By Julia Gregory, local democracy reporter
If Taekwondo teacher John Webster says children he teaches in North Kensington are “exceptional”.
He should know as he’s a coach for the New Zealand Olympic team.
The Taekwondo Master hopes he will join the Olympic hopefuls in Tokyo for this summer’s games if Covid rules allow.
And whilst he has been coaching the top athletes remotely, he’s also been working with children who normally train with him at the Curve in North Kensington.
He said some of the children have the potential to compete at national and international level.
“They are exceptional,” he said, and hopes that the sport is giving them aspirations to be good martial artists and use the skills they pick up to help them.
When he first ran a course at the centre which supports the community affected by Grenfell, he thought it would just be for six weeks.
But it continued and when lockdown started he transferred the classes online.
“It’s very different teaching the kids on Zoom rather than face to face,” he says.
“I think the kids deserve it more,” he says.
“They turn up week in, week out when they are doing homework as well. I think it’s remarkable.
“When school was closed there was nothing that they were doing that was normal. This was some normality.”
He has clocked up 1,500 online classes and just been honoured in the Kensington and Chelsea Mayor’s Awards for his work teaching children from the community.
He modified the classes and also introduced some other fun activities including Taekwondo Does Bake Off and Taekwondo’s Got Talent.
It’s given children from The Curve the chance to compete digitally with children from other classes John teaches.
They’ve also done seminars with coaches in the USA, Philippines and Korea and competed in a world championships where they picked up more awards to fill the trophy cabinet at The Curve.
And some children even wanted classes over the Easter Bank Holiday as normal.
“It’s just something they like doing,” he says.
“Most of the kids seem to look forward to it because they enjoy it.”
During lockdown everyone found things tough.
“You could see the frustration with the parents. They said it’s difficult to cope, they had to cope being a mother, policeman, friend, 24 hours a day,” says John.
So sometimes after school activities like online taekwondo were a treat.
It was also an element of normality which could carry on digitally, unlike some other activities like swimming and football.
John is a former psychology lecturer at Brunel University. He noticed that children were finding this last lockdown during the winter months much harder.
“Psychologically they were not doing as well. It got dark at 4PM,” he says.
“They have not been coping as well, I think it’s the same as everybody. If you are stuck inside I think there’s only so many times you can tidy your house.”
But their flexibility and core fitness has improved as they have kept their classes up and they are getting ready for their first class outdoors at an open space near The Curve.
“They will just be happy to be outside. It’s about socialising and seeing their friends,” says John.
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