Blessings

The rare opportunity to be a successful fighter is a blessing and a curse. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to compete at this level. I am fortunate in that I can live this lifestyle, training and fighting and winning tournaments. A lot of fighters start taking winning for granted and develop bad attitudes, I certainly expect to do well in competition but I don’t want to win so badly that if I don’t I’m a sore loser.

The curse of being a good fighter is something I have been thinking a lot about. Even at times that I think I might hang it up I don’t. I am almost stuck in something that I love; as if I am trapped inside of a profession that is voluntary. The fact is it would be disrespectful to all of my coaches, opponents and supporters, past and present to stop here. I am not legally obliged to fulfill my dreams. It is a hard road, it is a long road, but I am enjoying my journey.

I am taking the next few weeks really easy. It doesn’t look like I will be fighting until March 2016 so I will take the opportunity to rest up while I can. I have been in a non-stop training camp since October 2014 and have amassed a lot of victories in the past 14 months. I finally became Australian Champion this year, I became the Oceania Heavyweight Vice-Champion, I won my 13th and 14th State Title, my first international medals, my first kickboxing fight, I had my first experience in an MMA fight and won a few medals in BJJ. Needless to say, it has been a monster year. I am finishing up with 40 matches, 10 over what I had aimed for.

I have done a lot but there is a lot more to do next year. Another MMA fight, more kickboxing fights, hopefully some pro appearances for some $$$, a big mid year trip to Korea, the G4 Oceania Championships and becoming a 2 time Australian Champion. Like I said, the fighting life isn’t for everyone, but its definitely the life for me.

How much do Taekwondo athletes make?

Money in Combat

I have won 33 medals, over 100 matches and I have represented Australia on multiple occasions, yet I have made no money fighting in Taekwondo; why is that?

On my journey to professional combat sports I have been interested in making money from competing more and more. Taekwondo is an amateur sport, going in to competitions, you know that, we as a Taekwondo community accept it. The prize money offered by Governments and Olympic Committees in other countries mostly come from rumors and National Team member information which could change at any moment. It isn’t reliable information.

Winning the World Taekwondo Grand Prix which is happening in Manchester this weekend will earn you a $5000 prize. A silver medal will earn you $3000 and third place will earn you $1000. This is a great incentive for athletes to earn some money at the highest level. But in comparison to other non-Olympic sports, with less athletes, less global media attention and less infrastructure it is not enough. Taekwondo generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year worldwide. The World Taekwondo Federation has 206 Member National Associations (MNA’s) who all run multiple competitions a year. The MNA’s themselves generate a lot of money and in most countries that money is returned to the athletes on the National Teams on some level. In Australia we run roughly 15 competitions a year domestically. Now, obviously expenses go into running these competitions so not all money is profit.

In Australia we have $335,000 of High Performance Funding from the Australian Sports Commission, that is for National Teams and Coaches travel etc. I am going to use the National Championships as a lone example. It is $130 to enter the single elimination event, meaning that cost might only get you one match. Interstate travel cost is cast aside, because it is your choice, it isn’t necessary for you to enter this competition, so you can’t really make a good argument for your own travel cost.

The National Championships had more than 700 competitors, that means STA brought in $91,000 dollars in revenue from entry fees, this is not including the sale of merchandise and spectator entry on the day. For winning this event in the Senior Black Belt category, the highest level, I received a very thin Gold Medal and no prize money.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to become Australian Champion. I am not the only one who loves Taekwondo and I am certainly not the only one to try and turn Taekwondo into a professional sport. But when you compare that event to the Grappling Industries Melbourne Sub-Only event which I competed at in August, which had less competitors, a huge venue (MSAC) and actual quality medals gave out $3000 in prize money across 8 Adult divisions, as well as every competitor receiving $55 in Product vouchers. Why isn’t this possible in Taekwondo?

We can’t claim that the money is going to the National Team like other countries do. The National Team are handled by the Australian Sports Commission and the AIS. So where is the money going? The sad fact of Taekwondo in Australia is that we don’t really know.

It is a cultural issue with the athletes too, we don’t ask for money because no one has. It’s like Gaelic football in Ireland, even with 80,000 people buying tickets to games the players aren’t paid because its for the ‘love of the game’ and the ‘pride in wearing the jumper’. The NCAA in the US are perhaps the worst, they generate billions but the college players whose games are broadcast on ESPN worldwide are not paid because they are being given the opportunity to be drafted to the NFL after 4 years of extortion play; even though only 3% of players are drafted.

I am proud to be National Champion, I am proud to represent my country, I am proud to be a member of this vibrant and bright community. I just want to do it professionally.

