For 11-year-old black belt Evie Cassel, taekwondo has provided an education in life as well as sport. By Vivienne Pearson.

‘I want us girls to learn self-defence’

Taekwondo black belt Evie Cassel.
Taekwondo black belt Evie Cassel.
Credit: Vivienne Pearson

I started taekwondo when we moved to Port Macquarie [on the mid-north coast of New South Wales]. It was 2015, so I was eight at the time. I watched one of Mum’s classes and then said: “I want to try that.” It looked pretty fun.

My goal was to get higher than Mum because I thought she was one of the strongest people in the world. Then I saw the black belts and I thought: “That’s my goal.”

I will do three classes each week this year. I teach the beginners and sometimes do the warm-up for the advanced to black grade classes.

I like proving myself; that, even though I’m a girl, we can do things that boys can do. We have the same strength, or we can be stronger. When I teach and someone’s having trouble, I say: “I used to cry and I used to have so much struggle because I didn’t have any energy. Even though we’re little, you can still make it to the top.”

Back in Sydney, I used to come home from school and just eat doughnuts. We don’t do that that often anymore. We found out that if you eat healthy, you gain more energy. That’s what I’ve learnt anyway.

There’s no such thing as can’t. It’s the c-word. No one says the c-word. Instead of saying I can’t, you have to say: “I can but not yet.”

By the end of the black belt grading, you’re already pooped and your legs are shaking, your arms are shaking and your brain is not working properly, but at the end you have to break a board. Ma’am [my instructor] has always said that you can’t let a few inches of board stop you from getting a black belt.

I don’t like the stress of grading and competition, it just scares me. Ma’am has helped me a lot. She’s the one who pushes me most of the time and the one who laughs with me.

You need self-control, respect and indomitable spirit, which means never giving up. You also need good muscle memory. You don’t have to be able to kick higher than your head; it’s all about the strength and the persistence of trying to get it above your head.

Mum gave up. She did a few classes, then I joined in, and she was like: “Ah, you can keep doing it, I’m done.”

Taekwondo comes from South Korea. Before my 2nd dan [level], I have to learn the Korean language for all the moves we do.

I would love to go to the Olympics with taekwondo, to have a successful career and to have a beautiful family. I’d also like lemonade in school bubblers – that’s something we always chat about at school.

At school, I’m in Year 6. In Nippers [a program that introduces children to surf lifesaving], I’ve progressed with my boarding but I’ve always been a really bad runner, especially on sand. I don’t want our oceans to be contaminated with rubbish.

Some kids – I wouldn’t call them friends – say: “Oh you’re a black belt, you should be able to handle that.” But having a black belt doesn’t mean that I’m invulnerable, it doesn’t mean I’m immortal, it doesn’t mean that I’m made of steel. I wish I was, though. I’m still a human being who has feelings.

When I went to national championships last year, I got kicked in the collarbone and the side of the head without the headgear. Then a week later I couldn’t move my neck. I was fine a few days later but it was very scary.

I’d only hurt someone if they physically hurt me first. I wouldn’t do it just out of thin air.

I want us girls to learn self-defence, because throughout this whole world there is a lot of domestic violence that is against women and children. I hear it all the time and it makes me scared. So that’s why I do like doing taekwondo because I know that, although I will be scared because everyone’s scared of that, I feel like I’ll be safe enough to deal with it myself.

I achieved two Australian titles in 2017. I went to nationals at the end of last year but the unfortunate turn of events is that I didn’t place in anything. It was sad but I learnt that everyone has to lose once in a while.

Taekwondo is an art form. It is about self-discipline and it brings harmony. It is a big part of my life. I’ve made friends and family and I’ve learnt skills that will stick with me forever.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 16, 2019 as "Big little black belt".

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