Regrets? Damon Sansum has had a few since abdicating as king of the kick boxers to become a WTF taekwondo novice.
Gradually those regrets are becoming too few to mention as Sansum, 27, is on his way to becoming top of the shots in his new martial arts career.
This year, the Elgin raised star has achieved his most consistent set of results since entering the GB Academy in Manchester, via the UK Sport backed Fighting Chance initiative, in 2009.
A silver medal at the European Championships back in May was mostly recently followed up with bronze at the WTF World Grand Prix in Kazakhstan, valuable ranking points towards Rio 2016 plus a first ever taekwondo $1000 pay cheque.
Now the focus is on gold and $5,000 when Manchester hosts the last Grand Prix (October 24-26) before an end of year series finals in Mexico. And while these are exciting times for the son of a former Royal bodyguard it hasn’t always been the case.
“I remember fighting at tournament in Croatia a few years back and losing by a big margin in the first round to someone who was only of club standard,” he recollected, wincing at the painful memory.
“Afterwards I was in tears thinking ‘Why am I doing this sport? I should go back to doing what I did best before.
“But you have to persevere because there are always going to be peaks and troughs. If you train hard you will get the results you deserve.
“It happened for me as two months after losing in Croatia I won the German Open. You should never get too disheartened.”
Sansum will always be a kick boxer at heart, having won a World Association of Kickboxing Organisations world title in 2007, plus further international and British titles. But he won’t allow his heart to rule his head as he pursues his ultimate ambition of representing GB at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“At the start I was watching all the kickboxing fights and following it more than I did taekwondo,” he told Martial Arts Illustrated in an exclusive interview.
“I used to think ‘I wish I was at the tournament, or I wonder how they have got on? But you have got to be focus on the complete switchover, both physically and mentally,
“In kick boxing – because it is still an amateur sport – you don’t train full time and you don’t have all the same support systems. Physically, as an athlete, I am 10 times better now than what I was before. I have got a body capable of doing so much more than I did before.”
Sansum’s clear mind and finely tuned body earned him the Paris Open title last December, medals in Luxor and Bahrain, a superb silver to Aaron Cook’s gold at the Euros followed by a World Grand Prix debut in China back in July.
“I suffered an ACL injury after the Euros and wasn’t really ready for China,” he explained following last month’s epic GP battles and ultimate golden point, semi-final defeat to taekwondo legend, Steven Lopez.
“It was not the best way to lose but at the top level it is always going to be close,” said Sansum of his golden point exit against the double Olympic and five-times world champion.
“At the start of the year my ranking wasn’t very high; probably around 80 or 90. It made me realise I needed to crack into the top 32 and get into a Grand Prix.
“In the last 12 months I have jumped up significantly in the rankings with some good performances and beaten a lot of the top 10 ranked guys. It is all starting to click at the right time with Rio just around the corner.
“But it does take time to crossover from one style to another; it takes time to learn how to fight your own way, find your own style and get comfortable in it.
“I knew I was good enough to beat these people from the start. I didn’t quite have the tools to do it but I am getting to grips with it now.
“I am improving and improving while a lot of the others have stayed the same. This year I am starting to catch everyone up. Next year the plan is to overtake them.”
Mahama Cho and London 2012 bronze medallist, Lutalo Muhammad- Sansum’s in-house -80 kg rival – struck gold at the inaugural Grand Prix at Manchester Central last December. So, there’s plenty of optimism for more home success at the forthcoming Grand Prix featuring 256 of the planet’s best, competing in eight Olympic weight divisions.
The Grand Prix also offers financial rewards making the sport even more attractive to non-WTF taekwondo specialists. And with taekwondo confirmed on the schedule for a first ever European Games in Azerbaijan next year, the profile continues to rise.
“Since I joined the GB Academy, taekwondo is moving in the right direction. And with Jade (Jones) and Lutalo doing well at London 2012, the average person knows more about taekwondo than they ever did.
“It is nice to have that because in kick boxing you don’t have that recognition. And while Rio and a gold medal remains the main goal, the introduction of prize money is a big step in the right direction.
“We train 10 times harder than any football player. I have friends who are coaches at clubs like Manchester United and we train so much harder than those guys.
“We put in so much more effort and get less for it. So, we should get rewarded much more than we do.
“We train three times a day, six times a week and don’t have much life outside it.
“There is a chance of getting seriously injured and it will take its toll in later years. So it’s good to have the prize money and if it gets increased in the future it might make a difference to your lifestyle.”
To see Sansum, Jade Jones, Mahama Cho, Lutalo Muhammad, Aaron Cook and many more, the WTF World Grand Prix takes place at Manchester Central from October 24-26.