You have to learn to adjust

When I first started Taekwondo the governing body at the time gave out ‘National Champion’ patches for the sleeves of your uniform. You had to win Nationals to win one, ever since I saw a black belt with those patches all the way down his arm I wanted one. I have wanted to be National Champion for so long that I had to hold back tears last week when I won the Australian Heavyweight Title.

I called my girlfriend afterwards, she was so proud of me that I cried a little. It has been an emotional journey to the top. Before I go into what I want to talk about in this post I need to take some time to thank some people. The first people are my parents Tina and Wayne, they have been by my side on this journey since the beginning. My Dad would miss shifts at work, reject overtime and give up his precious weekends to drive me to comps, watch me fight, drive me to the other side of the city for training and various other ins and outs that being the best required. I am forever in debt to them.

I would also like to thank my first coaches, Zoran, Jerry, Leanne and Ross at Halls in Sunshine, they brought me from nothing to Black Belt in 2 and a half years. They have all had enormous impacts on my fighting style, my attitude towards competing and my work ethic in Taekwondo and in life.

The next person I would like to thank is Carlo. He taught me what it meant to be a professional athlete, he treated me, even in my developmental, early black belt years like a professional athlete and I don’t think I would have grown as much as I have without his influence. He scheduled his personal time to meet with me and discuss training, goals, my strengths and weaknesses and embedded in me the idea that I need to enjoy the journey. Because of his guidance I have achieved one of the big goals I set myself 8 years ago and I couldn’t be more grateful. Of course, Carlo’s directed program was delivered by two excellent coaches, Katrina and Abed who both pushed me past what I thought was possible.

I would also like to thank Allan because the short time I spent with him was focused and hard. I still remember him yelling at me in my first session with him “WE ARE GOING TO TURN THOSE LEGS INTO WEAPONS”. He takes Taekwondo very seriously and he showed me the volume and technical prowess that would be necessary to achieve what I want in combat sport.

I also want to thank my coach Warren at Professional Taekwondo as well as Song who also runs the sparring classes. Warren and I go back a long way, he coached me in my first nationals which I won a Silver at. I’m glad that all these years later I was able to redeem that experience with a Gold. Warren is a very ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of person, he is very direct and very caring. Song is a hard Korean coach, he gives me no slack when I am struggling and has improved my technique and explosiveness by miles in only a few short months.

In combat sport I have learned to adjust my goals as time goes on. I have always believed in being realistic with my expectations. I started Taekwondo very late in comparison to others but because I have always aimed higher than I should have I have achieved more than people think I would have. When I first started Taekwondo I wanted to go down as the greatest Taekwondo athlete Australia has ever produced. To do that I would have to win an Olympic Gold medal, fight at 3 Olympics and win a World Championship. Fast forward 7 years later and I’m the National Champion for the first time. I will not go down as the greatest, that dream will not be achieved. But that’s okay. To all the athletes out there who have not gotten what they wanted, this is the real world, results matter, performances matter and dreams don’t always come true, I am here to tell you that it’s okay.

I have adjusted, my goal is to fight at an Olympics and a World Championships. I may only achieve one of those, maybe I will get neither of them, only time and effort will determine that. When goal setting I have learned to aim higher than you think you can achieve, by aiming for the Olympics I have trained like I am already going, by training like I am getting ready for the Olympics I have become the best heavyweight in Australia. The results speak for themselves. I have learned that not every bridge I burn will be adjusted, that’s something that I have to live with. Not every person I meet will like me. On this monumental high though I will offer this quote.

“I went from most hated to that Champion god flow, I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know” – Kanye West

You have to be selfish

Yesterday I competed in the Grappling Industries Submission Only tournament. I fought 10 times in one day, the most I have ever fought in one day. It was a difficult experience to say the least. This year has been full of new experiences and I am still learning how best to manage my career.

The first and most important thing is to manage my relationship with my long-time girlfriend Steph. Because of my hectic training schedule I don’t often get to see her. She is a crucial part of my support network. It has been trying at times to have a long distance relationship with someone who lives 25 minutes away. However, it is her understanding of my situation and dreams that makes her so endearing. I often compare it to how movie stars only date other movie stars. They are the only ones who understand. Steph doesn’t compete or train in any martial arts but she understands the lengths I have to go to so I can achieve what I want. She knows that to achieve these things I have to be selfish.

No one bears the brunt of an elite athlete’s lifestyle as much as their partners.

