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Last Updated: Friday, 28 September 2007, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Fighting clever on the world stage

By Mark Ashenden

Taekwondo may mean the art of hand and foot fighting, but being the best takes more than a lightning kick to your opponent's chops.

Just ask three-time British champion Tony Grisman, one of four GB athletes competing at this weekend's World Taekwondo Olympic qualification event in Manchester.

GB taekwondo star Tony Grisman
The feeling of putting your pads on and being able to fight is amazing. There is no other sport like it.

Tony Grisman
The world's top 300 athletes will fight for 24 of the 64 places up for grabs in Beijing (the unsuccessful ones have a final chance in Turkey in January) and the 22-year-old from Mansfield is bursting to get into the ring.

"I cannot wait to get out there, I just want it now," he told BBC Sport. "There is so much at stake with the top three going through and I am a bit nervous, but I have to stay calm and be clever in the ring.

"If you just go out punching and kicking, you will lose. And if you lose you're out. People think this sport is all about aggression, but you need strategy.

"You get to know the player and find a way to beat them. I love to go forward and attack but you also need to know when to slow things down and frustrate your opponent."

Explosive and spectacular are two words often used to describe this sport with points scored for accurate kicks and punches (no punches to the head allowed) over three rounds of three minutes (two minutes for females).

Grisman's explosiveness has clearly played a part in his ascent but the more he revealed about his fighting philosophies, the more you pictured a spider patrolling his web, toying with his prey, waiting to pounce.

This calmness and control have slowly developed since his dad dragged him to a leisure centre aged 13 because "I didn't do sport" and he "wanted me to get into something".

"I didn't actually like taekwondo at first, but after two weeks I loved it," he added.

Mark A, BBC Sport

"I had my first fight after three weeks, was fighting in competitions within a few months and was at the 2002 World Junior championships when I was 16.

"The feeling of putting your pads on and being able to fight is amazing. There is no other sport like it."

Although GB failed to bag a medal at the World Championships in China in May, the team has risen from 88th to 11th in the world rankings in just four years.

The sport is reaping the benefits of a more professional approach and nowhere is this more evident than its new academy in Manchester.

The Feat Factory is home to 17 British elite athletes training full-time and Grisman knows he is in the right place as they build towards Beijing and London 2012.

"We had to go full-time to compete with the best," he said. "We train for over three hours every morning and every evening and it is really hard work.

"Every day is the same routine. Your body is knackered by the end of the week and then you start again Monday morning.

"I used to work on construction sites and that is something I can fall back on to after my fighting career, but this is what I have always wanted to do."

Taekwondo Team GB in action
GB's taekwondo stars prepare for the world stage
Grisman described the strong bond between the nine juniors and eight seniors - boys and girls - but added that relationships are often fully tested, as qualification to the current event showed.

"I had to fight two of my best mates to get through to these championships," he said.

"It is very, very competitive but you've just got to get your head down and do it. Everyone understands the situation.

"It's not always easy but you just get in the ring, do what you have to do and then be mates after."

With competition involving all fights in each of the weight categories on the same day, Grisman, in the under 68kg category, faces the gruelling prospect of fighting six times in 10 hours if he reaches the final.

He and his team-mates, teenagers Aaron Cook and Louise Mair, and former world champion Sarah Stevenson, will need all the home support they can get.

"I know most of my opponents and I know I can compete with the best," Grisman added.

"A psychologist has been helping us over the last two weeks and we just need to focus on our performance and not necessarily on winning.

"I'll tackle the first round and then assess it from there but I'm ready to react at anything anybody throws at me."

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