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  • Writer's pictureShreya Shah

Anniversary Edition: Kicking to Success with International Taekwondo Players Swaraj, Purva & Ruchika

Welcome to our conclusive interview of #AnniversaryWeek today! We have the pleasure of sitting down with three exceptional taekwondo players who have been making waves in the international martial arts scene. Please welcome Purva Dixit, Swaraj Shinde And Ruchika Bhave, all representing the prestigious MBTA (Maruti Bhairavnath Taekwondo Academy). Thank you all for joining us today!

Q1. Let's start with some background information. How did you get into taekwondo, and what attracted you to pursue it seriously?

Purva: My elder brother was into taekwondo and he was travelling places to play matches. My mother has been a sports person too. Initially the opportunity of travelling places really fascinated me. So I decided to join sports. My mother also wanted me to be a sports person as she had to leave her dreams due to circumstances. So I decided to give it a shot and joined taekwondo. Initial many years almost from 2000 to 2008 I was without any major success. The first big leap came to me in 2009 when I won my first nationals and since then there was no looking back. The best part in this journey was the motivation by our coach always saying that success delayed is not a failure.

Purva Dixit in blue, above.

Swaraj: When I was a kid, I used to be quite restless. I was very energetic and couldn't sit at one place quietly. So my dad wanted to channelise my energy into something positive and useful. He enrolled me for Taekwondo. But still the energy wasn't getting invested in right direction. I used play and at the very first match, I would end up losing. I was playing tournaments but was without success for long. I was almost on the verge of quitting and focusing on studies when my coach asked me not to quit before giving my last and best shot, Because if I quit, I would never be able to fight back a tough situation in life. He advised me to practice more and take part in the Inter-Academy Tournaments. In that tournament I won a gold medal. That tournament boosted my confidence, but yet I was in dual mind, whether I would be able to repeat the same performance or not. My coach however convinced met to take part in district tournament as last tournament, and then I could take decision. I won gold again at district, and then at states. This gave me a push to take part and get the exposure of Nationals. That is when everyone including me realised that there is something in me for the sport and that I cannot drop it.

Swaraj Shinde in red, above.

Ruchika: For me taekwondo came in my life as an extra curricular activity. My parents wanted me to take up a sport that’ll help me in self defence. I started practicing Taekwondo back in school when I was a 5 year old. And now it has become my passion my life. First few years it was just a game for me. Achieving various levels of belts from white belt to black belt was the target. But everything changed when I won my first gold in tournament. Since then I have even left counting the medals won (laughs). The game even has helped me in academics. It helped me get appreciated as best sports student as well.

Ruchika Bhave above.

Q2. How did you feel when you became an international taekwondo player, representing your country on a global stage?

Purva: Honestly, it was fun and indeed it was an overwhelming feeling when I got to represent India at internationals. It was kind of a mixed feeling, proud and anxious and overall a very good experience.

Ruchika: Initially there was a lot of pressure. Every athlete has it. But after representing internationally 2-3 times, the pressure and the anxiety reduced.

Q3. What does a typical day of training look like for you? And what is secret of consistent performance?

Purva: As far as training myself is concerned, when we are not preparing for tournaments a two hours session on a daily basis is enough. But when it comes to preparing for tournaments we train almost for 6-7 hours a day. Back home, I would train for two hours regularly. And I think it comes out naturally once you form a habit. Moreover, I have a good coach who really supports us through everything. About performing, I was always passionate about playing Taekwondo and I never thought of losing or winning. I just wanted to do better every day. I looked at my own self as my own rival and I always wanted to outdo myself. And I think that was it, I always wanted to do better that.

Swaraj: My typical day is very much planned. I start at 5am. I train from 6 to 7am. I reach home at around 7:30. I would rest for an hours time and head to the gym around 8:30. After a work out of two hours, I dedicate my time towards college. Most of the times I would train in the evening from 6 to 8. After completing the day full of activities at 10:30 its bed time.

