors in their ongoing quest to send an athlete to a future Olympic Games.

The club has been particularly active in the competitive circuit this year, which included a hectic schedule that saw them leave the country three times for overseas competition, including the Martinique Open, the Caribbean Karate Championships and the Curaçao Open.

Three trips may not sound like much compared to the schedule of various sports teams across the country, but the roughly TT $30, 000 overall bill tells another story altogether.

Travelling is expensive, however travelling as a sports team can easily triple and quadruple the cost.

For instance, one trip – which according to head instructors of Team Elite Karate Barry and Lena Winter – can cost around TT $10, 000, also includes an extensive process which easily explains the those figures.

The first step to sending a team overseas according to Winter (B), is the Trinidad and Tobago Karate Union (TTKU) national trials. After a successful selection, fitness tests are conducted including a beep test, and ticket costs, hotel accomodations, tournament fees and meal expenses, soon follow in rapid succession.

“We have been writing on behalf of our club to try to get sponsors for the athletes in our dojo,” Winter (B) explained. “At the moment everyone has replied that they are unable to because of the (economical) problems they are having. We have gotten help from family members who have businesses, and it’s from unlikely sources, like Rufina’s doubles who made donations towards Chelsea’s trip.”

In spite of the challenges faces when regularly sending teams to compete, there is potential from the club to attract other sponsors.

Their athletes have all excelled in competition in 2018, including Chelsea Winter, who was nominated at the First Citizens Bank Sports Foundation Awards, and also featured prominently in an advert for Nestlé.

“Fortunately she’s been having success so they (stakeholders) can see that the funds have been put to good use, and something is coming out of it”

Team Elite Karate may contacted at: 477-4457, 313-1101, or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chelseakaratechampion/

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MEDAL CHASER: Chelsea Winter who trains with the Team Elite Karate school, performs the kata (form) Unsu on the way to her first of two gold medals at Sunday’s TAK Traditional Central Classics Karate Tournament, held at the Central Regional Indoor Sporting Arena in Chaguanas. The 13-year-old was also victorious in the girls 12-13 kumite (sparring) division.

Winter high kicks his way to karate dominance

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Christian Winter aims a hook kick to the head of his opponent during a TTKU-sanctioned tournament earlier this year. He won gold in kumite. Photo: courtesy Sabrina Khillawan

Dominance, international competition and hopefully the Olympic Games in the future, seem to be the next big steps for youngster and competitive martial artist Christian Winter, as he has made the most of a fruitful year with his club, Team Elite Karate.

On the local scene in 2018, the 11-year-old won a bucket of medals, mostly gold, in both traditional and freestyle/eclectic martial arts tournaments, and 2019 looks to be the year when he will make his debut in regional competition, according to his father and coach Barry Winter.

“We want him to continue to do well locally and then we’re going to push him into the regional events like the Caribbean (Karate Championships), the Curaçao Open and the Martinique Open,” he explained.

“When he comes of age, we want him to compete at the Pan American level, and we also have plans for both of them (him and his sister, Chelsea) to compete at the Premiership next year.”

The K1 Premier League is a flagship Olympic-style karate tournament usually held in Europe during the course of the year. It is one of the most important competitions  and is seen as an important stage for aspiring athletes hoping to land on the tatami in 2020 and beyond.

Winter didn’t start off in the freestyle circuit, and wasn’t initially focused on as a competitor. “I used to deal with the older athletes and making sure that they were doing well,” his father said. “We weren’t paying attention to him because we have a five and under division… and in it he used to win in both kata (forms) and kumite (sparring).

“He started to win at the Inter-school Championships that we run, then we started picking him up with the club team and there is where he is just consistent, winning gold in everything.”

Winter (C) made his debut in the local Olympic karate section in 2016 at the Trinidad and Tobago Karate Union (TTKU) Invitational and excelled, dispelling any doubt that he would have had to make a big transition under the different ruling system and competition.

“It was easier for the younger athletes in the dojo to make the transition (to Olympic rules) and for Chris it was very easy,” Winter (B) said. “We took him to his first invitational (in 2016) and he won double-gold.”

As far as young competitors go in T&T, Christian, along with his sister, has demonstrated a consistency rarely seen at any stage, and with plans for international exposure in the new year, things may only get better for them, which could be the first step towards a potential Olympic berth in the decade to come.

Rains reduce turnout at invitational karate tourney

TTKU close off the year in anti-climactic fashion

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Shiva Sookdeo left, and Dominic Wilkes pose with their medals after final of the men’s +70kg kumite final. Sookdeo won the bout against Wilkes, gaining revenge for his defeat to the same athlete in the kata final.

 

The rains and mass flooding over the weekend put a serious dent in the participation at the Trinidad and Tobago Karate Union (TTKU) Invitational Karate Tournament held at the at the Eastern Regional Indoor Sports Arena in Tacarigua on October 21st.

In spite of the weather the competition still went ahead, but with a much smaller turn out, as karate schools from the east and south were unable to make the trip to participate on the two-day competition.

