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50-year-old OFW becomes first Filipino to join HK’s taekwondo national team

08 October 2019

By Marites Palma

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing and text
Tabuena with one of her gold medals: she got into taekwondo out of boredom

Age is only a number for this determined and feisty Filipina domestic worker.

At the age of 50, and after practising the sport for only five years, Yolanda Tabuena, a diminutive native of Cagayan Valley, has become a member of Hong Kong Taekwondo National Team, the first ever Filipino to achieve the feat.

Tabuena, who is single, had been working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong for 20 years when she got bored doing “nothing” on her days off so she got into the Korean combat sport, taekwondo. It was a sport that she was quite familiar with, as her family members back home were all into martial arts, and most were black belters.
Still, starting something so physically demanding in her mid-40s did not come easy for Tabuena.

"After my first day of training I almost could not get up from bed. I was in pain but I needed to work so I would get up each morning like nothing was bothering me. Weeks, months passed by until I got used to it, and before I realized it, I was facing my opponent already,” Tabuena recalled.

She started being a member of United Taekwondo Association where she became a Red Belt. Then she got her White Belt when she moved to Everest Taekwondo Academy, which is affiliated with Cheung Do Kwan Korea and a member of Hong Kong Taekwondo Association.
She is now a 3rd Dan and has won numerous medals from the various competitions she has joined.

How did she manage to join the national team?

"When I was still at HKTA I joined the Hong Kong National Championship, and garnered a silver medal doing Pyungwon and Sipjin. That got me an invitation to join the national team. I was asked to fill up a form and submit some requirements, then report to the team and undergo some evaluation. Fortunately I passed, and was soon confirmed to represent Hong Kong in my category,” said Tabuena.
She said a distinct advantage of being on the national team is that once you pass the tough selection process, you get to represent Hong Kong immediately in local or Asian competitions, whatever your race.

" I am very proud of myself because I am the only Filipino in the Hong Kong National team, " Tabuena said with a smile." I have the chance to update and upgrade myself through a series of trainings and seminars regarding taekwondo", she said.

As part of the national team, Tabuena won a silver medal along with Kenley Kwok, in the Teabak and Sipjin in Pair contest, and bronze in the Pyungwon and Sipjin category in the Asian competition held in Hong Kong in March 2017.

She has also consistently won the silver medal in her categories in the annual Hong Kong National Championship.
Also included in her haul is the Gold Cup from the Korea Chung Do Kwan, a  gold medal from the Macau Open Championship, and 4 golds and one silver medal from the Pak Ngai Cup.

Tabuena credits her supportive master (or teacher) and her teammates for encouraging her to join competitions, and for their support. She says they are like one big family who look out for each other so that they often get the overall championships during competitions.

Another advantage she has is her ability to speak fluent Cantonese, enabling her to both play and be an instructor in her club. Tabuena says this works both ways, as she gets to polish her skills while lending her expertise to students of the sport.

As a national team player, she hopes more young people will get into the sport, and later also share their knowledge with others so more will be encouraged to do taekwondo.

She lists down the various benefits one will gain from practicing taekwondo, including enhancing your skills and self-esteem, developing self-confidence, and strengthening your mind and body through increased physical coordination and mental discipline

Tabuena adds that taekwondo will help you learn how to deal with disappointments and criticisms, and enable you to become a good leader, teammate and role model.

When she goes back to the Philippines, Tabuena plans to build her own gym in her hometown so she can teach the young people in her province to also embrace the sport.

But for now, she hopes to encourage more of her fellow migrant workers to follow her example, saying taekwondo is a “total learning activity" that teaches physical coordination, flexibility, balance and acumen, while developing one’s athletic abilities and health awareness.
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