The last 6 weeks have been especially trying. I am back with Warren Hansen, a 2000 Olympian and 2004 Olympic Coach. Warren was one of my coaches at Halls and coached me in my first National Championships in 2009. I hope to rectify that 2009 Silver with a Gold Medal under him later this year. However, in transferring to Warrens club Professional Taekwondo I left my Coach Allan.

Allan’s club, Martial Fitness Australia was where I had my first MMA fight, my first Kickboxing fight; he organised and prepared me for my first International Medal in 2014 and my first National Medal as a Black Belt. I won my 13th Victorian Championship there and competed in my first G2 event under him.

This is the truth, I didn’t want to leave. I believe that Allan has the capability to be an Olympic Coach and was an excellent MMA coach for me. Before I joined his club, for a long time he had coached me at interstate events and coached me the first time I ever wore an Australian Team Uniform. His club is like a family. His wife Kelly organised trips, my Global Athlete License and my entries’ to different events. They both organised and negotiated opponents for me and made sure I was keeping my weight down for those events. Allan gave me extra private sessions at no extra cost and on numerous occasions invited me into his own home. One would ask why I would leave such an environment.

There is no easy answer, although from an athletic standpoint the place was great. Allan and I butted heads sometimes about my dedication, my willingness to attend even more sessions, and my ideas about the traditional Taekwondo Syllabus. There was no explosive argument, no final fight or public airing out of our issues. Our relationship deteriorated in private. I fought it for as long as I could, but I wasn’t enjoying training anymore.

At the other clubs I train at the vibe is much more relaxed. I am supervised and coached from a distance. Carlo would write programs for me then tell me what I had to work on and then in a few weeks would assess me again and change the program accordingly. Allan’s approach as a coach is very good for people who need as much supervision as he gives. I didn’t know I wouldn’t like it until I was already there. I felt overwhelmed and anxious about training, feeling as if every session was a performance rather than practice. It led to sliding results and a mixed feeling about where I was headed.

Our relationship has deteriorated even further now. I really wish it hadn’t. There have been rumblings that I only went there to write down his program, to steal from him. Those rumours hurt me the most. I would never do anything to jeopardise the advantage the juniors, Cadets and Children that train there have. They train like pro athletes and deserve the results and rewards they get.

I sometimes think that I as an athlete have the problem. That I am not coachable; that the reason I have now been a member of 4 clubs in 7 years is that I really don’t like taekwondo; that I like the idea of being a fighter, but don’t like fighting; that I don’t care about what my actions do to others. I have been doing this for a while now and when these doubts enter my mind I stop myself and say, just like Allan told me in our first meeting, ‘Sometimes as an athlete, you have to be selfish’.

Mixing My Martial Arts

In the last 5 weeks I have competed in three different events, my first Kickboxing fight, my second BJJ Tournament and the Australian International Taekwondo Open. The three disciplines I have been training in all year.

The kickboxing fight went as well as it could have. I fought an inexperienced Muay Thai striker and dominated from start to finish with body kicks. My theory that kickboxers wouldn’t react well to Taekwondo style kicks was proven right. You can’t stand and cover kicks at that speed. As soon as the fight started I nailed him with a hard leg kick followed by a body kick a few seconds later. He winced in pain and I knew from that point that I would control the match.

Over the course of the three rounds I moved around the ring, never standing still at speeds he didn’t seem used to. Sometimes to take a rest I would let him throw a couple of punches and I would cover them. After the rest was over I would go right back to work smashing him with body and head kicks. I threw some punch combos too just to have the full experience. In the second round I curled him over with a body kick and followed up with a hard right hand. He received a standing eight count and afterwards I belted him a bit more until the end of the round. My mistake was that I went too hard after the eight count and didn’t have much energy left for the third round. The third round was essentially me doing just enough to win.

In the end I won by Unanimous decision. 30-27 on all cards.

The Northern MMA BJJ Tournament was a really fun event, a lot of my AET family were there to support the affiliate event and overall the comp was run really well. I had four fights, winning two and losing two. I lost the first two by arm bar which I have since worked on. My arm bar defence is now pretty good. I won my third fight via Guillotine choke after my opponent tried to take me down. The fourth was a withdrawal so I didn’t get anything out of that. In the round robin format I came out with a Silver Medal, my first medal in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

The Australian Open was essentially a non-event. I fought World Number 15 Kai Chang from Chinese Taipei in the first round and was kicked in the eye. I couldn’t open it and the ref stopped the fight. Those are the rules in Taekwondo so I can’t really complain. I picked up some World Ranking Points. Now I’m Number 158 in the World in -87. Not really an impressive ranking.

