Mr Darren Cooper 6th Dan

In 1984, whilst at school in Grantham, a group of people from the newly opened Tae Kwon Do club put on a demonstration in our sports hall. There was lots of noise and breaking of wood, it looked so impressive. After the demonstration I was talking to my friends and they were trying to persuade me to go along that evening to try it out. I was pretending not to be interested but I already knew that I'd be going along. I had tried a few other martial arts and didn't find anything that stood out so when I told my mother I'd be doing this martial art she rolled her eyes and wondered how long this one would last.

Four of us from school went along to the Guildhall that evening and started training under Mr Malcolm Scholes, who was a third degree black belt. The sessions started off very physical and being with a group of friends we were all pushing each other along. Within weeks the teachers back at school noticed the difference during the circuit training and long distance running. Every three months we'd all meet up to share cars to the gradings in Stamford, as this was the closest venue at the time.

I carried on training until I went to Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham when I had to stop training as I couldn't justify the expense of bus fares and training on my meagre rations as a student. After my gap year I had saved enough to restart my training so went to the club in Nottingham which was run by Mr Ralph Minnott, second degree black belt. The training hall was not overly large and was situated behind one of the local schools, the down side was it subject to the weather - cold nights meant cold floors. Mr Minnott's training sessions were very physical so restarting my training was very frustrating as my mind remembered but my body had forgotten what was involved. So for a few weeks I would be bent double at the side of the hall exhausted and gasping for breath. Slowly the fitness returned and I was back into training. My time with Mr Minnott was short as my education was complete and it was off to find a job.

After a few months unemployed I was lucky to find a job in Eastleigh and started training with Mr Chris Barrett in Winchester, at the time he was a second degree black belt. Training continued until there were a few of us ready for our black belt gradings. We would travel to Andover, Southampton, Bristol Academy, sparring sessions on Sunday, anything for the extra bit of training. Our black belt grading day arrived, 10th December 1990, a complete white out, the north of England cut off by snow drifts and us tentatively driving to Bristol through three to four inches of snow. All this aside the experience of seeing Master Hee Il Cho, eighth degree black belt, taking our grading was the most nerve racking experience I had ever had.

During my many years of training I have entered many tournaments and won the South West of England sparring competitions in 1997 both as a member of a team and individually.

Since passing my black belt I have continued to train with Mr Chris Barrett at Winchester or with Master Paul Donnelly (eigth degree black belt) in Birmingham. Earlier this year (April 2011) I achieved the level of sixth degree black belt.