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Interview: Mieke Tate

19 November 13 interview: Scott Marr
photos: Ashley Bird

Mieka Tate, formerly Meike Hink, is a three-time World Kickboxing Champion from the Netherlands who has called Nottingham home for the best part of two decades. She has recently opened Aim High, a new martial arts school in the city, offering people the opportunity not only to learn how to fight, but also how to develop as a person...

So how did a Dutch girl end up as a kickboxing instructor in Nottingham?
I was born in the Netherlands and started training in kung fu – wu shu – at thirteen. I’d been competing in the Netherlands for a few years and there wasn’t much happening. The British fighters I knew had some skills I felt I could work on myself, so I decided to move to the UK. I was nineteen then and had the intention of just staying for one year, but I made a lot of friends in the martial arts world and ended up staying for good. That was sixteen years ago now.

You’ve fought internationally. Have you always represented Great Britain?
No. I started competing at fourteen when I still lived in the Netherlands, so at my first WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Organisations) World Championship at seventeen, I represented the Netherlands. WAKO only allows one person per weight category per country, which means each person you fight will be at least a national champion in their country and they will have gone through a year-long selection process. There are no easy wins.

How many times did you win gold at WAKO? Are you undefeated?
Since I came to the UK I’ve won the national championships every year I have entered. The World Championships are held once every two years. I won gold in 2003, 2005 and in 2009, as Mieke Hink. I was pregnant in 2007.

Were you a full-time professional? What’s the prize money like?
I trained five or six days a week, depending on my competition diary. You couldn’t live off the prize money: it could be £100 to £300 at certain tournaments, but for winning a world championship you’d just get a medal and a trophy. The title is what motivates fighters. It’s all done for the love of the sport. All the top fighters I know either run their own martial arts school or have a job in a completely different field. I used to be a team leader at Domestic & General on Talbot Street.

Was it a struggle to get time off work to compete?
I always had my competing dates quite early in the year, it was easy enough to book those days off. As employers, D&G were always quite big on a healthy work/life balance, so my competing illustrated that well and they actually used me as an example to advertise it. They also sponsored me three times to go away and compete. which was always hugely appreciated.

Was it difficult to fit a full training regime around work, or did you have to cut corners at times?
My life was basically work, train, sleep, repeat. With no kids at the time, and no family in the UK, that was perfect because that’s all I wanted to do. If it’s what you want it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. I just felt blessed that I could do what I wanted.

What was your typical training routine?
A week’s training included conditioning, sparring, pad work, squad training sessions, and if I could fit in a private session anywhere to work on anything in particular, I’d do that too. The best way to describe how much I loved the sport – and still do – is that training to me was like shopping or socialising is to others. Every Saturday we’d train from 3pm until about 6pm. All like-minded people wanting to compete and win. All learning from each other. That to me was more of a buzz than any shopping or going out for drinks could ever be.

What’s the most pain you’ve had in a fight?
It happened in training years ago. I got kneed in the groin by a heavyweight male fighter, full power. Needless to say that was an accident. I can’t remember any time I’ve been in blinding pain like that in a fight with another female.

Do you still compete?
No. Although I do miss it, I feel like I have more than achieved what I set out to achieve, and I think going out on a high is the best thing to do. Being a mum, a wife, an instructor and business owner is taking up just about all of my time at the moment and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Passing on the knowledge is something I feel very strongly about.

Would you have liked to have competed in London 2012, had kickboxing been an Olympic sport?
No. I’m 35, have a six-year-old son and got married four months ago. My priorities have changed. I look forward to seeing kickboxing in the Olympics at some point in the future though. When it finally gets to that point I hope to have helped create a few of the athletes.

What are the social and community benefits of martial arts training?
For me, martial arts was never just about training. It was about meeting like-minded people, making new friends – who are still my best friends today, 22 years later – learning a new skill, progressing together, doing something positive with my time, being part of a family. These things are hugely important to me and so far we have already created a little family at Aim High. I focus on discipline and respect. Kids will learn to work together. I believe this is the perfect opportunity for kids, and anyone else in this community, to channel their energy towards something positive and create a home away from home.

Working in tough inner city suburbs, it’s easy to see how you can provide discipline and purpose to people’s lives. Can you point to any specific individuals whose life you turned round?
That’s a tough question as I only opened my club last year. I’d like to think I have had a positive influence on quite a few people’s negative or defeatist attitudes. In class I make sure everybody speaks to each other the way they’d like to be spoken to. There’s a few young characters feeling the benefits of an adult actually pulling them up on disrespectful behaviour. But it’s hard to tell kids their behaviour is not acceptable when it’s something that’s being condoned at home.

What do you bring as an instructor?
Being a world champion means that I not only know about the physical aspect of training but also about sport psychology; holding it together under pressure, visualisation, focusing, how to work towards long-term goals and, above all, perseverance. My coaching is about connecting mentally and building a mutual trust. I get to know a student’s strengths, weaknesses and limits, then I try to push and inspire them.

Lastly, what’s the best piece of advice you could give someone starting out in kickboxing?
You will get out of it what you put into it, so use those few training hours each week to train hard. Secondly, and more importantly – I could get quite deep here – it’s important to remember that practising martial arts is a journey, and not just a physical one. Your instructor can guide you and tell you what they know. That path is not the one and only way. It’s one path, one person’s experience. Take what you can from a variety of instructors and fellow students. It’s all about growth and the greatest achievement for any instructor is to see their students grow beyond what they could teach you.

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