Britain's buzzing taekwondo scene is the perfect place for cooped-up kids to get their much-needed fix of physical activity as lockdown restrictions ease.
And the Martial Art turned Olympic Sport’s multiple benefits including promoting respect, combating bullying and championing mental health meaning there’s no better way to get back moving in the post-pandemic world.
That’s the message coming from three-time world champion Bianca Walkden and triple European king Aaron Cook, who are urging children and families to give taekwondo a go as lockdown rules are lifted.
Walkden is gunning for Olympic gold this summer while Cook, her boyfriend of 14 years, harbours similar ambitions for his adopted Moldova after switching from British citizenship in 2015.
The couple are acutely aware of exactly what makes taekwondo special and are encouraging parents to get their children to local clubs in need of vital support after lockdown.
Walkden, 29, said: “Taekwondo is such a well-rounded sport to get life skills from – and it’s also so enjoyable at the same time.
“It’s really fun – parents should let their kids go crazy, come in and try some different kicks. Every kid likes to be loud, scream, have some fun, learn some cool tricks – and they will fall in love with the sport.
“Taekwondo teaches you discipline, self-control, self-belief and gives you so much confidence.
“You get so many opportunities from taekwondo – it teaches you things you don’t really realise until you’re older.
“It teaches you things such as confidence, finding yourself and respect – you learn all these life skills that are so important.
“It’s definitely a life-changing sport for [me and Aaron] – and it’s enjoyable along the way.”
Cook, a two-time World Championship bronze medallist, added: “All I’ve ever known is taekwondo.
“I started it at such a young age and absolutely fell in love with it from the second I started.
“There are so many different elements to taekwondo, which is what makes it great.
“There’s so much to it – even now doing it over 25 years, having mastered all the techniques there’s still always so much to learn, which is brilliant. It keeps us engaged.
“It’s taken [me and Bianca] around the world and has definitely shaped us into the human beings we are today.”
Taekwondo teaches key life skills such as character building, respect and sociability and uses every part of the body in a balanced way to develop coordination and awareness in conjunction.
And the action-packed Martial Art also plays a crucial role in enhancing mental health and increasing confidence, self-esteem, focus, concentration and self-discipline through its inherently fun nature.
Enjoyment is front and centre of taekwondo and the sport is also vital for combatting bullying and aiding conflict resolution.
Walkden and Cook, 30, live, sleep and breathe taekwondo and have been running a few online sessions throughout the pandemic.
Both hailed the sport’s resilience-enhancing role and admit they can’t wait to see children back on the mat when normality eventually returns.
Walkden, also a two-time European champion, said: “Taekwondo has definitely taught me how mentally strong I am.
“I’ve had to go through some tough times and obstacles, but taekwondo has helped me become the person I am today.
“Taekwondo has taught me valuable life lessons – to keep picking yourself up to keep trying and going after what I want. It’s definitely made me the person I am today.”
And Cook added: “There’s been hiccups and really, really hard moments in both of our careers – but taekwondo has taught us to keep persevering, persisting and always trying to get better.
“Hopefully we’re not too long away now and the clubs can get all their athletes back and start training again – I bet they can’t wait.”
With the easing of lockdown restrictions, Taekwondo clubs the breadth of the country are re-opening and welcoming participants old and new. To find your local club visit: www.britishtaekwondo.org.uk/try-taekwondo/find-a-club