“Who doesn’t want to be a superhero?”
Akino Lindsay, the reigning International Sport Kickboxing Association (ISKA) World Champion, is defending his love for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
“That show had me. I liked the suits, the fighting, the action. Everything they did was so cool. I wanted to be the black Power Ranger.”
The twenty-one-year-old’s love for the TV show may not be surprising, given its popularity in 1990s Jamaica. The live-action superhero series was in heavy rotation, featuring a team of teenagers with the ability to morph into Power Rangers with superhuman capabilities.
For Lindsay, the show had a special place in an otherwise challenging childhood. He grew up in Drewsland, an economically disadvantaged area in Kingston, where his mother raised him and his siblings on her own, after his father was killed violently when Lindsay was only five years old.
“Drewsland wasn’t a place for kids,” says Lindsay. “It was where my father died, and that put me in a constant state of unease. I acted out a lot and got into a lot of trouble. Taekwondo literally saved my life. If I hadn’t started taekwondo, I’d be dead or in prison.”
The transition from watching small-screen action to participating in real-life martial arts happened when taekwondo was introduced at his high school, St George’s College. Initially attracted to the flips and kicks he’d seen on television, Lindsay fell in love with the sport’s discipline and camaraderie, and found in its competitive environment a safe channel for his energy, anger, and resentment.
“Taekwondo is a way of life,” says Lindsay. “The thrill of competition pushes me. I want to go all out and give one hundred per cent. If somebody does something better than me, I want to do it ten times better.”
There were other moments off the mat that cemented his love for the sport. “The best experience I’ve ever had in taekwondo was when my first coach, ‘Sir’ Herbert Stewart, carried me out for my birthday. He kept calling me son, and that felt good to me. I had a male figure in my life looking out for me, and I felt well blessed.”
From his first competition at age seventeen — which resulted in a loss he describes as spectacular — Lindsay has rolled out an impressive string of performances at the national, regional, and international level. He holds the 2017 ISKA World Champion title, which he first won in 2015. Last year, he also won the Jamaica Taekwondo National Invitational and placed second in the US Open ISKA World Martial Arts Championship. He’s won gold and silver, respectively, at the 2014 and 2016 Pan American Championships, and was the 2014 International Taekwondo Federation World Champion. He trains in both the International Taekwondo Federation and World Taekwondo Federation disciplines, and enters nearly a dozen local and international championships each year.
Lindsay competes in both light contact continuous sparring and point sparring categories, with a competition schedule that can include three or more fights a day for consecutive days. “As an athlete, Akino is very dedicated,” says Michael Rose, taekwondo black-stripe and long-time friend. “In sparring, he’s always excited. I try to emulate him and learn from him.
“As a fan, if you’ve ever seen him fight, you’d want to do taekwondo,” Rose continues. “It’s exciting, dramatic, over the top. It’s like watching the Power Rangers. The techniques you’d see in the movies are the things he executes. He does all the moves that aren’t easy to do, and makes it look fun.”
Lindsay’s ultimate prize is Olympic gold. “If I’m doing something, I want to take it all the way,” he says. “It would be huge for Jamaica.” Kenneth Edwards, who represented Jamaica in taekwondo in the 2012 Olympics, is the only athlete to do so to date. Lindsay trains with Edwards on Jamaica’s combined martial arts team, and is motivated to increase the recognition of Jamaica’s success in the sport.
But that longstanding dream is now rivalled by a more personal project: using his skills and talents to transform the lives of young people in circumstances similar to those he grew up in. On hiatus from the University of the West Indies for a year, Lindsay is currently a coach in the Safer Communities Programme, a multi-partner effort to reduce youth violence in six volatile communities in Kingston.
The programme is led by Fight for Peace International, a global NGO that uses boxing and martial arts to transform young people’s lives. (Full disclosure: I run the Jamaica country programme.) The SCP communities are like Drewsland in income levels and levels of violence, and it’s not hard to see why Lindsay sees himself in the faces of his young charges.
“Taekwondo changed my life. It’s more than the training and the fancy kicks. Now I see it as a way to help other people,” he explains. “We’re keeping children off the street. We’re giving them a family away from family. My most important role is to be there for them.”
Lindsay’s dedication as a coach in the SCP earned him a nomination to the Michael Johnson Young Leaders Course, a coaching development programme for young coaches around the world. The programme is now providing funds and coaching support for Lindsay to develop Math Ninjas, an innovative approach to integrating math instruction into his taekwondo lessons, which Lindsay designed when he recognised many of his young athletes needed help with math.
“I love math and I love taekwondo. I’m fusing the things I love to solve a big problem in Jamaica. Getting this right is as important to me now as the Olympics.”
Balancing his commitment to the project with his Olympic dreams is a challenge, but one that Lindsay is fully ready to take on. “One thing I’ve learned from ISKA is you always have to find a way to keep advancing,” he says. The person backing up is the person losing.
“You never, ever stop fighting.”
Five questions for Akino Lindsay
What’s your superhero name?
Shringo, my alter ego. Shringo can block out all tiredness and pain. But so far I haven’t needed him to show up yet.
What are your favourite moves?
A tie. Tornado kick (360-degree turning kick): it’s really cool when you execute it properly. Reverse turning kick: it’s really hard, but if you do it properly you can counter most kicks.
What do you do for fun?
Play Pokemon GO, text my girlfriend, play football.
What’s your training routine?
Taekwondo training for four hours a day, four days a week. Run once a week.
And your biggest fears?
Planes, elevators, getting old, flying cockroaches, and getting kicked in the teeth.