Morning Star Staff
Hours after finishing his last exam at Vernon Secondary, Matthew Hanna boarded a plane to the City of Saints with hopes of winning a taekwondo national championship.
Hanna, 16, has been practising taekwondo for 10 years, and opens the Canadian finals today at Montreal’s Complex Sportif Claude-Robillard.
“He is a very good athlete, disciplined, determined and respectful. If he wins at nationals, it paves the way for him in the next Pan American Games and Junior Olympics,” said Master Trevor Warkentin, who has trained Hanna for 10 years.
“He has a good chance to medal, but he is in the biggest and a very tough division.”
Hanna competes in the lightweight division – under 130 pounds. Walking around at 133-135, he will eat salads for a week and not drink water for a few hours leading up to the weigh-in.
Nationals are a single-elimination event with Olympic style sparring. Once the field gets narrowed down to a top-four, a round robin will begin.
“I’m more focused on the experience of the event rather than how I finish. I try to learn something from each match whether I win or lose,” said Hanna.
The Olympics have always been the goal for Hanna. With the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games probably out of the question, he is targeting the 2020 Games in Tokyo. He feels like the next eight-12 years is where he will experience his best success.
Ivett Gonda is Hanna’s favourite taekwondo athlete. She is a Canadian gold medalist from the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
He also watches Steve Lopez compete. Lopez is an American taekwondo athlete who won back-to-back gold medals in the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympics.
Hanna trains five nights a week at Kees Taekwondo in Vernon, and heads down to Maple Ridge on the weekends to train with Team B.C.
Training with Team B.C. for more than two years, Hanna has already competed in the 2013 nationals and has travelled to Seattle for the LMA Open and to Portland for the U.S. World Open for tournaments this year. Hanna captured the bronze in Portland.
“I’ve had some success and it’s given me confidence heading into nationals,” said Hanna.
“Matthew has always been good, but he has taken it to another level with all this hard work he has put in,” said Warkentin.
He first was introduced to the sport when he was four and saw his cousin compete in a sparring match.
“I thought it was so cool, I wanted to run out there with him,” said Hanna. “I went to a few practices and I have been hooked ever since.”
Hanna wrapped up his Grade 10 year at Vernon Secondary, but he took Grade 11 classes like chemistry and pre-calculus.
He used to play rugby and volleyball, but dropped them to focus more on taekwondo training.
“I love the discipline and how much the sport has given me through the years,” said Hanna.
“It has taught me loyalty and to always stride to do my best. It has really helped me out in school and other areas of my life.”
Whenever Hanna isn’t training or teaching as a junior instructor at Kees, he enjoys skateboarding and boating at his family cabin.
Taekwondo is one of the most systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial arts that teaches more than physical fighting skills with a big emphasis on kicks.
It was developed during the 1940s and 1950s by various Korean martial artists and is a discipline that shows ways of enhancing one’s spirit and life through training their body and mind.