The competition which closed off the 2018 local competitive season, was held on both Saturday on Sunday at the same venue, and featured the children on the first day, while the pre-teens, teenagers and adults stepped on the mat on the second day.

However the constant rainfall across the country leading into the weekend lead to mass flash floods which made participation from most of the regular schools impossible. Despite that, the athletes that did turn out managed to put on an entertaining display, particularly in the kumite divisions.

Siblings Chelsea and Christian Winter snatched double gold in both kata (forms) and kumite (sparring), while Dominic Wilkes a seasoned competitor grabbed gold in adult  kata and silver in the +70kg kumite. Shiva Sookdeo, national captain, was able to get revenge against Wilkes after losing to him in the kata final. Hamali Francis won the 18 years and over -65kg kumite division.

Youngster Jyri Spicer was victorious in the boys 16-17 kumite division, which turned out to be the most hard-fought and entertaining division on the day.

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TKA’s Roshelle Lue-Fatt right, aims a shot at Team Elite Karate’s Chelsea Winter during the girls 12-13 division at the TTKU Invitational Tournament on October 21st. Winter won the bout, and went on to win the division.

 

The Golden Girl keeps on winning

An update on one of the top young sports karateka in the local circuit

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MEDAL CHASER: Chelsea Winter who trains with the Team Elite Karate school, performs the kata (form) Unsu on the way to her first of two gold medals at Sunday’s TAK Traditional Central Classics Karate Tournament, held at the Central Regional Indoor Sporting Arena in Chaguanas. The 13-year-old was also victorious in the girls 12-13 kumite (sparring) division.

Young martial artist Chelsea Winter seems to be on her way to being the next leading lady in local sports karate in the years to come.

The 13-year-old is currently the athete to beat in the girls 12-13 division at local Trinidad and Tobago Karate Union (TTKU)-sanctioned tournaments. When she competes overseas, the script remains the same as a top-two place is usually a guarantee for the youngster who trains with the Team Elite Karate club based in Sangre Grande.

This year alone in major local and regional competition, Winter has won over a dozen medals, the majority of them being gold in both the kata (forms) and kumite (sparring) divisions.

She recently travelled to Curaçao to compete at the Curaçao Open Karate Tournament, where she brought home two gold medals, which closed off a highly successful year not just for her, but also her club.

Her instructors at Team Elite are also her proud parents Barry and Lena Winter, who have overseen her development for years before sending her to train with the national team.

“I send my daughter to nationals to stay familiar (with the set up),” Winter (B) revealed. “She goes to the national training and participates in the kumite training and the kumite drills.”

Team Elite Karate primarily focused on freestyle karate tournaments since they were established 13 years ago, but two years ago officially joined the TTKU with the intention to adapt to the Olympic-style karate tournaments.

Since then, Chelsea has found her feet in the traditional section, and has been making a name for herself in her division. This year has been particularly dominant for her.

“We went to the Martinique Open and it wasn’t the 12-13 age group she normally competes in, it was the 15 and under division,” Winter (B) explained. “So she was in tougher division with bigger kids and everything… but she won a (kumite) bronze medal eventually.”

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SHARING THE SPOILS: Chelsea Winter displays the two gold medals she won at the recent 2018 Curaçao Open, which was held at the end of September. She was victorious in both kata and kumite. Photo: courtesy Team Elite Karate

That bronze was early in 2018, and turned out to be the springboard for even more success as the year rolled on. She went on to win double-gold at the TTKU National Championships in April, and repeated the feat at the Trinidad Karate Association (TKA) tournament, the TAK Traditional Central Classics Karate tournament and the Curaçao Open. At the fourth Caribbean Karate Championships in July she finished with a gold (kata) and a silver (kumite) medal.

With the approach to competition instilled by her instructors at Team Elite, spectators may expect her to continue her dominance as they continue to seek more competition for her.

“She can’t run a race by herself; she will win,” explained her father. “She needs people to run with. If they (the division) gets to the same standard, they can score on her and beat her, and that will make her work even harder.”

Above and beyond for Team Elite Karate

How one of the national karate body’s newest members established themselves in the local competition arena.

Some may call them “the new kids on the block”, but the members of Team Elite Karate club don’t seem to mind as they rack up the medals at the junior level in every competition they participate in both locally, and internationally.

They are led by local instructors Barry Winter alongside his wife Lena, and Barry, who is a familiar face at freestyle karate events, has long hung up his competition mitts to help mentor an army of young competitors vying for a place in the national team set up.

The club is fresh off of a successful stint at Sunday’s TAK Southern Classics Martial Arts Tournament, where they walked away with 27 medals including 11 gold, nine silver and seven bronze medals – all from just a 12-member squad.

The Sports Kiosk spoke on the phone in a brief interview with Winter, and he brought us up to speed with the history and main philosophy of his club, as well their hunger to do more in the competitive martial arts arena.

The Sports Kiosk: You started off in the freestyle martial arts, and then moved into more traditional competition?

Barry Winter: I didn’t start off in the freestyle martial arts, I started off in Shotokan karate, at the Black Tiger dojo; my sensei was Ricky Ramdhanny, and he had one of the biggest Shotokan schools in Sangre Grande. I was training with him, and when I was 12 or 13, I wanted to compete, but (it) being (a) traditional school, they were not too much open to competition. From there is where I went on to do freestyle martial arts.

