21 March 2024

​​Clubs in Focus: Tierney’s Taekwondo Academy

At the age of six, Amy Tierney – now the Owner and Head Instructor at Tierney’s Taekwondo Academy in NSW – discovered Taekwondo through a lucky break. Originally from Ingleburn in the south-west of Sydney, Tierney attempted to take up boxing at nearby Campbelltown PCYC, only to be told by an instructor that “girls don’t box”. 

Fortunately, Grandmaster Fay Shacklock – an 8th Dan Black Belt and a distinguished figure in Taekwondo in Australia – overheard the exchange and invited the young girl to try her hands and feet at Taekwondo instead. She never looked back.  

Years later, having grown up to become a Taekwondo instructor, Amy Tierney’s martial arts journey took another unexpected yet welcomed turn. It all began when she was approached to help a couple of kids who were being bullied by their peers. Keen to make a difference, just as Grandmaster Shacklock had once done for her, Tierney offered the youngsters informal Taekwondo lessons on Saturday mornings. 

“Providing them with an extra skill set gave them a confidence boost more than anything,” she explains.  

But Tierney soon discovered that her passion for Taekwondo could have a positive impact on a much wider group.  

“People just started randomly coming along to try Taekwondo on Saturdays,” she recalls with a laugh. “So, the whole thing grew from there. I investigated nearby areas that didn't have a lot of Taekwondo happening, and we ended up in the little country town of Appin on the outskirts of Campbelltown. The only sports available to kids were football, soccer, netball and dance, and you needed to travel 20 minutes to find any martial arts.” 

Rapid growth 

Tierney’s Taekwondo Academy opened its doors in Appin six years ago, with Amy Tierney and her father Peter Smith (also the Club Manager) launching the Martial Arts school they would essentially run together.  

Since then, the family-owned and operated club has provided wonderful opportunities for members of the local community to have fun and improve their fitness through self-discipline. Training sessions at the academy range from one hour to one-and-a-half hours, covering Martial Arts skills, self-defence techniques, women’s self-defence, sparring and classes for disability and learning difficulties, such as cerebral palsy, scoliosis, ADHD and many others. 

And of course, it’s a club built around a strong anti-bullying ethos. As for those kids that inspired Tierney to step up her teaching in the first place, they still train at the academy to this day. The venue may have changed, but the inclusive and supportive environment certainly remains. 

“We’ve come a long way since our Saturday mornings, in Ingleburn. Now we operate out of a shop front right next to Appin Public School, so you can see us practising Taekwondo as you walk past,” Tierney says. 

“We had around 20 members, then when we really established ourselves we grew quite rapidly to 100-odd members, and we still have over 80 active members that train consistently on the books throughout the year.” 

The club has enjoyed remarkable success at a competitive level too. Tierney's Taekwondo Academy had eight of its athletes represent NSW in the Australian Taekwondo National Championships in Perth last October – including Damien Cakovski, who has been training for four years and has recently received his black belt, and Hayley Nonenmacher, who has three years of training and holds a Cho Dan Bo. 

“We’re a small but mighty club, and to make it to nationals is a big feat on its own, so coming away with national champions from such a tiny team is quite a good ratio,” Tierney says proudly. 

The coaching team has grown from the early days as well. Tierney now oversees a coaching staff alongside the dedicated Shacklock, who provides guidance to the academy thanks to her wealth of knowledge and experience. 

As part of its evolution the club has also embraced technology, using a back-end digital system for membership management, building a social media presence through Facebook and Instagram, and taking advantage of other digital media tools such as Canva for marketing and Xero for financial management. 

Not that it’s all been smooth sailing. Like so many community-based organisations around the country, Tierney’s Taekwondo Academy was forced to adapt to restrictions throughout the pandemic. During the Covid lockdown period, the club demonstrated its resilience by quickly transitioning to virtual classes and maintaining close to 95 per cent membership in the process. 

“That was a tough time for everybody, I’m thankful we were able to survive,” Tierney reveals. “We had to completely change our training techniques to enter the digital age with cameras, microphones and a massive TV screen set up so we could see every single person on Zoom while running ‘normal’ classes from the dojang.” 

Community connection 

For two years running Tierney’s Taekwondo Academy has been named a ‘Community Club of the Year’ finalist. And it’s no wonder given the proactive role the club plays in providing meaningful support to its local community through various events and initiatives – including Anzac Day ceremonies, a demonstration at the annual Christmas Carols performance, providing sponsorship and support to organisations such as Youth Solutions in the Macarthur region and Country Hope which provides family centred support services to country children diagnosed with cancer and other life threatening illnesses, and  recently launching a participation scholarship for a lower level yellow belt to blue belt. 

The club has also raised funds to purchase an automated external defibrillator (AED) – an expensive machine used to control heart fibrillation – which will be available outside the shop front for use by the whole community.  

“It’s very humbling to be noticed for what you do in the community. We are very much a part of the furniture here. We often get called the ‘little club that could’, purely for the fact we’ve got a lot of spirit, everyone knows we give it everything and we’re always really friendly about it,” Tierney says.  

“Without the community you don’t have a base. I encourage the idea that we need to be a family-oriented club, it’s great to bring in as many families as possible and see them training together. But it’s also very important to offer something to the community in general. At the same time, being a conscientious person makes you a well-rounded Martial Artist, so being able to provide that example to people and to the kids we train is a good thing.” 

Looking ahead, Tierney has high hopes for the club, the sport, and the community alike.  

“I have big ambitions for the future. I would love to see some of our elite athletes make it all the way to world selections. Community wise, I would love to see participation numbers continue to grow, especially in schools around the area to allow for grassroots development.” 

On that note, Tierney has some sage advice for anyone interested in opening a Taekwondo studio in a small regional town. 

“Taekwondo is an art of hand and foot; you don’t necessarily need a lot of equipment or resources to teach a Martial Art. What you really need is the knowledge base, and make sure you do your research.” 

You can follow Tierney’s Taekwondo Academy on Facebook. 

[ All images supplied by Tierney’s Taekwondo Academy ]

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