An austere, ‘carve away the inessentials’ approach to Taekwondo earned Barbara Brand gold in Goyang
GOYANG, Korea (Apr 24, 2022) – Beginners like to keep adding to their Taekwondo. Masters take the opposite approach.
Case in point: Barbara Brand, who won gold in the Recognized Individual Female Under-65 category at the Goyang 2022 World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships.
“I really enjoy the sculpture aspect of it,” said Team USA’s newly crowned champ. “Each time you practice, you try and make the movement more and more clear - you try to take away the extra movement to leave the most beautiful part.”
That advice may surprise beginner and intermediate students of the art - who commonly want to keep learning techniques, while adding more flair, flash and flourish.
But they would be wise to heed the voice of this 63-year old, 7th dan, who currently teaches in Sacramento, California.
Taking a chisel to Taekwondo carves the art down to its essential core, she advises.
“I love to deconstruct the Poomsae: I do one technique at a time to make it as clean as possible, and turn that into a line of clean techniques,” she continued. “Crisp and sharp!”
Brand should know: She has been practicing the sport since 1979. And now, in her silver years, she is on a gold run.
Brand has been a member of Team USA’s Poomsae squad seven times. Prior to 2020, her top competitive achievements in top-tier Poomsae competition had been three bronzes.
But that year – in the midst of the unprecedented global pandemic that closed down not just dojangs and competitions, but entire nations – she captured her first World Championship gold medal, in cyber competition.
Would she be able repeat that feat, live, in Goyang? For Brand, that was not even a question.
“Sometimes, people say, ‘I hope I will do well,’ or ‘I try to do my best,’” she said. “But this time, for me, it was, ‘I am going to Korea to win a gold medal.’ Period.”
The achievement of two consecutive golds puts her at the pinnacle of the game. With nothing more left to win, she is retiring from elite competing to focus on a new challenge: elite coaching.
“This was my last competition,” she announced. “I have joined the leadership of USA Taekwondo so that I can help develop their Poomsae programs and help the next generation of Poomsae athletes achieve their dreams through educational platforms, training opportunities and superbly organized competitive events.”
That will be an expansion of her current coaching. And her coaching pays off: One of her students, Anthony Do, won the Freestyle Individual Male Under 17 silver.
“She is very attentive to detail and she makes sure I am at my best and hit everything I need to be at my best,” Do said. “And she is very fun to be around.”
Of course, retiring from competition does not mean hanging up her black belt and dobok: Brand will continue her personal training.
“It sounds like a cliché, but this is like a fire inside,” she said. “You get up in the morning, lace up your shoes, go for a run and start kicking and you feel fantastic.”
While recognized Poomsae are set templates of choreography that all practitioners must follow, top-level players naturally develop a personal style. What defines Brand’s Taekwondo?
“My style is very grounded, sinking into the mats with my stances - I feel that if my stances are stable and strong I can highlight the hand technique,” she said. “For the kicking technique, I try to kick as high as possible and at the same time, try to focus on accuracy. I try to put it all together with a rhythm that will create a flow that can be appreciated not just by the referee, but by me as I perform.”
Now in her sixth decade, Brand is slim, fit and buzzing with energy. Her condition is testament to the long-term engagement that Poomsae offers to the Taekwondo player who will, inevitably, have to cease Kyorugi at a certain age.
“I will never be younger than I am now,” she joked. “One of the wonderful things about Taekwondo Poomsae is that it is available to athletes from a very young age to 100.”
The physical benefits include balance, flexibility, stamina and core strength, she says. The non-physical benefit that Poomsae training offers is the ceaseless search for self-perfection.
“Those days when we get it all feeling just right - those days are just magical,” she said. “We get the equivalent of a ‘runners high’ - an elated feeling.”
Even at her level of skill, Brand admits that does not happen with predictability or consistency.
“It is not everyday - just like most things, not everything falls into place every time you train,” she said. “So we chase that day when every technique feels absolutely superb.”