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WARMING UP: Youngsters from the Team Elite karate school stretch on the tatami before the junior divisions of the Trinidad and Tobago Karate Union (TTKU) National Championships’ kumite (sparring) segment commenced. The competition was held at the Maloney Indoor Arena on April 15, 2018.

TSK: So then, tell us a bit about Team Elite Karate.

BW: I have been practising martial arts at the early age of nine years old, and I’ve been training and competing since then. After spending some time abroad, I eventually came back home and opened a martial arts programme in my community of Sangre Grande. Our initiative was to give the kids of Sangre Grande and the rural areas the opportunity to learn martial arts, but also to get to compete at the national, regional and international championships.

We wanted to be that type of gateway; to get the kids out there and get that type of exposure, because that is some of the things that I’ve seen when I was coming up in martial arts in Sangre Grande. We never really had the support, it wasn’t a sport that was recognised in the area. We’re known in our area for football, cricket and swimming, but not too much for karate.

TSK: You emphasised on community. Are there other things that you all do for the community outside of the martial arts programme?

BW: The name of our club is a long name: Trinidad and Tobago Sports Martial Arts Elite (Team Elite Karate), and our inter-school programme (Team Elite Karate Inter-School Programme) is set up in different districts; in Sangre Grande there are different locations, we also have a location in Fishing Pond, Matura, Toco,  Grande Riviere and Biche.

We go into these areas for example Grande Riviere, which is a coastal village, and the data or specifics of Grand Riviere is that it’s known for bringing in drugs other different types of things (criminal activity that happen in that area), so we wanted to go into that area to give the kids a positive outlook, and try to make them rise above the (negative) influence. We go in there and bring our programme to them and try to get the parents onboard, which is not always an easy thing, so we’re quite lucky sometimes to get parents who want the best for their kids.

Because of that now, and being linked to the governing body (Trinidad and Tobago Karate Union), we’re able to train the kids, take them to the necessary events and eventually take them to the trials and eventually make the national team, and then they could be able to represent their country. Our club is a full-time academy and we target the pre, primary and secondary schools, and then our club training and then send through to the national set up.

TSK: About nine years ago, you started to affiliate with the more traditional martial arts bodies, starting with the TTKF (Trinidad and Tobago Karate Federation) and then eventually the TTKU. Tell us a little about that process. 

BW: First we joined the TTKF, because that was what we were told by officials; that they were a bonified national government body. Their information was on the Ministry of Sports’ website, so you go up there and get their contact together with the TTKU, so I really didn’t understand which one was really the one. I was only told that that was the one we could go to, (TTKF) and that’s what we did.

During our time with the TTKF, we were doing well there and we were very happy for the introduction of the traditional aspect of martial arts into our programme, but we wanted more, so there is where we made the transfer.

TSK: What would you say have been the benefits for your club now that you all have become an official member of the national body?

BW: It’s always been our initiative to compete at the highest level. Some of the benefits are networking with the other clubs from the other traditional karate styles, network with other coaches to hear their insights and to exchange training information, the opportunity for my students to compete and to represent our club at the highest level that they can, and also to make their way onto the national team and represent Trinidad and Tobago.

TSK: Would you say since you joined over two years ago, that your students’ performances in competitions have improved?

BW: Since joining the TTKU, we have hit the ground running. We have always been one of the bigger travelling karate teams at the event, and our success and medals have shown that. We are very happy with our blessings and the kids have been working hard, our team has been working hard round-the-clock with the kids to get the result, so yes, we’re happy right now, we’re content, but we want more of course. It’s always about moving forward and improving, so we’re taking it one step at a time. We’re happy that our members are making the national team and making podiums.

TSK: What does the future hold in store Team Elite Karate?

BW: I really love doing community-based programmes, if anyone out there wants us to come to their community to teach karate, we will be happy to come there and to do so. Our long-term goals are to make sure that we teach our people to be in compliance with the rules and regulations of WKF-style (World Karate Federation) competition, and eventually compete more at regional events like the Caribbean Championships, and then the Pan Americans and then from there the Premiership (K1 Premier League in Europe).

Eventually our ambition is to get an athlete to represent (T&T) at a future Olympics, that will be every sportsman’s, every coach’s, every club’s ambitions to at least field a competitor at the highest event ever. We (also) understand that there is a lot of hard work that has to come with that and yeah, I think that we are doing well so far, and we all have the same focus and ambition to move forward, and when the kids come in, we speak to parents to let them know what our long-term goals are.

 

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EYE ON THE PRIZE: Team Elite Karate club head instructor and coach Barry Winter, gives instructions on the sidelines while some of his students and supporters cheer on during the 2nd CKF Caribbean Karate Championships held at the Jean Pierre Complex in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago in July 2016. Photo: courtesy Nicholas Williams

The Trinidad and Tobago Sports Martial Arts Elite can be contacted at: 313-1101/477-4457, or  www.teamelitekaratett.com