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Matt Bush: Meet Britain’s First Para-Taekwondo World Champion

March 31, 2021

Matt Bush’s journey to the top of Para-taekwondo has been far from direct.

The 32-year-old tried football, rugby, tennis, golf, jiu-jitsu, mixed martial arts, javelin and shot put before he eventually made history in taekwondo.

In 2019, he became Britain’s first male world Para-taekwondo champion. A rapid rise after only taking up the sport two years earlier.

But by this point the Welshman was used to proving people wrong.

“When I first started doing boxing, you can’t go down the traditional path and patterns that people use in boxing, because they’re not made for someone with one arm,” Bush told BBC Sport Wales.

“So I had to apply a lot of thought to what I had to do, which I think made me better in a shorter time.

“The first jiu-jitsu academy I went to basically told me not to bother. They said it was going to be really difficult and tough,” he continues.

“I was like ‘it’s going to be fine’. Then soon it became ‘his grip’s tighter because he hasn’t got this and that’.

“It turns quickly to an advantage in people’s eyes.”

Paralympic dreams

Bush thought his first appearance at a Paralympics would come in 2016. He was Britain’s top male thrower in the F46 javelin but a shoulder injury ruled him out of the Rio Games.

A long-standing interest in mixed martial arts resulted in him turning to Para-taekwondo, which is to be included in the Paralympics for the first time at Tokyo 2020.

His first month in the sport was something of a baptism of fire.

“Within about three weeks, we were in Korea fighting against the number one guy in my category,” he recalls. “It was my first [taekwondo] fight ever.

“I tore both ligaments in my feet but won that fight. But had to go on in the tournament with torn ligaments, which wasn’t good!

“But I think with my background in kicking and fighting, they thought ‘he can handle himself’.”

Bush says he had a lot to learn in the sport – not least who the top names were.

He did not know who double Olympic champion and fellow Welsh athlete Jade Jones was when he first arrived at GB Taekwondo in Manchester.

Even since his historic world title win in 2019, Bush feels he has improved a lot.

“Before, I was just a mixed martial artist who was dabbling in taekwondo and doing his best, but now I’ve understood the game of taekwondo more,” he says.

“It takes time to learn the specific intricacies and the timing and the patterns of taekwondo. So that’s jumped so much over the last year.”

This is not a man who has dedicated his life to one goal.

A Paralympic medal would “mean a lot”, but he says as soon as it is over he will get another target. Perhaps in another sport or somewhere else entirely.

Balance is key for Bush.

He only trains on the GB Taekwondo elite programme every other week – with the remaining time spent helping out in the family business, which delivers dairy products across Wales.

“I’ve burnt out on sport before and I don’t want to do it again,” he says.

“I still train even the days I work – I just think it’s a good thing mentally to do.”

Bush still needs to confirm his place in Tokyo.

He hopes that the European qualification event in May will be where his Paralympic dream becomes reality.

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