MARTIAL ARTS: WITH movies like 'The Karate Kid' trilogy a box office hit on both sides of the Atlantic, the mid-1980s were a boom time for martial arts.
But sporting tastes have changed and, these days, many martial arts clubs have to survive with dwindling numbers.
However, the discipline of tae kwon-do in general and the Ellesmere Port & Neston club in particular continue to go from strength to strength.
Tony Littlejohns, 39, has been the driving force for success and the experienced instructor looks back on 20 years in tae kwon-do.
JULY 1985 was quite a momentous month.
The Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior was bombed and sunk in Auckland harbour by French agents, Coca-Cola caused a storm by introducing 'New Coke' a huge marketing flop which led to the return of the original as 'Coca-Cola Classic' and the Live Aid pop concerts in London and Philadelphia raised more than £50m for famine relief in Ethiopia.
Meanwhile, at Stanney Community Centre, a group of 50 novice students started training in tae kwon-do.
Tony said: 'I'm the only one left in the sport. I'd done boxing and other martial arts but I realised tae kwon-do was for me. I became addicted and trained six-to-eight times a week. There were no other clubs in the North West at the time so I travelled all over North Wales. It took me a while to learn the rules though and I was disqualified in my first four competitions.
'However, once I got to grips with things, I won both the Welsh and English Championships three years running and represented my club in the Netherlands. While things were going well personally, the club was really struggling and my instructor left in 1988, leaving just three members, including myself.'
Although at this time, Tony was not qualified to teach, he took up instructing as a hobby in order to keep the sport afloat in the area.
He said: 'At first it was very quiet so it was easy, but in 1991 there were suddenly 40 members and we were doing OK in competitions. The big breakthrough came in 1995 when we entered the North Staffordshire Team Championships. There were 52 medals on offer and we took 49 home.
'I was also doing well myself and on my way to five North Midland Area Championships in succession so decided to turn professional. In this tournament, we finished runners-up as a club in Nottingham in 1997 and I said that we'd be back the next year to win it. We did for the next five years with record scores and have now taken seven of the last eight titles.'
Tony passed his black belt in October 1988 under the tuition of Korean Grand Master Hee Il Cho and started refereeing a year later.
He is now one of the top officials in the sport and has refereed in four World Championships.
Tony is currently travelling to Derby and Crewe on a regular basis as he prepares for his fifth dan in October.
At the same time, two of his students will be taking their third dan and 15 their first dan.
The decision to award London the 2012 Olympics has been met with great enthusiasm by Tony, who hopes to have several medal contenders at a prime age by the time the Games arrive.
He said: 'The time is right for any budding Olympian to start training for London 2012. There's no reason why we couldn't have one from Ellesmere Port & Neston.
As a club, Ellesmere Port reopened in 1994 but Neston has been running since 1985, making it the oldest tae kwon-do institution in the region and one of the oldest martial arts clubs in the UK.
An unprecedented two-time winner of both the Tae Kwon-Do Association of Great Britain's Coach of the Year award and the Pioneer's Male Sports Personality of the Year, Tony is extremely satisfied with what he has achieved.
He said: 'In 2001, we had our first world champion, which was also a first in any sport for the borough and, over the past decade, I've produced an average of 10 national champions a year which means we've had more than 100 now. I've also had more than 100 black belts under my tuition.'