Looking at these events you could make the argument that Taekwondo should be put by the wayside for now. However I am in a unique position in the Taekwondo landscape. I am heavy enough to compete in 87+, a relatively non-competitive division in Australia. Don’t get me wrong; to win the National Championships will still require a lot of work. Not many people get the chance to be a Black Belt National Champion. Even with all my National and International achievements the title of National Champion still eludes me.

Halfway through the year I have had 15 fights, halfway through my goal of 30 fights.

Wrestling with the pressure

Adam Meyers MMA

A little over a week ago I had my first MMA fight. I didn’t want to write about it straight away because in front of a hundred people or so, I was unnamed, a Taekwondo black belt with no reputation in this sport,  two ringside tables filled with my training partners and teammates, I was embarrassingly mounted, then ground and pounded into unconsciousness. It was a wrestling lesson.

The fight starts, I come out and touch gloves. For a second I look at this guy in front of me and think ‘Oh shit, I’m an MMA fighter’. Then I remember that I’m actually in a fight and as my Head Coach Allan once said ‘In a combat sport you have to actually fucking hit someone’.

I snap back into the fight, I landed a really solid inside leg kick and he winces in pain. Then he flurries forward with a barrage of punches which pushes me into the corner, I landed two hard body kicks in quick succession. Unfortunately my fight or flight response kicked in and I started kicking instead of getting out of the corner. He shot in for a take down, after some time he got it and landed in side control. His BJJ and Wrestling was a few steps above my own. Eventually he mounted me and pummeled me with punches until I was out.

I lost my debut. That is a sentence I didn’t want to ever have to write. It was my amateur debut so I guess it isn’t as important but it still hurts. I felt lost after the fight, I didn’t feel injured or sore, I stepped out of the ring without a drop of sweat on my body.

A Kanye West lyric has been in my head ever since. “I’m ready for the Worlds Games/ This is my Olympics”.

I will not attend the Rio Games next year. That is the truth, but why did I want to become an Olympian in the first place? It wasn’t a lifelong love of the Olympic Games it was because I was doing Taekwondo and being an Olympian was the height of that sport. Going to a World Championship in Taekwondo is an amazing achievement, but it is only being an Olympian that is on everyone’s mind.

If the Worlds were the biggest competition you could go to that would be my end goal. Being on Team Australia for Worlds. In MMA the UFC is the Olympics. In BJJ the IBJJF World Championships are the Olympics. Its the highest level you can compete at.

After losing 10 days ago I am still on track to make my first ‘Olympics’ next year at the IBJJF Worlds in California. I am competing on the highest level possible one way or another. After losing I can still go to the Abu Dhabi World Pro Championships next year. I am not out of the running to make the UFC because I lost one fight. This reality has taken all of the pressure off of competing.

Taekwondo was always so much about winning this so you can go to that, so you can get enough points for that, but only if you can afford it because the funding is shit house, then if you do well in that you can be in the Top 32 for this, then come back to Australia to fight this, so you can go to that. Its a mouthful. Here is the reality that I live in now. You wanna compete at Worlds? You think you are the best in the world? Come prove it.

New Routines

This month I have been working out my new routine. I am at a new Taekwondo club this year, I train BJJ more than I did last year and I am training in MMA. For the first time in my career as an athlete I am working 40 hours a week. I know a lot of other athletes have been doing this for a long time so I know it’s possible. What I am trying to find out is if it’s ideal.

I am, if anything, a pragmatist. I will happily eliminate something from my life if it doesn’t suit the end goal. However this philosophy is not always realistic. I have bills. I need to work. I am not fighting professionally yet. I guess at this point I am hoping that next year I will be winning an amount of prize money that would allow me to reduce my hours to 20 or so and then the year after to reduce them further depending on my success.

The more time I can focus on fighting the better. Because at this point I cannot afford to train full time I have to focus on fighting more frequently than the average athlete. Last year I only had 9 matches. This year I want to compete in at least 30 fights. It all starts this weekend.

On Saturday I am fighting the Gi -185lbs and Gi Absolute divisions at the Grappling Industries Melbourne Tournament. It is a round robin format so in my -185lbs division I will have at least 3 fights. The Absolute is single elimination so a minimum of 1. Same goes for Sundays Victorian Taekwondo Championships in which I will be fighting in the -87kg division. If I make the finals of each division by the end of the weekend I will have fought in 11 matches. 2 more than I had all last year.

I am looking forward to the challenge and win or lose I will have had a lot of fights and gained a lot of experience. Don’t take that thinking as a sign of weakness though, when I step into a fight, I step in to win.