Jade Jones: I'm no cage fighter... but I also started aged eight

18-year-old on what makes taekwondo different from sporting exploitation

Jade Jones took up taekwondo when she was eight, her grandfather taking her to a local gymnasium to "toughen me up and keep me off the streets".

Those whose hackles were raised by the image of other eight-year-olds grappling in a cage flanked by leggy ring-card girls and egged on by a baying crowd may also lift an eyebrow, as taekwondo is itself a sort of mixed martial art in that you can both punch and kick. And there are plenty of tots eager to try what is translated from the Korean as "the way of the fist and the foot".

"My experience was a lot different from what we saw of those young boys," says the 18-year-old fighter from Flint, north Wales, who, 10 years on, has blossomed as one of Britain's brightest Olympic medal hopes for 2012.

"It was very well controlled, with close supervision by the coaches, you wore helmets and it was in a gym, not in a cage in front of an audience. That was wrong."

Leaving aside the would-be warriors, it is not uncommon for youngsters still in primary school, indeed some who are just out of nursery, to engage in contact sports such as karate, judo and kick-boxing in this country.

In most disciplines there is no minimum age limit to learn the rudiments. Children as young as five are given classes in judo and at eight they can compete against each other in what are termed "red belt rumbles" under the auspices of the British Judo Association. In boxing the minimum age to swap punches is 11, although Amir Khan is not alone in having learned how to spar in a gym at eight.

Jones is certainly convinced that hers was a case of the younger the better. She may sound like an X Factor wannabe but is actually a diminutive pocket rocket who punches harder than most female boxers and kicks like a mule, attributes which have brought her a BBC Wales Young Sports Personality of the Year award, world championship junior and senior silver medals, a bronze in the European seniors and Britain's first gold in any sport in the Youth Olympics.

She may be slightly built and is in a weight category (under 57kg) that is dominated by the East but like Sarah Stevenson, the elder stateswoman of British taekwondo who she says is her inspiration, Jones has been to the sport's homeland in Korea and beaten them in their own back yard.

Taekwondo has become one of Britain's most successful sports in the run-up to 2012, steadily growing since Doncaster's Stevenson showed how to better the Asians at their own game. Fourth in the Sydney Olympics, she subsequently became world and European champion and Olympic silver medallist in Beijing in what is an amalgam of kung fu, karate and kick-boxing but has its own distinctive pattern of controlled violence.

It may require the deft footwork of the tango but it is the only sport where a kick in the teeth is not only permitted but positively encouraged, with a hit to the head worth double the points of one to the torso.

It is a sport where you can get hurt, even knocked out, but so far Jones, a girl who literally lives for kicks, has been relatively injury-free. "Knocking people out is part of the sport. After all, they are trying to do the same to me. What I love is the contact, the kicks and the flashy spins. I like to think I'm a bit of an animal in there. I never give up."

This weekend taekwondo's tigress is competing with the best in the world at the British Open in Manchester. She says she realises the road to 2012 will be intensely competive. "I know I am quite small and I have to meet quite a lot of taller opponents but in this sport it doesn't matter about size if you have the ability to win."

You can be sure she will be putting her best foot forward. And upwards. After all, a medal of any colour in London will be better than that kick in the teeth. Whatever your age.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?