TWENTY eight-year- old Sally Gleaves, from Worcester, first started doing martial arts when she was nine because she was being bullied at school.

Her parents decided she needed some way of defending herself so she started attending a karate class and then went onto the modern Korean martial art of Taekwon-Do when the karate class folded.

But what she didn’t realise was that taking up martial arts would play a bit part in building her confidence, as well as self-defence techniques, help her get a degree and a job she loved.

It has also resulted in her being crowned the City of Worcester Coach of the Year 2015 in recognition of her dedication to and teaching of martial arts over the past 14 years.

Nominated by students attending the classes she teaches, Sally – now a fourth dan black belt – received her award from former Olympic athlete Steve Cram CBE at the University of Worcester Arena this autumn.

Sally, an adult learning programme manager for Worcestershire County Council Libraries and Learning Service, said: “When I was little I got bullied quite a lot – I got my nose broken at school. My parents decided I needed to do something to defend myself. It all started when I was nine.

“I started with karate, which I did for one year, and when the club folded I went on to Taekwon-Do. Taekwon-Do builds people and their confidence. It is a nurturing thing and we have to live by the five tenets of courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit.”

She said although the bulling continued up until she went to university, she learnt through Taekwon-Do, how to handle it not let it affect her – defusing any situation without resorting to a physical confrontation.

“I went to Clive Harrison’s Taekwon-Do school in Worcester. We were always taught to get rid of a situation verbally. You learn the moves but using it is a last resort.

“I actually got bullied up to university but taekwondo gave me the confidence to ignore them and I did not rise to it. I learned not to engage with it. The bullying did not bother me after that - I was quite happy ignoring it.”

After doing a degree she got a job as a tutor of IT and martial arts at the county council and in the summer this year went into management of learning programmes.

“I joined as a sessional tutor in IT and self-defence in libraries and outreach centres. I’ve done classes at a number of places including Asha at the bottom of Bath Road.

“It gives people an opportunity to get back into education and also giving them opportunities back into employment and getting women to move out of abusive relationships. I love it. It is great. I got the job as a manager in July.

“I started teaching martial arts when I was 14 with Master Harrison’s club. I have been a black belt for a very long time. I am going for the 5th dan black belt next March and starting training now.

“If it was not for Taekwon-Do I feel I would not have been able to do a degree. It is mental discipline. The mental discipline helps youngsters at school and it helped me. I was a wild child and it mellowed me. I have never had to use it in a threat situation. You learn to disengage.

“And if I had not done Taekwon-Do and had not done teaching Taekwon-Do, I do not think I would have been a council tutor. I did enjoy teaching women’s self-defence.”

She explained that one of the principles of Taekwon-Do is that once you reach a certain level, you can start to teach others and she loves seeing the way it helps people with their confidence as well as their physical fitness and well-being.

“In martial arts you learn and then teach to pass it on.” One of her students got over depression by learning Taekwon-Do and was able to get a job.

Sally runs Worcester Taekwon-Do & Kickboxing and Droitwich Taekwon-Do. She also operates another school in Evesham. Anyone who joins the Worcester school is entitled to train at the Droitwich and Evesham centres.

“We take everyone – all abilities and disabilities. I can accommodate most people. It has been accessible for all. Going out and teaching is important when you get to 4th dan.”

She added: “It disciplines you and grows you but you have got to have some fun doing it. One of my students was three and a half years old when she started and she is my longest studying student and she started teaching when she was nine.

“She teaches a whole class with adults. It is empowering young girls and most of my students are female and in both of my clubs we have female instructors.”

Sally said she was nominated for her City of Worcester Sports Award by her students. “I was nominated by my students for the award but I was shocked to be nominated and shocked I got it.

“I was very proud martial arts was represented – there were so many great activities in the sporting world this year in Worcester.”

The winner was announced on the night of the award ceremony and Sally had no idea she had won. “The first thing I was worried about, when it was announced I got it, was falling over in my high heels,” she said. “I was shocked and very honoured that my students thought that much of me to nominate me.”

The award recognised the way Sally has been inspiring and supporting her students to achieve national and international success. “My Worcester club has had three world champions at coloured belts.”

“I hope that my achievements will inspire other learners to reach their full potential, not only in martial arts but also on their own individual coaching and teaching journeys.”

Sally praised Worcestershire County Council for the way it supported her. “Worcestershire County Council is a for-runner for adult learning. It is great to facilitate people learning.”

Kathy Kirk, Libraries and Learning Service strategic manager, said: “We were delighted to hear that Sally had won the Coach of the Year Award. It’s a great achievement and we all pass on our congratulations.”