Attention, students of DCU. There is a world champion among us. Adam Shelley, the 70kg (11 stone) Taekwon-Do champion of the world. However, you may not think it at first glance.
I meet Shelley in the canteen of DCU. He does not stand out particularly from the hundreds of other students that line the canteen. Friendly and gentle in his nature, you wouldn’t guess that this man is an expert in martial arts, capable of incredible physical feats.
It becomes quickly apparent, however, that this is a man of incredible will power with massive aspirations. “I want to take both world titles in the same year,” says Shelley, unflinching.
He is of course referring to the 70kg Taekwon-Do world championship, which he will hope to defend on home soil next year, and also the 69kg (10st 12 lbs) kickboxing championship.
Shelley won his third European Taekwon-Do championship in Finland last April, as well as winning the National Championship. The Irish Open is the biggest Mixed Martial Arts tournament in the world and sees 4,000 kickboxers compete.
While Shelley has competed competitively at Taekwon-Do since the age of seven, he has only taken up kickboxing in the last five years.
“My brothers and I had always wanted to take up karate or something, having seen it in movies. My uncle had recently taken up Taekwon-Do and he encouraged us to pursue it and it just took off from there.”
Shelley’s brother, Ryan, is a world kickboxing champion.
“Originally I took up kickboxing to help improve my Taekwon-Do, but I really grew into it. I’m now equally involved with both and am on the Irish team in both codes. The two really complement each other.”
Shelley leaves nothing to chance and wakes at 5:30am every morning so as to allow enough time for a two-hour gym session before college. When done with college work he’ll spend another hour-and-a-half in the evening working on his skills and technique. It is of utmost importance that he is confident in his preparation.
“If the physical side of things isn’t right, the mental definitely won’t be. You have to have all the components of fitness: Endurance, speed, power, strength and flexibility, which is huge. Once you put all that in place, then you can believe in yourself.”
He pays credence to the mental side of the game too. “I spend a lot of time visualising, going over my plan, on how I’ll deal with my opponent, whether he’s a kicker, a puncher or an aggressive fighter. I even just try to imagine the smell of the mats, just to be prepared.”
Shelley, a member of Killester Taekwon-Do Club, also has a long term vision, confident that he could transfer his skills to Mixed Martial Arts and follow in the footsteps of Conor McGregor.
“I want to achieve all my goals in my sports first but I could definitely see myself pursuing it next year or the year after. I’ve watched a lot of UFC and I’m confident that my style could be adapted to fit. In order to be successful, though, I’d need to develop my ground game.
“I’d be a big fan of McGregor. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny what he has done for the sport.”
Shelley is delighted with the way Taekwon-Do is developing in Ireland, adamant that it is growing rapidly in popularity.
“I teach in my local club and there are more kids than ever partaking in the sport, with parents looking to involve their kids in martial arts. Even coaches of ten years are saying that it’s growing and growing.”
This bright future is supplemented by an excellent national squad, however there is disappointment at the lack of government support.
“We compete really well on the international stage. In 2013 we came second as a team at the Taekwon-Do world championships and in kickboxing we came second in the world in the light contact division, just behind Russia which was a huge deal.”
“They receive between 10 and 15 grand from their government per gold medal, while all of our funding comes from ourselves.”
“Our clubs are great for helping with fundraising and trying to take that burden of competitors but we would have to pay a certain amount ourselves to compete.”
As well as eyeing a career in MMA, Shelley also has Olympic aspirations.
“There are two kinds of Taekwon-Do. WTF, in which I fight, and ITF which is recognised as an Olympic sport. People ask why not just transfer to ITF, but there’s quite a difference.
“ITF is more like kickboxing. It’s kickboxing as you know it with punching and kicking. In WTF you can only really punch to the body. It’s about 10% punching and 90% kicking. It’s a different style and different scoring system, which makes tactics different.
“Kickboxing is in the process of getting Olympic recognition. They’ve made a bid so hopefully we’ll see kickboxing in the Olympics in 2020 or 2024. The sooner the better.”
His lifestyle does not allow for typical college nights out, but will take a brief break from training this Christmas.
“I try to rule nights out completely. It’s not worth it when you’re training so much. I’ll have a few chance to have a few drinks over Christmas but come New Year, I’ll be straight back into training.”
Once 2017 begins, Shelley will have his eyes set firmly on double world championship glory.
Image credit: Irish Taekwon-Do Association