Fancy footwork: Engineering student an international martial arts champion

- May 15, 2019

Ryan O'Neil in competition (provided photos).
Ryan O'Neil in competition (provided photos).

Ryan O’Neil hopes to spend 2020 competing and completing.

The competition: suiting up for Canada in karate at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The completion: his fifth year as an Industrial Engineering student at Dal.

“It would be a dream to go to the 2020 Tokyo Games,” says Ryan, originally from Halifax. “Once I heard karate was added as an official Olympic sport, I was like, ‘my focus is karate and trying to get to the Olympics ’”

Competing in karate at the 2020 games may be Ryan’s goal for the future, but the 22-year-old has already seen martial arts success on the world stage, recently winning his third consecutive gold medal at the 2019 International Taekwondo Federation World Championships in Inzell, Germany.

“It felt really good,” says Ryan. “I worked really hard to try and stay on the top.”

Putting in the work

His work ethic extends from his martial arts training to his studies at Dalhousie. “My dad taught me to work hard for what you want. Hard work is useful in everything. I learned that first in taekwondo, but it translates to school.”

Balancing being a full-time engineering student and competing in both karate and taekwondo globally isn’t always easy for Ryan, but he says his hard work is paying off in the long run. “I get home, I study and then I go train. Then I study some more and after that I go to sleep. Some might think that it’s not a whole lot of fun, but for me training is fun.”

Ryan has been training in martial arts since he was young, beginning taekwondo when he was four and karate at age ten, “Taekwondo focuses on kicking,” says Ryan. “whereas karate really focuses on hand-speed and punching. My dad told me, ‘You want to get really good at Taekwondo? You need to train other martial arts as well.’”

An eye towards Tokyo

To qualify for the Summer Games in Tokyo, Ryan needs to place in the top three of his weight class at a qualification tournament in Paris. “There’s a lot of international tournaments,” says Ryan. “Because Engineering is a pretty intensive program, I don’t really have the ability to miss that much school and to go to these tournaments. For me there’s going to be a tournament coming up in Paris in 2020. They’re going to send one person from every country who has not already qualified, so that’s going to be my only chance.”

Ryan says the secret to balancing his studies with competing is simple. “Time management is key. Make sure you know what you want to do, then set up a map on how to get there.”


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