27 March 2023

Dream, plan and act: Dongmin Cha reflects on his ambitions for Australian Taekwondo

Legendary Heavyweight, Dongmin Cha, is one of the most decorated athletes in the history of Taekwondo.

As a dual Olympic medallist and champion, with further gold medals at the Asian Championships and East Asian Games, and silver at the World Championships, the Korean has won most major honours a Taekwondo athlete could dream of.

While he still pinches himself when he looks back on his storied career, Cha says his mission in the sport is far from over.

"When I was an athlete, I was around so many other athletes and we always spoke about our passion for Taekwondo," Cha says.

"At that time, I thought to myself 'when I'm retired, I want to contribute to spreading Taekwondo the right way, the traditional way'.

"Taekwondo has changed a lot as a sport, but I've always wanted to pass on my knowledge and experience using the traditional concepts of Taekwondo."

Cha set about spreading the sport after retiring on a high at the Rio Olympics, where he captured a bronze medal in 2016.

He joined Kukkiwon's Global Dispatch program, where a select group of 56 Taekwondo Masters teach and share Korea's Taekwondo culture in 56 countries around the world.

Cha's first experience within the program was on secondment to Taekwondo Ireland, where he assisted in building Irish athletes' skillset and the sport's broader profile in the country.

But he's had his eye on Australia for some time after visiting the country for several Open competitions. Cha had always admired Australia's sporting culture, and when the opportunity came to work with Australian Taekwondo, he grabbed it with both hands.

"I was previously working with Taekwondo Ireland, which was a good experience, but when the opportunity came to go to Australia, I was very keen to relocate there because I saw great potential, both physically and technically," says Cha.

Australian Taekwondo worked closely with the Korean Embassy to secure Cha as a Kukkiwon Dispatch Taekwondo Master. When he arrived, he was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the sport here.

"I already had a strong impression of the standard of Taekwondo in Australia and the standard of high-performance coaches and players."

"The system here is also quite well structured. Not many countries have all of those things."

"When I saw these foundations in place, it was really motivating, and I wanted to help Australian Taekwondo to keep moving in a positive direction."

To that end, Cha has played a critical role in the development of Australian Taekwondo's junior and cadet athletes, laying the foundations for a successful run at the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games.

Based in Canberra, Cha has been an integral part of Australian Taekwondo's Performance Pathway Program as one of its National Coaches, as well as visiting states to run training sessions and National Development Seminars for Australian Taekwondo members.

These seminars have been attended by hundreds of athletes and coaches around the country, assisting and strengthening both state training programs and sections of the Pathways Program.

One of Cha's primary aims in these sessions is to help athletes perfect core skills. His background in physical education has served him well in breaking down key concepts.

"A lot of it is about focusing on the basics. Basic skills that make a great athlete," Cha explains.

"I individualise my coaching based on the athletes in front of me, and tailor my instructions to build on their strengths and attributes.

"I see my role as a collaboration with Australian coaches and providing a bit of seasoning. Australia's Taekwondo athletes have coaches who have done a lot of work with them, and I always try to coordinate with those coaches. I look at each individual and their coach and see how I can add to that.

"I don't like running sessions like lectures or solo seminars. I always invite the coaches to do it together. When I leave, I want the coaches to have an idea of what direction we can go together."

This approach is also helping to further strengthen the links between Australian Taekwondo Performance Pathways and state organisations, which Cha says is vital to increasing our depth of talent.

"The skill level of the athletes is quite varied between different states. Some are very good, high performers, while some kids have high potential but don't know what to aim for. So they have the basics of Taekwondo, but sometimes they are missing a few details and I assist them to correct those things.

"I've visited different states and I think it's very important to standardise the level across the country. The coaching skills here are very good and so are the athletes. The standard of Australian Taekwondo is quite high already. It's geographically a big country, with states that are quite far away, so once we are all going in the same direction together, I think the standard will improve dramatically.

"Some athletes travel to other states, some are trained here, others are trained there. So some people are going in different directions and I'm always careful when I'm teaching athletes. I don't want to make extreme changes to an athlete's style. Going in the same direction with all coaches is very important."

Cha has also been travelling with Australian Taekwondo's Pathways Team as a coach for international events such as the 2022 Korean Open, where he was awarded best coach at the competition.

"I enjoyed it and I could see the potential of Australian Taekwondo on those trips. But we have to keep working harder to achieve brilliant results in major competitions in the future."

"They have great potential and we need to provide lots of support to everyone so they can fulfil it."

Cha is confident that the juniors and cadets can achieve big results in the future, and he says Australia's senior athletes are extremely lucky to be guided by Taekwondo NPC Head Coach, Seokhun Lee.

“Seokhun Lee is a brilliant coach. He's bringing great wisdom and experience to Australian Taekwondo at the senior level, and I believe that we will see Aussie athletes on the podium in Paris."

"While Seokhun works with the senior athletes, I'm focusing on the juniors and cadets, and helping Australia's coaches bring them through for big results at Brisbane 2032."

Cha says Australia's Taekwondo stars should dream big and with a home Olympics on the horizon, he has a simple message regarding what it takes to become a great champion.

"It's very simple. An Olympic medal can sometimes look like an unattainable goal, but athletes have to dream, plan and act."

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