Nerves, adrenaline and a lot of sweat. That’s the feeling you get when you are right there, face to face with your opponent in the ring. That is exactly what 17 Imperial College London students experienced last weekend (November 19th) in the Imperial College Open (ICO) and London University Sports League (LUSL) Taekwondo Competitions, where a total of eleven gold, three silver and six bronze medals were won by the university club (ICUTKD).

We got up before dawn to meet at South Kensington Station, from where we started our long journey to the Jean Brown Indoor Sports Arena. Nobody could decide whether they were more tired, hungry or nervous as the tube stopped at station after station after station. Zone 4 has never felt so far.

After weigh-in, it was finally time for the competition to start: the draws were up. We knew who our opponents were going to be, how many fights stood between us and that gold medal. As some of us stepped into the ring for the first time, it seemed like the entire team was there with them. Our name bounced off the walls, interspersed with “ICU –TKD” chants. Every kick that landed was greeted with a cheer and when someone managed to get past our defences there was considerable booing.

“Every kick that landed was greeted with a cheer and when someone managed to get past our defences there was considerable booing”

After 9 hours of competition, the Imperial College London Team came home victorious. Not only did we achieve four gold, one silver and two bronze medals in LUSL and seven gold, three silver and four bronze in LUSL, but we also placed 2nd in the overall university ranking, beating teams more than twice our size. Some highlights of the competition were the four gold medals won in both ICO and LUSL by our black belts Simone Griffith-Jones and Jamie MacNeil, who won all the matches they fought. Having built on their individual successes at the British Nationals this summer, they demonstrated why they are considered two of the best in the country. However, they were not the only ones with outstanding performances; Menghan Liu (two golds), Sharmila Rana (one gold, one silver) and Cynthia Ho (one gold), all at their third competitions, showed all of us that hard-work and strong discipline can take you wherever you dream of. Particularly impressive was Emilie Pria, who won a gold having taken up the sport only six weeks ago and Sophia Pali, who recently switched from poomsae (patterns) to sparring (fighting style) and obtained one gold and one bronze.

Menghan Liu´s headshot

ICO (Imperial College Open) is an annual student competition that started out at our university in 2012. Every year the event has grown, attracting more and more competitors from all over the country. This year there were more than 240 students fighting (and many more boosting morale from the side-lines), making it one of the biggest and probably noisiest martial arts university competitions in the UK. In fact, the championship has proven to be so successful that, starting from 2017, BSTF (British Student Taekwondo Federation) has stepped in to organise the event. This ensures ICO will reach and accommodate for even greater numbers of participants and institutions.

“We also placed 2nd in the overall university ranking, beating teams more than twice our size”

On the other hand, LUSL (London University Sports League) is something many of you might already be familiar with, since it was launched in 2012 by BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) for many different sports. Taekwondo is only a recent addition though, so it is impressive that 140 competitors showed up for the event on Sunday morning.

This year, both competitions were held on the same day, one after another. Any student can participate in ICO and LUSL, regardless of gender, level of fitness or experience in this discipline. The competitors are split into categories to guarantee fair fights, which depend on skill level (A, B or C class), gender and weight. Points can be scored with kicks to the head, body and punches, with a bonus for spinning kicks. All under the careful supervision of the central referee and corner judges.

This weekend, our team scored more points per competitor than any other university. Imperial College Taekwondo will travel to Birmingham next on the 3rd of December for another day of fierce competition. We will do our best to continue winning medals in the name of our university, but more importantly, we will continue having fun, supporting each other and pushing ourselves to our limits.

Last but not least, thanks to the instructors, coaches and out alumni who spend their own time and effort to help us out. As well, thanks to all external instructors who have helped us get to where we are and everyone who came to support us or volunteered in the event.