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Interview with Ondřej Vrábel

Interview with Ondřej Vrábel
Martin Svitek, 8.8.2017 – Ondřej Vrábel is well-known for probably every advanced czech taekwondoist. He used to be one of the main organizers of czech tournaments, now continuing in this work by Sonkal Open and Devil´s Cup. He is also experienced international referee. He followed Theo Šeda in post of chairman of Sonkal taekwondo school few years ago. He is the main instructor of the oldest Sonkal dojang at Černý most for same amount of years. From beginning of sonkal website existence, he is the main creator and "worker" of its content and person who sat for hundreds of hours to add most of the photos and videos. I´ve done few interviews with interesting personalities in past few years, but now I feel that it is time to "come back home" and ask Ondřej about his story and opinions. And maybe in near future I will add one with Vláďa Švanda, another of Sonkal experinced instructors :o)

Ondra, I know that you practice for long time starting as an adult. How it happened that you appeared on Taekwon-do training for the first time?

I think I heard about Taekwon-do for the first time in 1988 or 89 when I saw well-known old TKD document in TV. But I was not able to find a place where Taekwon-do is practiced. So real start of my journey was in September 1992. Taekwondo enrollment leaflet was stuck at main door of our block of flats. Dojang was just few minutes away from where I lived so I called instructors if I may come and what to bring for first training. I was very suprised that my training followed after kids training where gym was really full of kids. But our training for older practicioners was even more crowded. And it was first training of brand new group. But it was beginning of 90´ when everyone wanted to be like action movie star :-D

So how old were you at your first training?

17 and something.

Who were your first teachers?

Miloš Veselý and Láďa Halíček. They alternated in leading classes. Láďa´s trainings were physically harder what may be suprise for those who know Miloš. His tuesday trainings were really tough.

I believe that you met many interesting figures during these long years in Takwondo both nationally and internationally. But who influenced you the most. Who helped to create how you practice, teach and look at Taekwon-do nowadays?

Beside my first teachers mentioned above it is mainly GM Hwang - especially from my I. Dan. It is great to have all the informations from the source. Second most important person is master Rostislav Kaňka. Not only considering technique, but also personality. Next I have to mention Theo Šeda, who led Sonkal for long years. It would be impolite not to mention master Jerzy Jedut from Poland. I´ve participated in few seminars of his and eventhough we may have different opinion about few techniques, discussions with him are very inspirational. He practice for more than 40 years and raised many world and European champions. And there are much more benefits from each seminar.

You´ve mentioned master Kaňka, whom I asked for interview, but we had to let it be for future because of his full time schedule. That is also why I ask this - may you describe briefly what you respect about him and how he infuenced you?

There are many things after long years we know each other. For sure for his technical knowledge and ability, he still practices on high level. He still infuences me through our discussion about training methods, techniques and also about tournament rules. He still again and again suprises me with really simple solutions to problems, I always say to myself "so easy, why didn´t I make this up also?". And I have to mention his diligence that brought him where he is both in Taekwon-do and in work.

Did you train also other martial arts or organized sport in general? If so, do you consider it reasonable to add some other activities to Taekwon-do?

I never took part in other martial art training, I´ve only practiced soccer as kid. I don´t think that soccer has any benefit for Taekwon-do skills. But in general other activities , especially in children, are good for developing colourful movement patterns, conditioning and mental skills.

Everyone who knows you a bit is aware about your passion for cycling - both active and passive. How this happened?

Bicycle was the best way to commute in place where I´ve lived as kid (Liboc). As I´ve got older I started to explore further. Becoming adult (and starting with Taekwon-do) was my peak as cyclist as I explored Switzerland, France and Italy. I had enough time as school pupil. I dedicated myself more to Taekwondo in 2000 and time started to be more valuable, so my cycling was limited. I am again trying to cycle more in last 4-5 years, but kilometers per year are lower than I would want.

Do you think that cycling is good to add sport for Taekwon-do?

As a recreational riding why no. But as intensive sport it is to cyclic, to one-sided. It is great way how to clean one´s head for me these days. Cycling is good theme for thinking for us - it does not forgive. If you don´t ride, you won´t be good. There is very linear correlation of per year km and your achievements. Who has 20 thousands per year is better than the one with 10 thousands.

Back to Taekwon-do. Name 3 accomplishments you appreciate the most.

My personal achievment is reaching I. Dan. I was just hungry to learn something, to improve when I started. But as time went on I wanted to reach "high" belts (blue, red...). I´ve reached my I. dan exam after 4 years of practice. Another succes is that we have many skillful students in Sonkal who reached European´s and World´s medals. Last, but not least as I consider it the most important - Sonkal is pretty big school with high quality black belts (most of them practicing more than 10 years!), has good name both home and abroad.

So at the beginning you wanted to know how to fight then became motivated by technical knowledge and belts. What is your strongest motivation in present?

Everyone needs motivation and positive one is the best. But I need to say it should be positive motivation that lies inside of you. I pick up goal and want to reach it. Great motivation for me are Dan test, but my next exam will be the last one what makes me a bit sad. Therefore I try to realize various projects that motivates me also. The longest one was taking pictures of all patterns for our website. It took 9 years and now I feel it is time to improve it for more profesional level. I want to add one more "suprise" for individual techniqes what will make project even greater. I also enjoy being part of making our promo videos - we have started two years ago and wanted to continue also this year!