Q4. How do you balance physical training with mental conditioning to stay at the top of your game?

Swaraj: Physical training and mental conditioning, both are equally important for an athlete to perform well. Physical training keeps you consistent and helps you stay at the top while mental conditioning helps to control your body in order to keep the consistency that physical training needs. Mental conditioning is more tougher than physical training because our mental condition keeps fluctuating according to situation and it can affect the performance. It is not a one-day process. You have to keep on thinking positively even though there might be other thoughts that can affect the game. You have to keep on training yourself to think that every thing is going to be fine in the end and every thing happens for the best.

Purva: Like I said before, I never thought of winning or losing and that gave strength somewhere to perform better. Every athlete is anxious and afraid of losing, but I always thought of improving myself and I enjoyed playing Taekwondo, thoroughly! Even I was always afraid, anxious, conscious about how I would perform. But before I stepped into the court I used to I try & hide it by doing some silly things which made me happy and helped with my feelings. And then after stepping into the ring, I couldn’t help but think of myself as the king. No matter I win, I lose, I'll be the king for myself. And I always had a thought that I don't want to step out of that ring with regrets that I could have done better.

Q5. What has been the most memorable competition or match of your career, and why?

Purva: Every fight of mine has been memorable in its own way. But then, I remember when I went for my first senior nationals. As it was my very first senior national, I was very anxious. Everybody around me was senior for me. Usually in Taekwondo there are three rounds, two minutes each and in between we get a break for a minute or a half. Seems very little during the fight. And in the first round, my opponent was leading with nine points. And I was far behind her. I was very afraid. I had lost all hopes. And I started thinking that nothing can happen now. But there was my brother, who was sitting in the corner cheering me up. He told me "Calm down, You'll win. Just do what you always do". And that little sentence boosted my confidence a lot. And after that by end of the match I was leading with 10 points and I won gold in that tournament.

Ruchika: My most memorable competition was when I was representing nationals for the first time. I had won straight golds in district and states. So I wanted gold at nationals too. I was very desperate and dedicated. At the finals, after the match was over, the score was shown by the referees. My opponent had won. In fraction of seconds I was dejected. I was so focused on match that I did not even know the scores. But just when this emotional roller coaster was going on inside my head, the referees prompted that the scores were interchanged, my scores were given to my opponent, and my opponent’s scores were given to me. So they reversed the whole process and told me that I had won the fight. I was overjoyed. It was unbelievable after the turmoil that I had, it was like a dream come true, and that is one of my most memorable competitions.

Q6. How do you stay focused and maintain composure during high-pressure matches?

Ruchika: Athletes tend to get pressurised while going to matches. My parents and my coaches usually told me that my opponent is also going through the same pressure that I am going through. The opponents have also prepared just equally as we have so it’s better to focus on our efforts and our practice rather than to get intimidated and get pressurised because the more we get pressurised, the more are the chances of losing. Instead of getting anxious, I was always advised of thinking that how I can win that particular match. The biggest lesson that I learnt is to be optimistic through all these times.

Swaraj: I believe the pressure is what we put on ourselves. It is on us, how much do we pressurise ourselves. If we keep on focusing on the thought that the opponent is very strong, has better experience, & what will be the outcome of the match. We disturb the mental peace that we have and reduce the ability of thinking about winning. But instead if we Focus on how we can win the match, how much are we prepared and be optimistic we can increase of chances of winning. Ultimately winning and losing is a part of game and it is not an our hand. The only thing that we can control is going to be our performance, so if we focus on that we only perform good.

Q7. Swaraj, can you share an instance where you faced tough competition and what you learned from that experience?

Swaraj: I indeed faced a very very tough competition, not with another opponent but against myself. I was having national games silver medal. During Asian Games selection, I was focusing a lot on getting a gold medal. I had taken a lot of pressure of performance. Due to that pressure, I just could not perform properly. And that was when I realised that we always get what we deserve and as just much as we have prepared for. Forcing things is just going to make the journey difficult.

