Online workout sessions have been a fixture of Covid-19 for many people trying to keep fit – but Hexham black belt Stephen Robinson has a silver medal at a world martial arts tournament to show for his Zoom efforts.

The 59-year-old achieved a podium finish at the ITF Taekwon-Do World Championships in the veteran male black belt 1st dan patterns competition for over-50s.

It followed a bronze medal in the same category – but for all age groups – at the UKTC British Championships in April.

Stephen, a grandfather-of-two who works as a self-employed engineer, said: “To be given the opportunity to enter a world competition helped me to motivate myself during the lockdown. Then to actually come out the other end and win a medal has given me a great sense of achievement.”

Stephen, who lives in Burswell Villas with wife Linda, has been involved in martial arts since 1985 and has a black belt in three disciplines of the sport.

He was first awarded the belt – the highest colour code in martial art ranking systems – in 1985 with Tukido, before adding the honour with Hung Sao Do karate in 1995.

After also training in Shotokan karate up to the grade of 2nd kyu brown belt, he took a break from the sport from 2002 to 2015 due to a recurring knee injury and became more involved in junior and senior local football.

But at the age of 54, he took up Taekwon-Do in 2015 and achieved a third black belt in July last year.

“I decided I wanted to get fit again and had missed martial arts,” said Stephen, who is also a member of Hexham Golf Club. “The whole thing about staying fit is you begin with the best intentions of going on a bike or for a run, but the problem is there’s never any end goal after that. With what we do in Taekwon-do, there’s always something to aim for and, no matter what happens, you never stop learning or improving. I started off as a white belt again not knowing if my knee would hold up.

"I knew my big target was to try get to black belt but had to aim for little targets throughout. I’d certainly say that when I was younger and taking my black belt gradings, there weren’t many people in their 50s taking those gradings back then. So I think after my knee injuries and thinking I wouldn’t get back to my old level, I suppose I felt quite proud of myself."

“The funny thing is when I got it, I felt really chuffed with myself and then the instructor said to me ‘now the learning starts’.”

The sessions, run by Paul Priestley, a 3rd Dan, are usually held at Hexham Torch Centre on Wednesday evenings.

That was until lockdown when – like office jobs, meet-ups between friends and Joe Wicks workouts – everything moved online.

Stephen admits it was difficult at first as the lessons were one-way videos in which instructors couldn’t watch how the students performed.

Even after the group switched to online video calling platform Zoom to make the lessons more interactive, motivation was a challenge.

“In normal classes, you’ll often have someone nearby who you’re trying to keep up with, and a bit of competitive edge comes out,” said Stephen.

“But when you’re in your own room doing it, you can’t see what others are doing. So you’re competing against yourself really, which was unusual.”

Stephen would eventually get his chance to compete, but not in the traditional sense. As Covid-19 restrictions prevented any combat to take place, the UK Taekwon-do Council (UKTC) governing body decided to hold only a pattern competition at its British Championships.

Patterns are a combination of set movements that include kicks, punches and blocks that vary in difficulty according to belts.

Competitors, who submitted two videos each lasting between about 45 seconds and three minutes, were judged on their quality of technique, power, rhythm, balance and flexibility.

After winning bronze, he decided to enter in the same category at the International Taekwon-Do Federation’s (ITF) World Championships – which featured national associations from countries including Argentina, Cuba, France, the US and Netherlands, on 25 July.

He found out several weeks later by email he had won a silver medal.

Stephen, who recorded his videos by hanging his mobile tablet from a washing line with clothes pegs, said he had initially just wanted to improve on the patterns he had submitted for the domestic tournament three months earlier.

“In my wildest dreams, I wanted to get a medal and be recognised for the effort I’d put in over the past five years,” he said.

“It’s on a par with anything I have achieved in martial arts before. When I stopped doing Shotokan karate in 2002, I thought that was the end of my involvement in martial arts. When I picked it up again, I thought I’d see how it goes and progress by each belt.

“Once I got the buzz again, I knew if I continued taking these little steps, it would not be long before the black belt was in sight.

“It just shows that if you put the effort in, you’ll usually get something out of it.”

Stephen, who turns 60 in April, now has the target of achieving 2nd dan – the next step up the black belt ladder – in his sights.

He added: “It depends on whether the chief instructor of the association thinks I’m ready for it, but because I’m very goal-orientated, I’d love to do that in my 60th year if that was possible.

“In the meantime, I enjoy going to classes, where I sometimes get the chance to help out with the teaching. It’s fantastic to watch people improve and achieve things they thought they never would.”

Stephen’s instructor Paul Priestley said: “Getting a black belt showed age is not a problem – it’s about the capability of the student. Stephen has worked hard on his patterns and his silver medal in the World Championships was well deserved.

“It just proves that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve any goals.

“Taekwondo is a wonderful life-changing journey, which offers many benefits including fitness and personal development.”

The UKTC classes have now recommenced at Hexham Torch Centre every Wednesday. They are:

Little Tiger Cubs (3-5 years): 5.30pm to 6.15pm

Children aged six and above, through to adults: 6.15pm to 7.15pm

To book a lesson, visit uktc.co.uk.