I started tae kwon do around 18 years ago as a 23 year old, which at the time I considered late in starting but we are now taking on students who are in their 30s, 40s & 50’s and going on to reach black belt level!
In my late teens and early 20s I took up power lifting but I developed a painful back and decided to pursue something that would enhance my fitness and flexibility. I attended my first lesson after seeing an advert in the local paper and from that moment I’ve never looked back and that day.
It took me around 3 ½ years to achieve black belt and soon after I decided that I would like to teach and have my own school. My first school was in a small village hall and I had no idea how to run a successful school, but within a year we had about 30 students. During this time I was an electrician on the railways, but I decided to quit my job and do what I loved – teach tae kwon do. I moved my school to a larger town and took a part-time job with a national health club chain and it was here that I really learnt how to run a successful school. I was quickly made one of the managers as I learnt how to use the phone, sign members up, customer service and much more.
I also began to network with other martial arts school owners which really opened my eyes to what is possible after seeing someone run an event that had approximately 500 people watching. I decided to do my best to do the same.
In 1999 my wife Simone and I came up with the name Fortitude and with a new logo, began marketing our schools under this brand identity.
We found a way of working and growing schools that suited us best. We now teach over 700 students each week out of 11 satellite schools and a full-time Academy, which we opened last year in our hometown of East Grinstead.
We teach ITF tae kwon do under the guidance of Master Sahota VII of the UKGT. I am currently a 5th degree black belt having graded under Master Tran Trien VII. I was also fortunate to train under the late Grand Master Choi Hong Hi 9th degree on two separate occasions, once in England hosted by Master Sahota and once in France.
Looking back, I am truly grateful to the day that I attended my first lesson – it changed my life forever. I genuinely love tae kwon do and the other martial arts and teaching and training are a way of life for me. I train in some form or other every day.
Fortitude is without doubt a team activity. We could not achieve what we have without key people in key positions, whether that’s on the floor, in the training hall or answering the phone, making appointments, handing out leaflets and doing demos.
My wife Simone runs the office side and is an instructor herself, while I look after promoting the schools and designing the leaflets, posters etc.
Although Simone and I run Fortitude together the other members of the team have helped us to achieve what was once only a dream. We are dedicated to giving the very best in student service at all our schools. There is a ‘family’ atmosphere in the way we work and teach, with children as young as three training in the ninja’s and their parents in the adult classes.
We treat every student individually and care passionately about their progress in tae kwon do, doing our very best to ensure that they discover the many benefits that martial arts has to offer and their lives are enhanced forever.
As instructors we all train hard and share the successes and disappointments together in order to help each other. One of our biggest achievements so far has been the opening of our own full-time Academy in East Grinstead. We had looked for a venue for years but most were unsuitable due to size or cost. We found our current venue by chance and after a quick inspection with our team we knew it was too good to turn down. From Easter this year we were able to offer five times a week training for the first time.
We host many events throughout the year which include two master seminars with master Sahota VII, sparring and patterns seminars, competitions, Fortitude day, summer camp and an end of year extravaganza.
We also have guest instructors, which have included training in other martial arts, e.g. Chris Crudelli and extreme kicks expert Ashley Beck.
In the future we aim to continue opening new schools with instructors we have personally trained and look to open our next full-time Academy.
Our driving force has always been to share the benefits of the martial arts with as many people as possible and add to our fantastic team.
(Interview from December 2009)