Kickin’ Around Halifax Interview

In this our 4th interview in our series featuring local Halifax Martial Artists I had the privilege of speaking with Taekwondo Master Tim Bell, who is not only a great Martial Artist but a great human being as well. ~ Al Doy

Al: Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Master Bell:  My name is Master Tim Bell, I’m a 5th Dan Blackbelt in WTF Taekwondo and also 3rd Class International Referee. I’ve been involved on and off in Taekwondo since 1974. Besides my background in Taekwondo, I’m also a certified Level 1 Agatsu Kettlebell Fitness Instructor and a Level 1 IKSFA Sport Coach.

Al: Taekwondo has always flourished here out numbering the other types of Martial Arts school easily, has the rise in MMA popularity changed that at all?

Master Bell: The rise in MMA has certainly had some effect on enrollments in the 15 – up demographic, this is understandable due to the popularity and the number superstar celebrities in the sport. I myself was a huge Bill Wallace fan back in the PKA Kick Boxing era, so as a teenager I would try to emulate him. Olympic Taekwondo has its superstars, unfortunately there not as well known outside TKD circles, since it’s not mainstream, other than in the Olympics. Hopefully someday that will change; maybe this Olympics will be the catalyst.

Al: Tell us a bit about your school?

Master Bell: I operate a full time, 3000 square foot facility on Chain Lake Drive in the Bayers Lake Business Park. Our classes are age specific, Little Champs – Ages 4 – 5, Children – Ages 6 – 9, Junior/Adult – Ages 10 – Up.

Other than Olympic Taekwondo, we pride ourselves on being a Character Development Center, thanks to our involvement with Powerful Words. It’s a comprehensive character program that complements our Martial Arts philosophy and vision.

At our center we also offer Kettlebell Fitness and Sport.

Al: Are there still a lot of younger people getting into training now?

Master Bell: Yes. The ages 4 – 9 demographic certainly makes up the bulk of our student body, hovering at around 75% of our total student body of 112

Al: Growing up who inspired you?

Master Bell: Great question, there were so many great and positive role models back in the 70’s, but without a doubt it would have to be Bruce Lee, it was because of watching “Enter the Dragon” at the old Gottingen Street Theater that I set my sights on studying Martial Arts, and it just my luck a Taekwondo school was close by.

My other heroes were Muhammad Ali, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, Jeff Smith, Joe Louis, to name a few.

Al: If you had to pick one highlight from your life long study of the arts what would it be?

Master Bell: Wow, that’s a toughie, there have been so many great moments, from my first class as a White Belt, to passing my Blackbelt test, but looking back I would have to say that having the opportunity to go to the Olympic training center in Rome to participate in the 54th WTF International Referee Certification. I had a chance to spend a week with so many other amazing Martial Artists from across the globe in one of the most beautiful, historic places on earth, it was quite the experience.

 Other than that it was being able to center referee at an International event, Spain vs China.

Al: How would you describe the state of Martial arts in Nova Scotia today?

Master Bell: Martial arts like any business or activity has its good and bad days, the only fortunate silver lining in this present economic reality is that many of the fly by night schools have disappeared, this is a good thing for those who care and are in it for the long haul.

All in all, I think things could be better, not just on a business level, but on a cooperation level, meaning that we as Martial Artists need to share and network with each other, it’s not about being each other’s competitors, it’s about working together to make ourselves and our arts a viable and honorably activity for all Nova Scotians.

 There seems to be so much of a stigma out there about what the arts are really about, and as any Martial Artist knows it’s more than just kicking and punching. We just need to let everyone else know what were really about.

Al: I am sure you’ve met some interesting/famous Martial artists over the years, which ones really stand out to you and why?

Master Bell: A couple of years back I had a chance to attend the Martial Arts Super Show in Las Vegas, at the show I met several famous Martial Artists, such as Cung Le, Dana White, Dan “The Beast” Severn, Herb Perez, Chuck Liddell, Ernie Reyes Senior, Dana Abbott, Mike Swain, etc, but the one that I was thrilled to meet was Bill “Superfoot” Wallace.

 A few years back (1978) I attended the Ralph Hollett vs Superfoot match at the Metro Center, where I took a picture of Bill outside his dressing room, I brought the picture with me to Vegas knowing that he was scheduled to be there. After running into him and talking with him in length I pulled out the picture, what impressed me the most was that he remembered me taking it, at the time I was a 16 year old Red Belt, no one special, at least that’s what I thought, so for your hero to remember you some 30 + years later says so much, I never really realized until then how that picture touched him as much as me, It was a surreal moment for sure.

 Another that really stands out was meeting and hanging out with Royce Gracie when he conducted a seminar at my school, after the seminar he and a few other instructors went up to Boston Pizza to watch a UFC, to be sitting watching the event with the man who basically made the UFC what it is today, was surreal beyond belief.

Al: What are your thoughts on today’s MMA culture? If it had started when we were younger do you think it would have been something you might have tried?

Master Bell:  I have mixed feelings about today’s MMA culture, I think it’s great that different styles are being recognized, but I think the way it’s presented and the attitudes and demeanor of some of the athlete’s sends a wrong message about the arts and what were about, yes fighting is a BIG part of what we do, but so is humility, honor, respect, empathy, etc. I just don’t see that much of it in MMA athletes.

