Melissa Isaac reaches the pinnacle in the martial art of taekwondo
South Peace News
Melissa Isaac of High Prairie has come a long way to become the first female First Nations taekwondo master to be recognized in Canada.
“I am a very goal-orientated person, but becoming a master was never a goal that I considered,” Isaac says.
She is a fourth-degree instructor with more than 25 years experience in the martial art. She operates the Scorpion Taekwondo Club her mother founded in 1998.
Isaac was tested Aug. 25, 2016 by the Taekwondo Alliance of Alberta in a process that started in fall 2015.
From the beginning, she was encouraged by her parents, Don and Donna Smith.
“When I was 11, just beginning my taek- wondo career, I told my mom, some day I will become a black belt and go to nationals.
“And let’s face it, there are not many female masters and no Aboriginal masters, it seemed to be an unattainable class of martial artist that was a little out of my reach.”
Isaac was inspired in the fall 2014 to test for her master’s level by her mentor, Master Jim Rennie Sr.
“I shrugged it off and procrastinated; I was too busy with my family, too busy with my work, or too busy teaching my own students,” Isaac says.
Rennie and Doug Whitney have especially motivated her.
“They made it a lifestyle not a hobby,” Isaac says. “I would not have this amazing life without them.”
Now that she has attained the master’s level, she is eager to build the martial art.
“Being a master means that I am a promoter of taekwondo,” Isaac says.
“I need to help facilitate the growth and development of taekwondo in northern Alberta; I need to be a good role model for the future leaders of taekwondo.”
Taking that step also opens more doors.
“Deciding that you deserve a shot at something you want is always the hardest part,” Isaac says.
“I deserve to be a provincial champion, I deserve to compete at nationals, I deserve to compete at the US Open, I deserve to run my own club, I deserve to be a teacher, I deserve the opportunity to test for my fifth-degree black belt.”
Taekwondo helped her when she started in a new school when 11.
“I was struggling academically, socially and behaviourly,” says Isaac, a longtime school teacher.
That’s when her mother registered her, her three sisters, two nephews and herself into taekwondo.
“She and my dad set a standard and it really changed the course of my life,” Isaac says.
Isaac has progressed in the journey.
“Mom and dad, made sure I had every opportunity in taekwondo that I was willing to work for,” Isaac says.
Taekwondo strengthens her in many ways.
“I was making better choices and I was gaining a sense of self-value.”
Courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit are the tenants of taekwondo.
“These guide me daily, I am far from perfect, but they keep me accountable and striving for better,” Isaac says.
Her siblings have also been strong supporters.
Isaac still cherishes the time when she was about 14 and her brother Brent encouraged her.
“He sat in my room and told me how incredibly proud he was of me,” Isaac says.
“I think about that moment a lot.”
In 1997, just before the provincial championships, she found out she was pregnant.
“I was just 19 and was hoping to defend my provincial and national championship wins, with hopes for an Olympic team trial,” Isaac says. “It was a tough time.”
Her husband, Dustin Isaac, has also been an inspiration to her.
During the summer of 1998, her mother showed her some taekwondo equipment she had bought.
“Melissa, I am starting a club named Scorpion Tae Kwon Do and I want to have you be the instructor,” Isaac recalls.
“She wanted to keep her grandson and me off the roads that winter.”
Scorpions began in September 1998, just months before her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Currently with about 75 students, Isaac estimates she has taught more than 500 people since she started the club, and produced about 17 black belts.
Next year, the club will travel to Korea to train for the first time in 15 years.
Isaac competed in the national championships last year and will return this year.
“I can see nothing but progress,” Isaac says.
“I am so excited for the day one of my students takes over the club.
“I will never quit, but it has been such a fulfilling role for me that I hope some of them get to experience this deeper level of taekwondo, the club instructor.”