How much time you spent by your personal training and how it differs from 15 years ago?

It is easy math, but one has to look at difference between free time of high school student and one who normály works and lead Taekwon-do school. I used to train 5-6 time per week and not only for my training when I started. Now it is 1-2 hours per week and I try to add weight lifting twice a week regional seminars and if possible - cycling. So to practice whole body with colourful aproach.

What do you focus on the most in these 1-2 hours of training and which parts of Taekwon-do you don´t consider so important for you nowadays?

I spend most of time at patterns and fundamental movements. It is my way of understanding Taekwon-do. Fundamental exercises and patterns are the main legacy of General Choi and tool how to spread our martial art. I focus on theory of the other parts of Taekwon-do -studying videos from tournaments, training methods etc. I also feel my referee career improves me a lot - there is always few very interesting competitors whose style and movement I may study. And of course I see plenty of mistakes, some of them very interesting to think about ;o)

What differences do you see - both positive and negative - comparing present Taekwon-do and Taekwon-do during 1990´s?

It is hard to compare, I was very young, without experience in teaching. I look at Taekwon-do from absolutely different perspective now. But I think that there is huge difference in approach to training. Present has too many possibilities, it is so easy to say I go to cinema today or theatre, concert or pick whatever you want reason why to skip training. On the other hand there is also more possibilities in Taekwon-do and more proffesional trainings. Of course I had good teachers, but each sport activity changes and Taekwon-do as young martial art even faster. Instructors has deeper and more complex understanding. Moreover internet brings us interesting informations and videos about training across huge distances. I wish this and future generations of students to practice diligently and try to learn as much as possible during school years. Finishing school time becomes very rare commodity and time for training si more limited.

Is there something you wish to change in your past Taekwon-do career? Maybe it would help young Taekwon-doists.

Unfortunately one sees his mistakes afterwards. I would like to attend more seminars with General Choi, I had chance to take part in two (had to skip one because of "administrative reasons"). Now I see that even 100 would´t be enough for questions I would have now. That is also why I ask GM Hwang a lot, not to regret later. And that is the message - use your chance. We have 10 regional seminars in Prague per year. What will you do when there will not be next one?

What is your receipt for relaxing after hard work in your job or for Taekwon-do?

I don´t have the only way. It depends from what I need to rest from. Sometimes I relax well by leading training, sometimes taking part in good seminar or just kicking pad. From nonTaekwon-do activities going to gym works well, but cycling is the best. I think motto " to love it you need to hate it" works well for it. I hate dead wind, hills, broken road etc...but also love it so much, that I do it again and enjoy. Relaxing by sport works well as our bodies are made so. There is no better feeling than that tiredness after sport. Another way is to watch movies, serials or to take a photographs.
So everything during what you are able to "switch off" works.

Czech Taekwon-do is known world-wide for its quality. But is there something you wish to change or improve?

There are many possibilities, but point is if my opinion will be regarded as correct by majority. I think that quality of I.-III. Dan tests is decreasing. One of the reasons is that Taekwon-do is getting bigger and more commercial. I want to see testing system revised to have again real tests with complex approach. I think Dan exams should be harder to give black belts its value!

Please be more factual, what would you change?

I miss test´s complexity. It happens that exam is too quick even when number of participants is not high. My idea is to have longer and harder testing. With testing all of training programme. If we split work for teams of commitee members it may be more profound test, but still not so long. For example one member would test patterns and self-defence, another two special techniques and power breaking and one theory.
I see people without correct kicks or with big mistakes in basic stances passing the test. Black belt does not need to be Superman, but should have its quality.

You have insight into international Taekwon-do as you took part in big events as referee. How did this activity of yours started and is there something you want to see changed in international Taekwon-do?

It started in 2000 before Euro in Scotland. Zbyněk Mácha participating as Czech international referee needed someone to go instead of him and I was available. I took part in 17 European championship and I think it is more than the most experienced national team mebers. I do it as I enjoy the work and think it is way how to improve quality of championships a bit. Things I want to see changed would take another long interview, but I have to say that this year´s European champiship in Liverpool was step in right direction and hope championships in following years will continue in such direction.

Where do you see yourself, as Taekwondoist, in 10 years?"

Foremost I see myself in dojang. I see myself understanding Taekwon-do, its techniques, better. And I want to say " we did plenty of good things in Sonkal, it were great 10 years."

Where do you see Sonkal, school you are chairman of, in 10 years?

Ten years is long time to foresee. I want us to still be school of high standard or even of higher. And maybe much bigger than today. I think we have the potential. I will be happy to see same people as today with mutual feeling that passed 10 years were worth of all the effort.

I wish you and Sonkal all ideas mentioned to come true.

Thank you for suggestive interview.

Martin Svitek, IV. Dan, Sonkal Praha
The website visitor's coments
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chrobi (12.9.2017 – 20:04)
Dikes *OK*
snablik (1.9.2017 – 10:32)
Super rozhovor :)
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