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From Toronto to Taipei: a journey in taekwondo

A U of T athlete represents Canada at the Summer Universiade
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Athletics are often an activity students take part in at university. According to the NCAA, student athletics have contributed to increased academic success, scholarship opportunities, healthy living, skill building, and life preparation. While balancing school and sports is not easy, it creates a well-rounded and well-prepared person.

Hayk Amirbekyan is the perfect example. A U of T student who competes in taekwondo on a national and international level, Amirbekyan has been practicing martial arts for 17 years. During that time, he has won several provincial titles and has become a national heavyweight taekwondo champion. Amirbekyan’s performance in the 2017 National Team trials afforded him the opportunity to represent Canada at the Summer Universiade in Taipei this August.

An international biannual sporting event, the Universiade is hosted by the International University Sports Federation, an organization that aims to “propagate sports values and promote sports practice in perfect synergy and complementarity with the university spirit.”

Canada does not finance its athletes for the event, which has left Amirbekyan in the position of having to self-finance the $2,425 trip through crowdfunding. The Varsity sat down with Amirbekyan to speak about his passion and his feelings about this opportunity.

The Varsity: What do you do, and why? 

Hayk Amirbekyan: I do taekwondo. And why do I do [it]? Because it is difficult [and] it is a big challenge for me and I just enjoy pushing myself. And it is the one thing in my life that is consistent so I just feel comfortable, it’s just my way of life — for the competition [and] the glory. 

TV: Was there a point in time when you said, “I love taekwondo, this is what I want to do for a really long time?”

HA: [There were] a bunch of moments. I think when I was around 10 years old when I started learning and immediately I realized that I was really flexible [and] I had good motor skills, for taekwondo at least. I wasn’t really a good athlete in anything else. When we played soccer, basketball, or anything else like that in high school I was not good, but just specifically with taekwondo I was good and I just realized that I had a lot of potential. It could be the video games as well, I was playing a lot of Tekken, a lot of Mortal Kombat. I was watching Bruce Lee, Van Damme, so even before I started training I had already been inspired.

TV: Have you been dreaming about this?

HA: This specific tournament, no. I have always dreamed about going to the Olympics or World Championships and winning a medal there. I didn’t make the world championship team this year because I placed second at nationals, I was supposed to place first at nationals to make the world championship team. So, the highest ranking university student gets the [Universiade] spot and that was me.

TV: What does that mean to teach Taekwondo? Who do you want to teach, and why is that so important to you?

HA: I’m a good teacher. I’m patient. I can understand what a lot people are doing wrong because I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

I wasn’t good right away. I had a lot of talents, but there were a lot of things I had to fix in my own technique. I think it’s fun. I love sparring with people, even with my friends. I’m always punching them or forcing them to block gently. That’s just how I like to interact with people. For me, it’s just fun. If everyone knew how to spar, that would be awesome. 

If you’re fighting off of your aggression and brute force, you will not win in taekwondo. You need an extreme amount of self-control. You need to be doing the right thing all the time. It teaches you to do the right thing all the time.

TV: How does Taekwondo help kids?

HA: I am teaching a group of two to six year-olds right now. It’s not even martial arts, it’s just coordination. That’s the biggest benefit. I am teaching them to hop, I’m teaching them to run, I’m teaching them to crawl. Just building strength and body awareness. That’s what it [is] good for. 

TV: What is the best way to support you?

HA: I actually have a “MAKEACHAMP” account which is similar to GoFundMe, but just for athletes. I started the campaign because the whole trip is self-funded. Everyone’s trip to the World Games is self-funded for Canadian athletes. I started the campaign to raise money. I am also going to be starting martial arts classes, so hopefully that will bring in more money as well.