If I was exposed to MMA when at an impressionable age of 15, I would have definitely been drawn to it.

Al: What would you say distinguishes your dojo from other local schools?

Master Bell:  I think all of the schools are unique and different in some way, when I first decided to start my school one of my goals was to do things a little different, not so much to separate myself from the competition, but to design a school and an environment that fit my personality and sense of why.

One of the things I did that no one else was doing was to implement a recognized Character Development program for my Children’s classes; everyone says that they teach character, but to actually have a proven curriculum to do it, that’s another story.

I also wanted to create a sense of family and community within my school, so I created an online resource center and meeting place call “The Digital Dojang” it’s a site strictly for our students, with videos, curriculum, student manuals and tons of other stuff to enhance their training.

Other than that I’m always looking for ways to improve my program and enhance my own training.

It’s important to lead by example, words are cheap, and actions speak volumes.

Al: Where do you see yourself and your school 5 years from now?

Master Bell: Good question. A lot can happen in 5 years, but if I have anything to do with it, and I’m pretty sure I do, I personally plan on being as healthy and as fit as I am today, more knowledgeable in my art and in life, and stronger in my sense of why (why I love to do what I do).

For my school, I hope to be able to offer the same level of instruction and caring, and to continue to develop students who make a positive impact on the world, inside and outside the dojang.


Failure is an Option

I hate failing and I’m sure I’m not alone on this.

I’m always hearing motivational speakers and business/marketing gurus talk about how they love failure and they embrace it as a learning experience.

I think the first part of that last sentence is complete hog wash. I don’t see how anyone can love failure… if they love failure so much then why do they try to succeed?

The second part I do agree with… Every time I fail at something I learn from it:

  1.  I learn not to make the same mistake again
  2.  I learn to approach it from a different angle
  3. I learn where my strengths and my weaknesses are so that I can improve
  4.  I learn humility and try not to beat myself up about it.

The only way not to fail is to not try doing anything and if that’s your goal then you may as well be buried 6 feet deep.

Failure is a part of life that we all have to deal with and it starts from the day we are born.
As babies we fail to crawl until we work out how to use our arms and legs in the right order and build enough physical strength to move ourselves.

Next we fail to walk until we figure out how to balance and then we can walk.
We don’t just give up and stick to crawl-ing around for the rest of our lives because walking seems hard and it’s em-barrassing when we fail to do it.

Embarrassment is a learned trait that young kids don’t have which is why they learn so much in the first few years. They want to know and learn and do everything and they don’t worry about who’s watching or what someone will think if they fail to get things right.

Kids just keep trying until they succeed and then they find another thing to learn. This keeps happening until we introduce the concept of failure to them.

We unconsciously pass on our fears of embarrassment about failing and even-tually make them self-conscious about their own failures.

Here’s a great example that another instructor forwarded to me:

“Recently I was playing a card matching game with a friends two young girls.

 The first game went well with the older girl winning by a landslide. She’s a smart girl and has a good memory.

In the second game she had a bad run of luck turning the cards over and reveal-ing the missing cards for the next person to swoop on to make a pair.

With only 10 cards left in the game to be matched she suddenly buried her head into the couch and started crying… She had just realized that there were not enough cards left in play for her to win this game and threw a sulky tantrum.

Her Mom was quick to defend her and explain that she’s very good at the game and that she doesn’t like losing so they always make sure she wins. If she loses she gets all embarrassed and sulks ruin-ing the game for everyone.

I love my friends but it shocked me that they chose to always rig the game so their child never lost rather than teach her that when you play you can win or lose.

Their solution is a very short term fix that is setting up their daughter for massive disappointments when she starts school and realizes that she can’t win everything all the time.”

Now I don’t think I have all the answers because all kids react differently to things but her Mom’s explanation re-vealed a lot…

“If she loses she gets all embarrassed”

Rather than protect her from failure by cheating I think they should teach her that there is nothing embarrassing about losing.

I’ve been a great believer in Positive Reinforcement for as long as I can re-member. Simply put, you praise success or correct actions/behavior so that the child/student repeats and improves the action or behavior to continue receiving the positive feedback.

If you use Negative Reinforcement you point out and focus on mistakes and eventually the child gives up trying be-cause the fear of failure out weighs the rewards of success.

We need to be mindful that kids are always learning and they learn very quickly.

Teach them to enjoy winning, but also teach them to learn when they lose.

There is nothing wrong with losing or failing to achieve a goal if you learn from it and improve on your next at-tempt.

Teach them that they can only really lose if they GIVE UP!

If they lose during a competition tell them what they can do next time to have a better fight.

Teach them that they are great kids and that you’re proud of them because you can see how hard they are all trying and that you can see them improving every time.

Explain that there is nothing to be embarrassed about if they didn’t succeed the first time. With practice and a posi-tive attitude they will always continue improving.


Kids are born with this attitude but un-fortunately adults pass down their own fears.

I believe that kids need to learn the realities of the world. That sometimes things go wrong, sometimes you will lose at something, it takes effort to be the best at something.

But I also believe that we need to protect their adventurous spirit and belief that they can do almost anything. Because coming back around full circle the thing that makes all the great athletes, leaders, entrepreneurs so successful is their ability to deal with failure and move past it.

The world would be a better place if more people didn’t give up when they failed the first time.

By: Master Bell