Danika Jensen and Levi King throw kicks and punches under the watchful eyes of a judge during previous years' Hammerfest competition in Stettler.

Healthy lifestyles leads to life-long love of martial arts

When Dave Hargreaves signed his kids up for TaeKwon-do, the goal was to provide them with a healthy, confidence-building and fun activity.

When Dave Hargreaves signed his kids up for TaeKwon-do, the goal was to provide them with a healthy, confidence-building and fun activity. Instead, it turned into a life-long love for the Stettler man, one which eventually led him to a five dan black belt, international recognition, and his own studio in Stettler.

Hargreaves was about 28 when he signed his kids up for martial arts, and he went to the sessions as well, watching his kids learn the martial art, which has a heavy focus on kicking. After a few times showing up at the studio, the instructor crossed over to him.

“‘So, when are you going to sign up?'” Hargreaves recalled the instructor asking. As Hargreaves tried to think of an answer, he couldn’t think of any reason why not, and he signed up and started taking lessons alongside his kids.

Now in his 50s, Hargreaves has earned his fifth dan in black belt — dan means degree — and competes internationally in the sport. The martial art has taken him around the world, and in 2010, Hargreaves won a bronze medal in the world championships.

The original owner of the TaeKwon-do studio in Stettler lived in Camrose, and around the time Hargreaves started, was looking at ending his drive back-and-forth to Stettler. In the search for a new owner or an instructor, Hargreaves, once he reached his first dan black belt, was the perfect candidate. For the past 20-plus years, Hargreaves has been the owner-operator of Dual Dragons TKD in Stettler.

Already in love with the martial art and passionate about competition, purchasing the studio led Hargreaves to discover yet another love: teaching.

“I enjoy competition, but I really love teaching,” Hargreaves said. “Seeing the physical, emotional and mental development in the kids? It’s such a profound change in some kids, and it’s utterly remarkable.”

As the young students become more fit and more adept at the various forms, they begin to have more confidence in themselves, and in their ability to protect themselves, Hargreaves explained. Shyness vanishes, they begin to be more outgoing, and in some cases, the extremely outgoing become more calm and centred.

The martial art known as TaeKwon-do was created in Korea in 1955, after the country was liberated from Japan. The literal translation, according to Hargreaves, means “Way of Kicking and Punching.” Canada has played a large part in the spread of TaeKwon-do, as the creator of the martial art, when eventually exiled from Korea, settled in Toronto.

Like Karate, TaeKwon-do is a “hard” martial art, with focus on strikes on an opponent. Martial arts like Kung-fu and Tai-Chi are considered soft martial arts, where the focus is on movement.

Hammerfest, Dual Dragons invitational annual tournament, takes place at William E. Hay Secondary Campus on Jan. 20. For years, the studio held in-house tournaments, but as surrounding studios heard about the annual events, they started asking to come and take part.

Six years ago, Hammerfest went public and open to all, and studios from across Alberta and Saskatchewan made the trip to Stettler to come and compete.

“There’s a lot of black belt involvement all day, which is unusual,” Hargreaves said. “Rather than having it all at night. And we have the black belt power hour, where it’s all black belts demonstrating various skills.”

The event brings in more than 200 competitors, and not all are TaeKwon-do practitioners. Others compete in other hard martial arts, like Karate, Hargreaves said.

The youngest children compete in the morning, with the elder students competing in the afternoon and evening.

“It’s really good for the students to see how other martial arts studios train, gain exposure to other types of learning and martial arts,” Hargreaves said. “If you compete and train against the same person over and over, you become stagnant and don’t learn anything new. You don’t know how good you actually are, and where you need work.”

The studio runs sessions all year, and there’s no determined sign-up time. If you’re interested in learning about TaeKwon-do, you can sign up at any time. Classes are open to people four-years and older.

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