You are here

MENSA PEOPLE - John makes his mark in martial arts

John Foster

Mensan John Foster wasn’t the highest achiever at school – but his non-academic interests and activities have seen him more than stand out from the crowd.

John, 25, from Worcester, is a Third Dan Black Belt in the Olympic discipline of Tae Kwon Do – and is shortly planning to take a black belt grading in the Japanese samurai art of Kenjutsu.

He also studies the Korean sword art of Haidong Gumdo, and has previous experience in Karate, boxing, Aikido, Krav Maga, Jiu Jitsu, Escrima, Jeet Kune Do and kickboxing.

He trains three or four times a week and even has a gym set up at home.

He said: “Martial arts are misinterpreted to varying degrees by the general public and media. If you mention you are a Black Belt you’re met with “Wow, I wouldn’t want to argue with you then!”, which I find gives a rather volatile impression of martial artists.

“In all the martial arts I’ve sampled, the first thing they teach is to walk away and not to use physical means of conflict resolution.

“The “art” in martial art teaches the element of mind preparation as well as physical preparation, understanding that there is a lot of respect to be had for yourself and those around you, including your opponent.

“This is why you see martial artists bow to each other before a fight. It is even more so in the sword arts, as these conflicts are life and death situations.

“In Tae Kwon Do, one of the first things beginner students are taught is the five tenets: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control and indomitable spirit. A good martial artist will have all five of these when applying themselves to their art.

“It is these tenets that we teach (mainly to children as they’re growing up) should be applied to everyday life. With this in mind, I’ve found that I have a different viewpoint on the world and how to interpret everyday situations - a think back to the tenets can often help with decisions of either how to respond to a problem that somebody may present to you or certain decisions made in working life.

“With regard to the physical side of martial arts, I’ve found that I’ve got more confidence when in potentially dangerous situations or even just walking around in public. Of course physical attacks are quite rare (despite what the news may say!) but it feels like if anything were to happen that I could deal with it in whichever way required.”

John became a Black Belt at the age of 16, three years after he joined Mensa after realising he was just as bright as a member featured on Young Mastermind.

He said: “I was watching a Young Mastermind programme and one of the children on the show was introduced as a member of Mensa, to be met with a hushed gasp from the audience.

“I did just as well on the quiz as he did so thought it would be worth a try to join Mensa. I sent off for a home test, then after passing that I was invited to Millennium Point in Birmingham to take the supervised test.

“I really wasn’t sure how I’d performed in it and didn’t have time to finish all the questions, but when on a school trip a few weeks later I got a call from home saying I’d had an acceptance letter!”

John feels that neither his sporting prowess or Mensa membership were particularly recognised by his school, and believes children should be encouraged to pursue a wide set of skills and qualifications, not just academic.

He said: “There is far too much pressure on students to meet targets and deadlines. It seemed that at school you are part of a systemic process that has set procedures and targets, and that if you don’t achieve those targets, you aren’t as successful as those that do and therefore there quickly evolves a hierarchy of achievement where you can easily fall down and lose confidence in yourself.

“When at school the main focus in life is obviously education, as it takes up most of your time, however I think this level of focus has increased over the years and developed a tainted viewpoint in young people that if you’re unsuccessful in education you are unsuccessful in general, you won’t get into college or university and therefore won’t get a decent job to live on - when of course this isn’t true!”

He added: “I wasn't one of the best performers at school and didn't get enough qualifications to entitle me to a place in university - however there have been several activities outside of school that I have achieved in.

 “I took up computing at college and ended up failing with a "U" grade. However, I have now become a software programmer and am being considered as a national developer for the company I work for in the UK!”

John also became the youngest Institute of Advanced Motorists Master Driver in the UK at the age of 23.

 He believes that more activities and non-academic qualifications should be added to the list of alternative qualifications that can earn UCAS points for university admission.

He said: “With UCAS points in particular, there was nothing that I had done outside of college that warranted extra points, as they weren’t on “the list” - including Mensa.

“A lot of students at my college took part in the Duke of Edinburgh award, mostly through no interest other than to earn UCAS points.

“In my opinion, that’s not a good reason to take part in such an activity, it should be something to choose out of personal interest.

“Maybe it’s just a case of adding more activities to “the list”, or awarding points on a case-by-case basis to make the system more flexible - essentially it’s the same as deciding which achievements to list on a CV.

“It’s a tricky situation because there are so many non-academic achievements to be had and I think the most important thing to do is to make sure that children and young adults realise this.”