Martial Arts

How Tang Soo Do Saved My Life
By Master Simon Preston - 5th Dan
Community Tang Soo Do Association, Birmingham, England

On the 22nd of June 2010, my life changed. Everything that seemed to be moving forward along with the future that I was envisaging had gone literally overnight.

I woke up at about 6 a.m. on that day. Everything seemed normal. I was following my usual routine in getting ready for work and went into my daughter Bethany's room to get her ready for nursery and noticed she was laying face down on her bed. Nothing seemed untoward at this point until I started to say 'Wakey-wakey Bethany', with no response. I tapped her on the shoulder, again no response. It was at this point I began to worry.

When I turned her over she was pale and her eyes rolled up. I quickly checked for a pulse and didn't find one. I shouted to my wife to call an ambulance quick, and to my brother-in-law who was staying over that night downstairs. I then began CPR on Bethany. All my emotions were locked away...I had a job to do, I am fighting to bring my daughter back. I listened carefully to the emergency operator who was giving me very specific instructions before the paramedics arrived five minutes later. It wasn't until we arrived at the hospital and Bethany was pronounced dead that I opened up the emotions and no longer needed to be strong. But at the time, I felt like I failed in being a father and lost my daughter.

This was only the start of the challenges lying ahead. I remember specifically that week when reading comments on Facebook directed to me: "I'm so sorry for the news. If I could do anything to help, please let me know", and then just a few hours later the same people were discussing England's performance in the world cup. This got me angry at the time, but I didn't respond because I had to accept that although my life seemed to be over, everyone else's was still moving forward. I tried to do the 'masculine' thing and get on with what was left of my life, but not dealing with the grief eventually placed me in depression, and this is where the real fighting began.

The problem was that I was living in a world that will continue to move forward but both my wife and I could not, and most people we work with wanted us to be how we were before Bethany died. Our friendship circle changed dramatically as those who we thought were friends distanced themselves and those that we knew but were not as close to became very close friends. So our whole environment was changing around us. Between 2010 and 2013, I have worked in four different schools because I was not able to really settle. Because I was so focused on survival and I didn't expect people to understand where I was, this developed trust issues in my line managers. My last school in particular did more harm than good to my wellbeing by targeting my depression. Luckily, I am now working in a school where I have full trust in my line manager who has a degree of empathy with what I have had to cope with to get to where I am. Now, I am pleased to say that I have defeated depression and start 2014 with a great deal of drive, with a new personal ethos and a brand new 'worthwhile fight'.

I've spent a great deal of time talking about my life and I guess you may be wondering, where does Tang Soo Do feature in this? Well, as you can see, I have been fighting a long and draining fight for the past three and one half years. Just a few months before Bethany died, I attended my first Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa with Kwan Jang Nim Andy Ah Po in Florida. The intense physical and mental challenge of the Shim Sa trained me to be focused, calm and strong, even when my body was screaming at me to have a break! There was no way I was going to quit. This is a philosophy that I took with me into the tragedy I was about to face. When I found Bethany, I didn't panic because my Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa training 'kicked-in'. I fought for Bethany's survival with clarity of thought and I know I did everything possible to try and bring her back until the paramedics arrived (I even sought training on CPR last October to find that I did everything 'by the book').

Being a bereaved parent along with combating depression has been a very isolating experience, however, upon reflection, I have changed my own ethos based on my current life experiences and embraced the tools I used to defeat depression - I have up-skilled. I changed my mindset of just training & teaching Tang Soo Do to being much bigger than that. I have now experienced the true benefits of Tang Soo Do. It is not just for physical combat. Tang Soo Do also develops us to be able to battle on any front, in particular the emotional front.

The current school where I work has gone into 'special measures' and subsequently I have been seconded to the senior leadership team to use the skill sets I have to prepare for the fight ahead to turn the school around. In November 2013 I returned to Tang Soo Do after taking an 18-month sabbatical and have learnt to simply enjoy Tang Soo Do and the company of others who practice the Art, whatever the style. I also started my own group and decided to host 'The Great British Tang Soo Do Challenge 2014'. It is a Dan grade only celebration of Tang Soo Do on the 4th anniversary of Bethany's death, to raise funds for Birmingham Children's Hospital. Very appropriate for a life-saving martial art that I am very proud of, to support a life-saving cause.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article and I hope that this reaches out to anyone else in our community who are quietly going through what I have been through - there is light at the end of the tunnel.



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