If you ever thought Taekwondo is a sport not meant for women, then there are some like Urmi Buragohain who are turning that expression on its head. A black belt holder, she is just back from Rome after grabbing two bronze medals for Australia at the recently concluded ITF-Taekwondo World Championships held there. And Urmi’s contribution to Australia’s medal haul is indeed a proud moment for the Indian community.
Urmi’s association with Taekwondo goes back to her roots, growing up in the north eastern Indian state of Assam, where martial arts and Bruce Lee films were quite an influence. However, it was much later in life that she took to the game. But such was her perseverance that she took it to the world stage level surprising everyone, including herself.
It was her first world championships and Urmi, who works as a Strategic Planner for the City of Kingston, had no idea what to expect, except that the level of intensity would be ten times more. “What I actually saw there was an eye-opener,” she says overwhelmed by the experience in this world event, where contestants from 25 countries vied against each other.
Urmi competed in two events – the Senior Female (over 36yrs) Degree Sparring Welter Weight and the Senior Female (over 36yrs) 1st Degree Patterns where she faced a Canadian and competed against an Argentinian respectively. She ended up with bronze medals in both categories.
“There are different events you can take part in. I competed in Patterns first, which is a solo performance,” explains Urmi. “When you go through the different colour belts as you train you start at the white belt level where you are given a simple combination of movements – punching, learning how to move around when you are punching and very basic blocks. But as you go higher up the belts the combination of movement gets very technical, you combine different kicks and movements, so it gets more and more complex. Within black belts there are different dan rankings and each dan has a specific pattern. I did my first dan.”
So with her Pattern performance held right at centre stage and a huge crowd, it was all about controlling the nervousness and anxiety, says Urmi. Although she lost to her Argentinian rival, there was not a big difference in the final score. “I was happy with how I performed. My coach was pleased too.”
When her next match, the sparring event came up, Urmi had by then gotten over the nervousness but she admits to being taken aback by the level of aggression. Her Canadian opponent, a former Gold medallist, let out a big scream. “It is a way of intimidating before you throw the first punch.”
The first round was very close. A few times Urmi was leading. The Canadian was on an offensive move and took the initiative to hit her which helped Urmi counter attack, something she is good at. Thus she was scoring in the second round too when her opponent decided to change tact. “I was waiting for her to attack but she didn’t. By then she had adjusted and I didn’t know which angle to move in to attack her. So in the second round she knew how to hold on to her lead.”
It is an experience that has given Urmi an added confidence for the future. “For me performing at the world stage was what was important and testing what my level is. I wanted to see whether I would fall apart just seeing the level of competition and the crowd.”
Over the years Urmi says many people have asked her why she chose Taekwondo over other sports. It is hard to explain she says. “Initially I wondered how this game would be beneficial for me as I thought it is just fighting and quite unfeminine,” she laughs, adding, “I was looking at it as an opportunity to learn some self-defense techniques.”
After completing her graduate studies at the JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai, Urmi completed her post-graduation from the Centre for Environmental Planning & Technology (CEPT) University in Ahmedabad. In 2003 she and her architect husband migrated to Australia. It was during this time that they discovered the United Schools of Martial Arts (USMA) Club in Clayton. She was taken under the wings of club founder Master Spiridon Cariotis 7th Dan. USMA is a registered member of the International Taekwon-do Federation (ITF) founded by General Choi Hong Hi. Within two years of her taking it up, she had attained a blue belt.
Although she never aspired to participate in tournaments, her instructor Master Caraotas encouraged her to take part in club and national-level competitions. She surprised herself by putting up a good fight against seasoned players at the 2013 National Championships held in Canberra and qualified for the 2014 World Championships. And she has just proved her calibre.
For this soft-spoken player who loves to challenge herself, the next target is the Rio 2015 ITF-World Taekwondo Championships. She is back into the rigours of practice to be back with more power punches.
By Indira Laisram