A bright future is on the Horizon

As part of our 40th anniversary celebrations we’re continuing to share the stories of our members. In this feature we find out more about the Horizon Taekwondo Academy and hear from their members who have continued with Taekwondo and some who have taken up the sport for the first time.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic Horizon Taekwondo Academy – which has clubs across Bradford and Greater Manchester – had 180 members across its clubs.

During lockdown, the club ran two to three online classes per day to keep engagement going with its members. Fast forward two years to March 2022 and Horizon now boasts 360 members and is heading towards 400 British Taekwondo members.

Lead Instructor Master Rick Simpson, a Kukkiwon 6th Dan Black Belt, said “We are grateful that our members stayed with Taekwondo during and after lockdown as Taekwondo is part of our life. It was great to see so many people continuing with Taekwondo over Zoom during the lockdown. It wasn’t for everyone, and those who weren’t keen on the online stuff all came back to the face-to-face classes when we returned.”

Rick has been involved in Taekwondo for 25 years and has taught Taekwondo for 21 of those. He established Horizon Taekwondo Academy in 2013 along with his wife Natalie and best friend Rooji Karim. The organisation has grown organically with in-house produced students setting up their own clubs meaning Horizon can now count 12 separate clubs in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Northern Ireland among its family.

Rick continued “People often ask how did we get so many new people through the door? Naturally following the downtime for many during lockdown, people just wanted to do “something”. Because of lockdown some people got bored of whatever clubs they were in or activities they did. Some people didn’t do anything sporty before Covid so had already made their minds up that they wanted to do something when they could.”

“We had new people coming to us who were friends of existing students, and several completely new people who had found us online. The rest, well I think it would be dishonest of me to say that I worked it all out by myself. At least 80% of the new members have come through our social media advertising activity, and I must credit Master Phill Payne from Warrior Factory Taekwondo in Leeds & Halifax as I’d had many failed campaigns at the social media marketing until I moaned to him it wasn’t working. With a few tweaks he recommended we suddenly started getting hot leads and people coming in for trial sessions. It just ballooned from there. Thanks Phill! At our club in Keighley alone we’ve had 80 new starters since we restarted.”

One of those new starters was Emi Gkeka. Emi said “I hadn’t taken any physical exercise during lockdown, so I decided to do something about it. My 5-year-old son Nico was already a member of Horizon Taekwondo and loving his online classes throughout lockdown, it really helped him stay focused and healthy. I’ve always liked martial arts though never tried it myself. But after watching my son for nearly two years, and always been a little bit jealous, I decided it was time for me to make time for myself. So, I joined Nico’s class the moment we were out of lockdown so we could do an activity together as mother and son. I am absolutely loving it. It’s very intense, though I get to take out all my stresses with all the kicking and shouting.”

Emi and Nico Gkeka. Photo submitted by Horizon Taekwondo Club

Emi continued “Even on days when I think I’m tired I always push myself because I know Taekwondo will always make me feel better. My wellbeing has improved, and I feel stronger and healthier and definitely more flexible. It’s great to feel committed to something that gives me so many positives.”

“Rick is amazing, he knows exactly how much he can push us, and he knows exactly our strengths and our limitations. It’s such a great experience and I am so thankful to Horizon.”

One of the club’s members who has continued with Taekwondo is Gina Bene-Hamill. Gina explained “I love both Football and Taekwondo and during lockdown my football club struggled to think of ways to get all the players engaged and how to train them online. Whereas my Taekwondo club were soon to act and had House Party training sessions, which were hilarious as no-one really understood how to use the platform. Then Zoom came along and life was much easier and our coaches, Rick, Natalie and Rooji were amazing at keeping all the members inspired with five online classes a week and more than one a day. It was such a great way to train and stay positive.”

Gina added “Many of my friends who were swimmers and netballers were unable to train yet I had started training even more than ever. So, coming out of lockdown I not only improved my technique and boosted my fitness, but I was also ready to take my 3rd Dan black belt. I can’t thank the Horizon team and coaches for all their support during lockdown and this was one time that Taekwondo came out on top of Football.”

Gina is a keen advocate for Taekwondo and says, “It’s not just about Taekwondo, it’s about Community”.

“It is so exciting to see how Horizon has grown as a club, the sessions are getting busier by the week and it’s great to see young athletes now training and inspiring newcomers to the sport. It’s an amazing circle to see.”

Gina Bene-Hamill. Photo by Charlotte Pullan. Submitted by Horizon Taekwondo Club

“I am proud to be part of a club that is so inclusive on every level. At competitions, our club is known for flying the flag of over 14 different countries. And to the credit of our coaches Horizon truly has an ‘open door to everyone’ policy with the support for Para athletes and others with learning needs. Our new Poomsae team is led by Master Steve, who is partially blind, and his team is getting stronger by the week. All this goes to show what a fabulous inclusive and diverse club Horizon is, and this truly inspires parents to tell their friends about this great community.”

“How lucky we are that there is a club on our doorstep that really thinks of our children with the utmost of respect to call them young athletes. Being in a club where members have gone on to compete in some of the sport’s most prestigious events is an honour to be around. And to think that this one day could be your child too is such a way to encourage them to want to be ’the best they can be’. Which funnily enough is the Horizon motto.”

Ashley Heenan is the mum of Horizon student Scarlett Mackie and describes her experience of the club, “Without the sports clubs running there was little to no motivation to do anything during lockdown.”

“I knew Scarlett always took an interest in martial arts as she watches it on the TV, even more so during lockdown. She always used to copy and act it out from a very young age, so we looked around at different classes for karate. I then came across Horizon Taekwondo and I knew instantly Scarlett would love doing it. She was really shy at first and didn’t join in, but she built that bond with her coach Natalie Simpson-Kidd. She thinks a lot of her.”

Scarlett Mackie. Photo submitted by Horizon Taekwondo Club

“Scarlett is also being taught self-discipline which I feel is important. It’s pushing her to make good choices and results in good emotional and behavioural skills. I can honestly say Natalie has brought the best out in Scarlett. For that, I will be forever grateful for taking the time to teach Scarlett.”

“I personally think everyone at the club is absolutely fantastic. Especially Natalie with Scarlett. Scarlett really looks up to Natalie and enjoys every single training session she attends. I feel that’s what makes a club. The coaches have dedication to their students, they have that drive and motivation to keep others motivated. Horizon is hands down the best club I have come across over the years of attending a variety of clubs with the children.”

Rick concludes with a call to action for Taekwondoists everywhere “If you do not already do Taekwondo and want to get involved with our club do get in touch to find out more. If you already do Taekwondo, then go to the club you are already at and do it there. To see where all British Taekwondo clubs are, visit the British Taekwondo website and check out the Club Finder. British Taekwondo is full of great Taekwondoists and great people. It’s brilliant to see Taekwondo growing in the UK!”

Gina echoes Rick’s message and sums up being part of a Taekwondo club perfectly “It could not be easier to get involved in Taekwondo. Turn up, join in, be inspired, and return!”

To find out more about the Horizon Taekwondo Academy visit their website, drop them an email and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Photos: Charlotte Pullan, submitted by Horizon Taekwondo Club

If you would like to share your taekwondo story please get in touch with Richard Gottfried, Marketing, Digital & Media Manager via marketing@britishtaekwondo.org or 07706 342156.