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Published on July 21st, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff

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Fort Jackson Drill Sergeant Doubles as All-Military Taekwondo Coach

Pictured, All-Army Taekwondo team head coach Staff Sgt. Jonathan Fennell, a drill sergeant with Task Force Marshall, gives advice to 2015 All-Army Taekwondo team member, 1st Lt. Joshua Fletcher, U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, before a recent match at the USA Taekwondo National Championships in Texas.(photo by Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Wheeler}

Watching a group of Navy personnel training for a deployment overseas wouldn’t seem like the place to witness the head coach of the All-Military Taekwondo team in action, but it is.

For the team’s head coach, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Fennell, a drill sergeant with Task Force Marshall, Fort Jackson, preparing others to fight is an everyday occurrence.

“One of things we can do is to get them as close to the real thing as possible,” Fennell said of Taekwondo and training others for deployment. “If the team only trains on shield and paddles they will never be ready for an actual fight. The same thing goes here. If they don’t drop down and put that tourniquet on fast enough, or they don’t put that gas mask on fast enough, they won’t be ready for that one time they will actually have to do it.”

Fennell initially found himself embroiled in Taekwondo when he met Korean exchange students while in high school. They took him to their training facility and he was hooked. He dropped all other sports he was interested in so he could concentrate solely on his martial art.

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that emphasizes aggressive kicking and punching. It is arguably one of the oldest form of martial arts.

In 1997 after graduating from high school Fennell joined the Army and kept competing. In 2001 he competed for the first time with the Army team. Fennell would go on to be a nine-time Army champion, four-time Armed Forces champion, and a bronze medalist in the world military games in the welterweight class.

For Fennell, the martial art is more specialized than mixed martial arts or modern combatives.

“Taekwondo is a full contact sport,” he said. “A lot of times people focus on MMA and the combatives programs, but don’t realize that if you focus on one skill set it becomes extremely strong. It’s highly skilled like boxers who are extremely good at punching and wrestlers who are well-versed on the ground.”

In Taekwondo fighters can compete in multiple rounds during each competition and need to be in peak physical condition because points are scored by an “abrupt displacement of the body – so you have to hit someone with enough force to move their entire body,” Fennell added.

With some of the better fighters getting kicked is like getting “hit by a baseball bat,” he said.

This is where proper training comes in.

“I put athletes into realistic scenarios and have them fight each other every single day,” said Fennell about the similarities between training troops to fight and training for a martial arts match. “So that when they get on the mat they start to get comfortable. It’s just another fight.

“Same thing goes here, if we have them put the mask on every day, if we have them carrying the weapon the right way, they already know how to do it . they are in a rhythm.”

Fellow Task Force Marshall member Staff Sgt. James Holston, a Rock Hill, South Carolina native characterized Fennell as a good friend and excellent Soldier.

“He is a good guy all around,” the drill sergeant said. “He is resilient and can handle all different situations. He is not hot or cold – he is even keel. Having him in our unit is a sense of pride. He sets a good standard.”

Without the backing of his unit, however, Fennell would never have been able to serve as the team’s head coach.

“I’m very fortunate my command was willing to lose me for the 24 days that I was coaching and preparing the team for a spot in the national championships in Austin Texas,” he said.

His battalion commander, Lt. Col. Timothy Forrest said Fennell is a good drill sergeant and an excellent trainer.

“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Forrest said. “The whole unit is behind him. He volunteers to take leadership when it is needed. He brings a lot of credit upon himself. He is a great guy.”

But for the Taekwondo coach his Family is what motivates him.

Fennell characterized his success as wanting his 7-year-old son Gabriel to see his father “continuing to learn and grow. I want to help him understand there are no limits to where you can go if you work hard for it.”

Fennell and his fiancé, Elizabeth will be welcoming another a little boy, Michael, to their Family later this month.

PATRICK J. JONES
Public Affairs Specialist
USAG Fort Jackson

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