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International Taekwondo referee reflects on years of practice

Ahead of induction into Yorkton Sports Hall of Fame.

YORKTON – The 2022 Yorkton Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner will happen on Saturday, September 24th at the Gallagher Centre.

Among those being inducted is Yorkton resident, international taekwondo referee and instructor for Kees Taekwondo in Yorkton, Susanne Mitchell.

Mitchell, who is being inducted in the 'Builder' category, started practicing taekwondo in 1996 and said her initial reasoning for coming to taekwondo was not for herself, but for her youngest son.

"He was the youngest of three and he had a lot of energy," said Mitchell, adding, "sport is very important—I think—for kids to be active."

"It's always about getting good positive energy and releasing that in a good way and if you don't have something like sport to fall on then you're doing something negative—usually," said Mitchell, noting her son had started practicing taekwondo a year before she had.

Mitchell said her son's continued progression in the sport is what got her into officiating.

"He got into competition—and for me to watch him and go to events—the avenue for me to take was to become a referee," said Mitchell, adding, "my husband always felt that refereeing could have more participation—because you just don't have enough referees to go around and make it work—that's why I went into refereeing."

Mitchell said she received her black belt in 1999.  It was at that point that she started instructing and practicing to become a referee.

"First you become a provincial referee and you volunteer at local tournaments and out of province tournaments," said Mitchell, adding, "you get better at your skills and when you feel confident enough—and you want to be a national referee—then you take the national course."

Mitchell said it was her son's involvement on the national team that pushed her to become a national referee.

"At that time my son was 12 and in his first year as a cadet on the national team," said Mitchell.

"I had to go—I thought, 'ok, I'm going to be a national referee," said Mitchell with a laugh.

Mitchell said that as a national taekwondo referee she's officiated in every province with the exception of Newfoundland.

"I only wanted to be a provincial referee, then it was national was like, 'ok, now I've got a new goal," said Mitchell.

The new goal Mitchell wanted to achieve was the status of International Taekwondo Referee.

"Every time I went to a seminar it was, 'what did I get out of it? what more can I learn? I need to better myself''," said Mitchell, adding, "when I'm refereeing in the ring—these athletes have trained very hard—they want to be on the national team and they want to go internationally so I need to be at the best level as I can be because I don't want to make or break that athlete—I want them to win because they deserve it—not because of my making a mistake in the ring."

Mitchell said she became an International Taekwondo referee in 2005.

"At that time the referee chairman of Canada took about 11 of us to become international referees," said Mitchell, later adding "to become an international referee for women it's second dan [black belt], and for men it's fourth dan."

"I was excited about that...from there it was just working hard and doing the best that I can," said Mitchell, adding, "every time you were selected for an event it was like, 'yay!'"

Mitchell said that being an International taekwondo referee has taken her all over the world.

"It was a culture shock in many places", noting that English is not the native language in many of the places she has officiated, but that in the ring you are required to speak English.

"So for me, that was a plus," said Mitchell with a laugh.

"I remember at the US Open I received an invitation to go to the Junior Worlds in Sharm El Sheikh [in Egypt]," said Mitchell adding, "that was my first world taekwondo event—so for me that was surreal."

"Many people said, 'don't go, it's dangerous,' and I'm thinking 'they're holding Juniors there, the safety has to be a priority'," said Mitchell, adding, "going there and going to that country was just amazing."

Mitchell reflected on other events she's attended as an International Referee.

"I was selected to go the Grand Prix in Manchester," said Mitchell.

"You work hard, you work hard, you work hard and then you get the world taekwondo event," said Mitchell, adding, "going there and doing that and being around all those other referees from all over the world and working with them was such a positive experience—I can't say enough about that."

"You're standing there and they announce each of the athletes and then they say the referees name and it's on the jumbotron—yes, that was surreal," said Mitchell.

"I became Saskatchewan Referee Chairman in 2006 and my goal was to...get the first-hand rule changes—get the first-hand knowledge on how to apply the rules and bring it home to Saskatchewan referees—develop Saskatchewan referees and make them the best that I could," said Michell.

Mitchell said that throughout the pandemic she developed a poomse curriculum for Saskatchewan.  Poomse is described as "a systematic, prearranged sequence of martial techniques that is performed either with or without the use of a weapon," according to Wikipedia.

"When COVID came, Saskatchewan didn't have a poomse curriculum for referee certification," said Mitchell, adding, "Saskatchewan was kind of behind on the knowledge on how to teach it because they had changed some of the techniques and how to perform it."

"I spent a few months designing one for Saskatchewan and had a Zoom online poomse referee certification where coaches and athletes could come so they could see it from the perspective of a referee and what they needed to do to be the best for poomse as possible," said Mitchell.

"So, I think when you talk about building—being a taekwondo builder—I wanted to take what I learned and pass it on to Saskatchewan first and foremost because this is my home."

The walls at Kees Taekwondo studio are filled with trophies and achievements, several of which belong to Mitchell.  

In 2017 she won the Saskatchewan Sports Award for Female Official of the Year.  Mitchell said that no one in taekwondo had won the award prior.

Mitchell said that she has several people to thank for her successes in the sport of taekwondo including her family, the studios grand master and her parents.

"Our grand master—Grand Master Ha—he's from Korea, and brought [taekwondo] to Saskatchewan," said Mitchell, adding, "I always am thankful and appreciative for that start and he totally continues to support the school in every way that he can and we always look to him for guidance."

"Without my Mom and Dad teaching me those core values—I wouldn't be stubborn enough to be a referee—those core values of working hard and doing your best," said Mitchell.

When asked what she's taken from the sport, Mitchell had this to say.  

"What have I taken away?  Probably the basic things of life and to keep working at those—always show respect, work your hardest at whatever you're doing, even if you're not going to be a winner in a tournament—as long as you've tried your best, you've prepared for the best—you need to walk away with confidence knowing that you've done that and to learn what you can from it."

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