28 September 2022

Matthew Summerfield: Australia's future Taekwondo star

A few weeks ago, on the mats of Sofia’s Arena Armeec, before a gathering of the world’s finest young fighters and coaches, Matthew Summerfield broke Australian Taekwondo's 14-year junior medal drought. 

Arriving in the Bulgarian capital as a quietly confident underdog, few could have predicted that he’d blitz his way to the semi-finals of the World Junior Taekwondo Championships, returning to Perth with a bronze medal draped around his neck. 

It seems fitting that the last time an Aussie won a medal at this prestigious event, Summerfield’s favourite childhood movie had just been released. 

The year was 2008 and the movie was Kung Fu Panda, a family comedy featuring an array of acrobatic striking and important lessons about discipline and respect. 

It proved to be the spark that ignited an intense passion for martial arts, but Summerfield’s parents weren’t so keen on it at first. 

“As a kid I always loved Kung Fu Panda and told my parents I wanted to do Kung Fu,” he says. 

“My parents didn’t love the idea of martial arts until a Taekwondo club called French’s Martial Arts opened at my primary school. My nana came along with me one day to try it out over ten years ago, and I haven’t looked back since.” 

Summerfield learned his craft at French’s until 2019, the year he reached the quarter finals of the World Taekwondo Cadet Championships in Tashkent, Russia. He bowed out of that tournament after a close contest with the eventual silver medallist, Feng-Yin Chang. 

Although he was disappointed not to make the podium, it was a valuable experience and a clear indication he was on the right track. 

“I learned so much there that helped me heading into this year’s event,” he says. 

That same year, Summerfield began training at Rawlins Martial Arts. He was nervous about the switch in the beginning, but he quickly found his feet and began to refine his skills.

The club, and his head coach Charles Rawlins, had a plan to take his game to the next level. 

“Matt has been training at my club, under my personal guidance and mentoring, for over three years now,” Rawlins says. 

“He originally started training with my good friend, Steele French, when he was very young. Even then, both Steele and myself could see that there was something special about him. He always wanted to learn more and pushed himself harder at everything in Taekwondo training.

“He would always ask countless questions, to the point that you [would almost] wish he would just shut up.” 

Countless hours of drills, sparring and meticulous preparation, made Summerfield a well-oiled machine. However, he feels that one of the biggest leaps he made at Rawlins Martial Arts is strengthening his mental toughness. 

In the past, he was prone to letting his emotions get the better of him. It was an issue that had previously held him back in competitions and even in training.

“[Since] making the move to Rawlins Martial Arts, I have become a much stronger fighter both physically and mentally,” Summerfield says.

“I have learned to control myself in the ring as that was an issue I had for many years. 

“I have learned how to be coached and I am so grateful for my teammates, who always push me at training sessions. I could not have gotten to where I am today without their support.”

Summerfield boarded the plane to Europe knowing that he was now a more complete fighter, physically and mentally, and believing he could go far, if he put it all together on the day. But as he touched down and fight day drew closer, he admits nerves began to set in. That is, until it was time to do what he does best. 

“Heading into a competition of that status, you have to be confident you can mix it with the best in the world. 

“Leading up to fight day, I was nervous as the pressure was higher than ever, but once I was on the mats, I was hit with a rush of confidence and knew I could make the podium.” 

Summerfield duly started the tournament with a bang, dominating Portugal’s Tiago Reis with a victory via referee’s stoppage in round two. 

He had a tougher fight on his hands in the round of 16, against multiple-time Sofia Open and Swedish Open champion, Stefan Stamenov. Summerfield split the first two rounds with the Bulgarian, in a gritty contest, before pulling away in the decider. 

He feels that the finer skills and tactics he’d practiced at his club, and under the guidance of Australian Taekwondo’s coaching staff, led by Ali Khalil, helped him over the line. 

Summerfield says he’d also been keeping a close eye on his teammates’ fights throughout the tournament, which gave him great insights into the best ways to expose other fighters’ weaknesses. 

“Spending time with like-minded athletes was by far the highlight as they lift the energy. You are all there with the same goal in mind. 

“Watching the fights in different divisions taught me many things about fight styles and athletes’ strengths and weaknesses. Watching other competitors fight shows me what to do and what not to do. It also gives me ideas on what is working and different techniques to try.” 

In the quarter finals, Summerfield had too many attacking tools for Multi European Games silver medallist, Leon Hrgota. He won both rounds comfortably with a string of diverse and well-timed attacks, securing a place on the coveted World Championships podium. 

His semi-final opponent was the highly-rated Albanian Open champion, Angelo Mangione. While Mangione brought Summerfield’s brilliant run to an end, it was the Italian’s toughest fight of the tournament – which he eventually won. 

Summerfield and Mangione were dead even at the end of the scheduled two rounds, with Mangione edging the decider. 

Despite the loss, clinching a bronze and coming so close to defeating the gold medallist, has proven to Summerfield that he belongs at the very top of the sport. 

“A medal at worlds is something I have dreamed of for years.”

“Being calm, confident, and sticking to the gameplan Master Rawlins, Coach Ali, and all the other coaches and support staff in Sofia set for me, is something I’m proud of.”  

“I feel I fought methodically, which worked in my favour throughout the day and led me to the bronze.” 

After a job well done, Summerfield met up with his club teammates at a tournament in Malaysia and reflected on a whirlwind few days. Many more celebrations followed when he returned to Perth.

“Celebrating with the people I have been working with for years was the best feeling.” 

“I have had many celebratory lunches with friends and family, and all my teachers congratulated me when they saw me back at school. It has been a great feeling knowing that everyone is so proud of me.” 

Not to mention Summerfield’s mother, Kate Elizabeth, who shared her delight with his incredible achievement on Australian Taekwondo’s social media. 

“I am so incredibly proud of my son,” she said. “We have trained long and hard at Rawlins Taekwondo to reach this level. To be [in the] top four fighters in the world at 68kg and under is incredible.”

“The hours of work this young man has put in make me proud to be his mum.”

“His support base is incredible. Thank you to Ali [Khalil] and the other coaches over in Bulgaria for stepping up and coaching him. It takes a village to make a great athlete.” 

Far from coasting on his recent success, Summerfield is already back in training and setting new goals for himself. 

“Although a bronze medal is an achievement I’m proud of, the goal is to become world number one,” he explains. 

“Since coming back home, I have been motivated and pushed harder at training to develop myself as an athlete in order to continue chasing the dream of becoming an Olympic gold medallist.” 

Summerfield’s preparations for the President’s Cup, in Tahiti, have been in full swing, and he’s keen to consolidate his position as a fighter to watch.  

But he still pinches himself when he thinks of that little boy, so enthralled by Kung Fu Panda, desperate to give martial arts a go. 

“Looking back, Bulgaria was a huge steppingstone in the pursuit of becoming the professional athlete ‘little me’ dreamed of.” 

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