A senior National Poomsae team of eight athletes and two coaches from Australian Taekwondo will contest the World Poomsae Open Challenge in Muju, Korea, from November 3-5.
Almost three decades ago, Tony Paganella and his wife boldly left their corporate lifestyles behind to raise a family in his hometown of Lakes Entrance.
A business and marketing specialist at the time, Paganella saw the move as a fresh start and an opportunity to re-immerse himself in the world of Taekwondo.
His Taekwondo journey began in the late 1980s at Rhee Taekwondo (Lakes Entrance), and later in the Latrobe Valley, with Kim’s Martial Arts Academy.
“In the 1980s, I was a teenager looking to do something in self-defence and Martial Arts movies had inspired me,” Paganella says. “I was fortunate to find this new club in Latrobe Valley, about two hours from where I lived, run by an amazing 8th Dan Master Instructor named Jung Yun Kim.”
By 18 years of age, Paganella had been guided to a Black Belt, then spent a gap year training full-time, before moving to Melbourne.
While he made substantial technical strides during this period, Paganella took some time away from Taekwondo to build a career, completing a Diploma in Business and Marketing and working in various roles across telecommunications, health, and tourism.
But when the time came to return to Lakes Entrance, he knew it was the perfect moment to chase his ultimate dream – opening a Taekwondo club in Lakes Entrance and Bairnsdale.
“I went back in 1995 and saw Master Kim. I asked for his support to start a club in Lakes Entrance. He said, ‘No problem, let’s get it started’.”
As a Black Belt in Taekwondo and Hapkido, Paganella opened a new branch of Kim’s Martial Arts, which is now called Kim’s East Gippsland Taekwondo (popularly known as EGTKD).
EGTKD grew two full-time centres in Lakes Entrance and Bairnsdale after eleven successful years, and good word-of-mouth about the quality of Paganella’s coaching. For 28 years, the club has trained athletes of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, four nights per week.
Paganella has instilled an inclusive culture at EGTKD, encouraging members to view their counterparts as family, joining them on a journey of holistic self-growth.
“We’ve always been an inclusive and very personable club. We are a regional community and extended family with strong mentorship in our coaching.
“My philosophy is about family values and respecting individual authenticity. I remember that when I started training in Taekwondo with Master Kim, he said, ‘Welcome to the family.’ That’s where it all started, and I’m passing that on to the next generation.”
Club members are moulded into leaders both on and off the mats, learning to act honourably and respectfully towards others in their community.
“We want all our black belts to take on the responsibility of what a black belt is. Ultimately, it falls on us to be the front face of how people see Taekwondo and how we treat and engage with people in our local community.”
Paganella’s well-established background in Aboriginal community programs has also fuelled a culturally inclusive environment within the club. For over a decade, Paganella ran Taekwondo classes and physical activities for school children in his capacity as the Sport and Recreation Coordinator and the Physical Activity and Wellbeing Projects Coordinator for the Djillay Ngalu “Healthy Together” consortium of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations in Gippsland (Traditional lands of the Gunaikurnai Peoples).
His time in these roles gave him valuable insights into the rich cultural heritage of Australia’s First Nations peoples and the value Taekwondo can bring to people from all backgrounds.
“Taekwondo helps you to be your best self, and that’s something that applies to all of the great cultures we have in Australia.”
“It’s important to embrace the fact that we have a blend of unique cultures and differences, but in Taekwondo, everyone shares a common desire – to learn and grow in a safe environment. The best way we can do that is by working together.”
The club’s family-oriented and community-minded approach has helped it to maintain a strong and loyal membership base.
“We’re a solid club when it comes to families over the past 28 years, and we’ve now got anywhere between 80 to 120, and sometimes up to 150 students.”
These numbers may be lower than some metro clubs, but they are impressive for a club running two centres out of regional areas containing just 30,000 people.
Members have greatly benefitted from this tight-knit community, receiving personalised coaching that has helped them to excel at their own pace. Indeed, over 150 of EGTKD’s students have obtained Kukkiwon-recognised black belts to date.