Q8. Purva, I want to know that you practiced only for five days, and won a gold at Nepal South Asian Games. How did you do that?

Purva: I'm glad that you know about it. During that time, I was at a point of life where I had faced a lot of struggle in sport. And at a point where I wanted to leave Taekwondo. And just then there was this upcoming tournament, South Asian Games. The trials were coming in five days. My coach suggested me participate in it. I was very negative about it. I didn't want to go for it as I was not prepared. My coach called me to meet. I have been playing Taekwondo from the year 2000. This tournament was in 2019. When I met him he told me to put my 19 years of experience at stake and practice for whatever days were in hand. He said that from whatever I have learned until today, I have to just apply it by being calm. I trained for those five days with full zest & I went for trials. I got selected. I went for the South Asian Games. And the moment I stepped inside the ring, I had that vibe that why was I going to leave Taekwondo? I knew at that right moment that taekwondo is something I want to play for my life. And I'm very passionate about it. That one single thought gave me so much of confidence that I won that match and I won gold there. The 5 days of practice had my 19 years of dedication to hold it high.

Q9. Ruchika, please tell us what lessons have you learned from taekwondo, and how have they contributed to your growth as an athlete and as a person?

Ruchika: Taekwondo taught me discipline, and the importance of fitness. Taekwondo is a weight category game. To play at different levels you have to maintain the same weight. Fitness and discipline are the two key factors. Without these you just cannot perform. Taekwondo also taught me adjustment. Adjusting to different situations, people & surroundings. Another lesson Taekwondo taught me was consistency in performance. To get desired results, the efforts have to be consistent. You cannot expect great results with once in blue efforts.

Q10. Swaraj, what are your future goals and ambitions in taekwondo?

Swaraj: My short term goal is the upcoming World Championship. And my long term goal is Olympics 2028. I am sure with the consistency of schedule and dedication I have right now, I will be able to make it up till there.

Q11. What message you would like to convey to aspiring taekwondo athletes?

Swaraj: If you take my example, I'll say do not let go. It's not just about Taekwondo but any sport. Do not let go. Do not give up. I've seen many athletes get out of sporting field and they never return. The fire, the dedication, the discipline, the fitness never comes back. Enjoy the journey. You will reach your desired destination some or the other day but, enjoying the journey gives you satisfaction and peace. The more you enjoy the journey the faster you reach the destination.

Purva: Firstly, I would want to tell everybody from any sport that hard work and dedication can bring you loads of success. You just need to be calm and you just need to wait for it because I have seen a lot of athletes joining in some sport and then giving up hopes because they were expecting early results. There were a few people who looked up at me and joined Taekwondo after me but they left soon. Here I would want to share one of my experiences. Even though I started playing Taekwondo in 2000, the first national I got to play was in 2008. That high was my patience level and hard work. After eight years, I got to go for nationals. I won gold medal and from 2008 until 2019, I have been a national medalist. I even went for a few international events as well and won medals there. So for athletes or for anybody in general, I would want to tell them, patience is key and if patience is coupled with dedication and consistency, you'll be able to achieve everything you want. So best wishes and more power to the athletes!

Ruchika: Just keep playing. Even when it comes to me, as I had said earlier that I stared playing when I was a 5 year old. And till very late I used to enter the ring, get beaten up, and cry. Many a times me and family thought of giving up on the sport, but I kept playing. Finally after many years, I won a gold at district. So keep on playing. Don't give up. Whatever task you choose in life is going to need you to invest time and efforts in it. There is no task that give results overnight. I just cannot stress enough but keep practicing, don't lose hopes and don't quit. You'll surely Succeed.

Wise words indeed. Thank you all for sharing your experiences and insights with us today. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours and hope to see you achieve your dreams!

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