Emily Swann of Qualicum Beach

Taekwondo athletes kick it up for Canadian Nationals

Four members of Parksville's Cascadia Martial Arts earn berths with Team B.C. for May 12-15 national championships in Calgary

To take on the bullying Sherman Campbell faced as a youngster, his mother enrolled him in taekwondo instruction at Parksville’s Cascadia Martial Arts. Last month, he was in Las Vegas sharing the mat with Olympic competitors and duelling a national champion to a virtual draw in sparring competition.

Suffice to say, Campbell doesn’t get pushed around much these days.

“I usually just keep to myself,” the 19-year-old Ballenas Secondary School grad said. “Taekwondo is mostly my way to express myself.”

Campbell and three fellow Cascadia students claimed B.C. provincial championships in competition last month and will express themselves as members of Team B.C. in the Canadian National Taekwondo Championships in Calgary May 12-15.

He will be joined at nationals by fellow 19-year-old Emily Swann of Qualicum Beach, her 16-year-old brother, Brett Swann, and 17-year-old Teya Doughty of Port Alberni, who not only commutes to Cascadia for training, but has also joined in weekly Team B.C. training sessions in Vancouver in recent weeks.

“On Vancouver Island, this is probably the leading Olympic-style martial arts club,” said Dustin Fee, who started the family-run school 22 years ago. “When it comes to Olympic-style sparring, this is the place to be.”

Cascadia Martial Arts produced two-time Canadian champion Dayna Harstad, who claimed the 2003 and 2004 women’s welterweight titles.

The club’s four current qualifiers have no expectation of bringing home a title next month, but do trust in their ability to reach the podium.

“I want to at least place,” said Brett Swann, who will be making his first nationals appearance in the Junior 63-kilogram division. “But even if I don’t, I’ll be more understanding of how these kinds of tournaments are.”

The senior taekwondo sparring team from Cascadia Martial Arts gathers following practice last week at Qualicum Commons. From left are Sherman Campbell, Emily Swann, Alyssa Urquhat, Brett Swann, Rebecca Marshall, Shelby Bell and Teya Doughty. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

Emily Swann and Campbell both have that experience. Both are making their third appearance at the national championships, having competed and medaled in the Cadet (youth) division in Poomse, or forms.

Their second trips, stepping up to a sparring division, did not go so well.

Swann lost her first fight, and Campbell suffered a concussion and was forced to withdraw in 2013.

“Seniors is a big step up,” Campbell said.

Since then, though, the two have both entered international competition and grown more comfortable with big tournaments and high-level competition.

Three years ago, Swann, who now helps teach younger students at Cascadia, fought in the U.S. Open and placed in the top-16 in the Junior division. Campbell traveled to the States two months ago for the U.S. Nationals, where he got to watch Olympic medalists and duelled Guatemala’s national champion down to the final moments before losing by one point in their match.

“I was shocked to be there,” said Campbell, who began sparring when he was 10 years old. “It was an intimidating experience, but that motivated me even more. It’s amazing to see how far you can get in this sport.”

The Swann siblings, who moved with their family from Squamish 10 years ago, were both signed up for martial arts by their parents at a young age, for self-defence purposes, according to Emily.

They and Campbell all specialize in martial arts training, but Doughty came to the sport relatively late after a youth filled with athletic activities.

“I thought it looked interesting,” said Doughty, who started taekwondo at age 11 after playing soccer and softball while growing up. She also played basketball in middle school and continues to play rugby. “It’s a lot of fun. Everyone I train with is great, and it’s good to help me focus, because I have ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder).”

This will be Doughty’s first trip to the Canadian Nationals and first big-meet experience beyond the provincial championships.

“All I want to aim for is getting a medal,” Doughty echoed. “But the fact of going and getting the experience

is the best part.”

Emily Swann of Qualicum Beach, left, and Sherman Campbell of Parksville, both 19, spar last week at Qualicum Commons in preparation for the Canadian National Championships May 12-15 in Calgary. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

Fee started his martial arts academy as a recreational program at Parksville’s Winchelsea Elementary School, as a two-day-a-week school program in the mid-1990s. That grew into the Parksville Taekwondo Academy, which continued to be run out of the Winchelsea school gymnasium. When Fee moved to Korea to train in taekwondo, the business was taken over by his father, Murray Fee, who ran it for nearly a decade and oversaw the move to the school’s current location at 281 Island Highway East.

Training is also held at the Qualicum Commons gymnasium in Qualicum Beach.

As Dustin Fee returned to Korea to attend university and work as an English language teacher there, his brothers, Brett and Brock Fee, took over the school. Dustin returned a few years ago and bought back into the business.

“When I first left it was a small rec program, with maybe 40 people,” he said. “Now it’s grown to probably 500 people in the club.”

Cascadia Martial Arts offers a range of training in taekwondo and kickboxing, which has become very popular. And it’s not all about high-level competition.

“A lot of people enjoy the physical fitness and camaraderie aspects of the club,” Fee said. “Sparring is not mandatory here. Back in the day we had some kids who got pretty stressed out about having to spar, so we created a recreational component.”

Taekwondo is distinguished from other competitive martial arts forms by its dynamic kicking. Combatants wear head, chest and arm padding and try to score with kicks to head and body. Punching to the head is not allowed, though punches to the chest protector to fend off an opponent are allowed.

“That puts the emphasis on kicking,” Fee said of the punching limitations. “In our self-defence courses we teach punching to the head, of course, but competition is focused on kicks. The top MMA (mixed martial arts) athletes that kick well probably all have taekwondo backgrounds.”

And the top athletes on Vancouver Island have made their way to Cascadia Martial Arts to hone their skills, whether they’re from Port Alberni or somewhere a little closer to the gym.

“It’s the best school on the Island for Olympic sparring,” Emily Swann said. “And I live five minutes away.”

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