With a brand-spanking new year comes some rather recycled goals and resolutions: some want to become more productive, others more positive but the majority of the Western world wants to get fit, lose weight or at least work off the chocolate that was consumed over the holidays. Whatever your goals are this year, there’s a Korean martial art that can almost guarantee you success in all those fields (I’m speaking from experience here)
Taekwondo has always intrigued me. There has constantly been a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that I should perhaps join a club. But, the timing was never right. I was either in university, working strange hours or just not living in a location that offered martial arts. But once I moved to Korea – the birthplace of taekwondo – the timing couldn’t have been better.
I was out with some friends in Seoul and I met this somewhat chubby, dark-rimmed glasses-wearing, artsy looking ESL teacher who said he did taekwondo. Now, I’m not trying to be rude or superficial here but this fellow wasn’t exactly the poster child for athleticism. In fact, he smoked, drank and probably never wore running shoes in his life. My first thought was “if he can do it, so can I!” I figured it was now or never and off I went.
Taekwondo can loosely be translated as “the way of the hand and foot”. It is usually practiced bare foot and students wear white uniforms called doboks. A new student is required to wear a white belt and will earn different colours as they progress through various levels. While there is lots of kicking, there’s a whole lot more to taekwondo too, such as:
-The learning of proper techniques and form (on-going throughout practice)
-Cardio (you need stamina to kick!)
-Patterns (or poomsae)
-Relaxation, meditation and breathing exercises (one of my favorite parts)
-Board breaking (yes, anyone can do this!)
-Exams to progress to the next level
I went into taekwondo with zero expectations. I thought it would be a way to get fit and kill some time. I had no idea that I would make friends and build relationships that would span countless countries and continents.
I also wasn’t prepared for was how much it would affect me mentally. Over the course of the coming weeks and months, my perspective changed. I felt more grounded and at home in Korea. My productivity was improving. My thoughts were more positive and I had an added bounce in my step. Taekwondo became the highlight of my day. The challenge of pushing yourself to the limit at each and every class was strangely addicting. The self-discipline required to do each kick and jab accurately and properly somehow changes the psyche. And while stretching, I could actually feel emotions being released in my body. I was truly getting to know myself.
I was also getting to know my muscles – lots of them. I’ll be honest here, most people are pretty sore in the beginning. But once your muscles become accustomed to your training it’s not so bad. After all, along with some soreness comes muscle tone, something we all want a little more of!
Joining Arirang Taekwondo in Seoul, South Korea is a decision I’m grateful I made each and every day. It introduced me to running, kick started my healthy lifestyle and made me realize how much I enjoy stretching (I now practice yoga). While I do not currently practice taekwondo, it is something that I will once again return to in the not so distant future. After all, returning to it is a resolution of mine. In the meantime, I’m trying a new martial art at the moment: Muay Thai!
I hope my story has inspired you to give taekwondo a try. Take it from me, you’ll be glad you did.