The club also offers classes in Hapkido and a traditional line of Korean Karate, allowing members to diversify their Martial Arts skills and knowledge.
From 1998 to 2010, the club was active in major competitions, travelling around the country to mix it with Australia’s best. Three athletes made it onto the Australian team during that period, proudly flying the flag at international events.
“One of those athletes is now an extreme sport (adventure racing) athlete, another is a doctor, and the third is an MMA athlete looking to go Pro. So, from humble beginnings in a little country town, we’ve produced some pretty high-calibre individuals.”
However, medals are far from the club’s only goal. Paganella recognises that most of his students live so remotely that regularly competing in major tournaments is a big ask.
“It’s interesting to see where people end up. At the club, we try to give our athletes the confidence to pursue their passions, whatever they may be.”
The club’s ultimate goal is personal growth, with focused work, self-respect and discipline as its key priorities. EGTKD’s Black Belt students are required to write essays about what that honour means to them, and the values they must uphold as an ambassador of the club and Martial Art.
“Recently, I was reading an essay by one of our junior black belts, a 14-year-old girl. She’s an outstanding young individual and wrote that a black belt means all of the core tenets we’ve been teaching at the club — the tenets of Taekwondo and our code of conduct.
“She said she sees it in everybody she interacts with here, even those not wearing a Black Belt yet, but growing towards one. I’m very proud to have had that sort of influence on her and the rest of the youth at the club. That’s exactly what I try to deliver to the students in terms of leadership development for youth.”
For Paganella, Taekwondo athletes who consistently practice these core values can go far in any path they choose. The club also provides leadership opportunities through traineeships, creating pathways for dedicated members to become Trainee Instructors and encouraging them to work towards professional Taekwondo certifications.
“For many years, I’ve trained our red and black belts to become coaches within our club. Many have transferred their knowledge and skills to various sports and organisations.
“In the last few years, Australian Taekwondo has also provided more opportunities for people in the community to be seen professionally, which is excellent. There are many opportunities for our Black Belts to get recognition of ability and experience that is accredited in Australia and overseas through Kukkiwon.
“It’s hugely important to me as a Senior Instructor, and I also want my students to have the same opportunities. I tell them about those extra qualifications and opportunities out there.”
Led by a 4th Dan Black Belt (and a Black Belt in Hapkido) in Paganella, the club delivers beginner to elite technical instruction to its members in a safe and culturally sensitive environment and always puts their health and wellbeing first.
“When people start with us, I see it as a four-to-five-year partnership with their parents.”
“At the end of the day, the club has become a community service and social enterprise; it’s always paid just enough to keep doing it, but the outcome we strive for isn’t necessarily financial. It’s about providing meaningful service to my community and my family.”
In raising a young family within Taekwondo, Paganella points to his two sons, now living in Melbourne, as a great example of the “extended family” experience the club provides. “My sons don’t have many cousins, but all the older people from the club were like their mentors, aunties, and uncles. People their age were like cousins, and younger students were like their brothers and sisters.
“A sense of connection to others is what people need in life; it is a vital social safety net. We surveyed members over the years and asked people why they started Taekwondo with us, and the social aspect was key.”
That’s why the club is an excellent environment for anyone who wants to give Taekwondo a go, whether shy or outgoing, a star athlete, or someone who doesn’t excel at group sports.
“I’ve seen old parent members from 20-plus years ago who tell me what their kids are doing and how many grandkids they now have. It’s fantastic.”
“I went across the stage last week to receive my MBA with Federation University, and three former students crossed the stage at the same ceremony for their own degrees. That’s brilliant! I get goosebumps just thinking about that because it means I’ve contributed to them working towards something meaningful. “
“If you want to enter competitions, we’ll support you, but our main focus needs to be on well-being, and I hope to keep delivering that to members – old and new!”
EGTKD’s Lakes Entrance Centre is currently available as a venue for visiting Taekwondo club camps. For more information about the packages available, contact Tony Paganella at email@example.com or 0419 315 855.
Melbourne will host the next Kukkiwon courses in late September. The Kukkiwon International Master Course and Kukkiwon Poom / Dan Examiners course are available for members and non-members.