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Grand Master Sandison visits Petrolia roots

By Melissa Schilz, Postmedia Network

Colette McNairney and Becky Brand practice their kicks before heading into their black belt testing last week. Melissa Schilz/The Topic

Colette McNairney and Becky Brand practice their kicks before heading into their black belt testing last week. Melissa Schilz/The Topic

It was a big night for ten Tae Kwon Do students in Petrolia last Thursday – they were testing for different degrees of black belt, and instructor Becky Brand said it’s been a long time since the Petrolia club has seen this many testing at once.  

Established 33 years ago by Grand Master Ray Sandison – Brand was one of his very first students. Since then, he’s instructed the next generation and traveled the world to compete and referee, going to places like Venezuela, Germany, Thailand and Korea. Now based in Montana and previously Alberta, when he returns to Petrolia for evenings like this, it’s an exciting time for his original crew of students.

“I started as a young lad and when I moved to this area, I thought it was time to start my own club,” he said. “The biggest thing is watching kids walk in the door that are quiet and shy…they walk out with their chest out and their head up.” 

There are ten degrees of black belts, and five of those people were testing for their very first degree. It’s not easy – Sandison said it’s a very high level of testing that takes tremendous skill and discipline.

The testing involves students doing patterns, which are a set sequences of moves, self defense, fighting and breaking something like ice, concrete or boards.

“It’s power, it’s speed, it’s mind over matter,” Brand said with a laugh.

Sandison said Tae Kwon Do doesn’t just teach you how to defend yourself – it also teaches you self respect, self control and confidence, as well as core strength and agility.

Brand started at the age of 13 with her younger brothers. Now testing for her sixth degree of black belt, she said being involved in Tae Kwon Do made her confident, but she’s also made lifelong friends through the sport. She was testing alongside three other women she grew up doing Tae Kwon Do with – Colette McNairney, Roxanne Gilroy-Machado and Cristal Anderson.

“It’s like a big family…they are relationships that never go away,” she said.

Gilroy-Machado, who was testing for her third degree black belt, first began Tae Kwon Do when she was 12 in 1991. She ended up competing provincially, nationally and internationally, traveling to Cairo, Egypt with Sandison to compete in the world games in 1996.

“From the first lesson, I took to it,” she said. “It was what I had been aiming for…it gave me great perspective because prior to that I’d only seen what Canadian life was like.”

She said the last time she tested was about 20 years ago when she was 18, so she was a little nervous going in. Upon her return, she said she plans to keep going.

Both she and Brand said they’ve seen an increase in the number of girls in the sport over the years, but there are still some clubs elsewhere that treat women differently. Gilroy-Machado said the Petrolia club is different, and after a hiatus and living elsewhere, that’s why she returned.

“I’ve trained in other places but never felt as comfortable as I do here,” she said. “I’m a black belt, I’m not a girl black belt…in other places I was treated differently.”

Colette McNairney began at age 8 alongside her sister and was testing for her third degree black belt. She said she loves all the aspects of the sport, including kicking things.

“It’s given me a lot of confidence growing up to be strong and stand up for what I believe in,” she said. “I respect it a lot…and all of the qualities it brings to your life.”

McNairney said she took a break from the sport for a while, so she worked hard to come back and put in extra time. Brand was the one who convinced her to return.

“I want to represent our Petrolia Bluewater Club well,” she said.

One of the youngest students testing for his black belt was Carter Lambert, who is ten years old. He became interested in the sport after his brother Logan, who is a first degree black belt, got involved. Their mother and several other relatives are also black belts, and the two boys are the second generation in their family to hold this title.

“Learning how to defend yourself, but also self control…it teaches you life lessons,” Logan said. “You really look up to the instructors like they’re your favourite superhero.”

Both agreed that getting into Tae Kwon Do is something that can help kids deal with bullying, because it teaches you to be true to yourself and not worry about what others may think of you. They may have the skills to defend themselves, but those are only used if they absolutely have to.

Sandison said getting your black belt takes a lot of time and effort, but they aren’t looking for big killers, they are looking for self improvement. Coming back to teach his now grown up students and their kids has been quite a ride, seeing a change in how each of them carry themselves.

“Everyone that is here has put in massive amounts of work,” Sandison said. “We’re more worried about what they’ve been able to personally gained.”