Friday, October 31, 2014

My Moo Sul Kwan Journey So Far

By Irene Kim, blue belt

My nerves began to manifest deeply as I stepped onto that light brown carpet at the Littleton school for the first time. A black belt took me aside and started to show me the footwork of the 4 directions that I would need to know. I tucked my hands behind my back and followed his every move, trying to ignore the uncertainty of this unknown.

I had given birth to my second child 5 weeks prior and sought to regain my physical strength in something new. I had practiced cardio-kickboxing for 6 years, though it was not considered a true Martial Art. I was intrigued and interested in the more formal taekwondo from a cultural as well as personal perspective.

As the weeks, months, and years have progressed, I am finding a strength of mind, body and spirit that I did not know existed within me. I was raised by a severely conservative father who escaped northern Korea (before it was formally North), then survived the Korean War. Ironically, he practiced the original taekwondo, without uniform, in the woods of Korea, though warns me not to go "too hard" practicing the art now. My mother was from Seoul and also survived the War. Both raised me to not be competitive, so I did not seek out sports growing up. Indeed, the apprehension of competition is a strong part of me even now.

Taekwondo supports students competing not with each other so much as within themselves. I value this. I recall Master Sautel telling us prior to a tournament, "Don't tell me you got first place; I don't want to know." This resonates with me; In any competition with which I have been involved, my biggest fear had always been to not let others down (e.g., teammates or coaches).

I value our taekwondo instructors support of each one of us. As our uniforms and lack of ornamentation due to etiquette indicate, we are all equals, regardless of age, gender, height, size, rank in society or profession.  Those initial nerves and uncertainty are still with me as I learn and practice, though to a far lesser degree in large part due to the CTI instructors and their respect of all individuals who practice the art.

Through the practice of taekwondo, I feel a sense of confidence growing in areas I did not know I possessed. I have confidence in my role as mother and professional in caring for others.  I am strong in sensing others' needs before they are even aware of them and making others smile in doing so, but I have never held a lot of confidence in my physical strength. I have always been relatively good at cardiovascular aerobic exercise (running races, tri-athalon, swimming), though have not considered myself to be an athlete or physically strong. Taekwondo pushes me to be strong in all ways (physical, mental spiritual, emotional) and while it is a struggle sometimes, I sense the benefits.

Though the demands on my life do not allow me to attend class more than a couple times per week, the feelings I have at the completion of the adult class every week stay with me: Pride, accomplishment, success, growth (in strength, power, confidence) and ultimate stress-relief. I learn every single class. While my strength grows, however, I am always extremely humbled by each and every student, instructor and Black Belt in the organization. As I was told early on in my training, 'Attaining Black Belt level is only halfway through.' There is so much to go.

But life is a journey, not a destination. My journey in taekwondo is a series of ascending steps that I climb each week. Sometimes it is a mental climb, as when I rehearse in my mind what I learned. I will sit with a snack or dinner after class and reflect on key points that I need to improve on. I will make notes and flashcards to instill in my mind as I physically take a step and attain higher and higher levels by practicing. The top of my taekwondo staircase is so far up that it is not visible to me; I do not know if I will attain Black Belt. This is not a concern to me. I am practicing taekwondo for very personal reasons, including being a role model for my daughter (a 6-year-old striped green belt who has earned a total of 7 belts since becoming a Tiger!)

Above all, the power of taekwondo has made me a better person. I am honored to know and practice with such outstanding individuals, such positive role models in a society so unfortunately filled with negativity and doubt.  I am surrounded by positivity, respect, and health each time I step in the door to the Littleton school of the CTI. To persevere is the goal for me and my daughter, despite numerous other responsibilities pulling us in different directions (as every CTI student has).  Through many different avenues and now including taekwondo, I know for certain that hard work pays off. Push through, I tell myself, and the power will only keep growing.

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