Black Belt attitude: adventures in taekwondo

I will live with perseverance, in the spirit of taekwondo. Having honor with others, integrity within myself, and self control of my actions. – American Taekwondo, The Songham Spirit of Taekwondo

It’s hard to encapsulate three years of hard work into a few paragraphs. So much blood, sweat, tears, and sore muscles have gone into it. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? 

I didn’t grow up doing martial arts as a kid, and in fact my parents were very adamant that I stay away from the “creepy Eastern mysticism” as they called it. So of course, when my son became old enough for taekwondo class at a local community center I jumped at the opportunity to sign up with him. Yes, you read that right. This wasn’t going to be one of those things where I dropped him off and sat in the bleachers scrolling through Reddit for an hour. I wanted to participate with him. Initially, it was so we could have something that was “our thing” together. At least one activity that through the years we could go back to as a shared experience and practice. It almost ended before it started.

That first day of practice, Alex was 5 years old and just a little guy. He was scared of the big people telling him all these strange things to do with his body. He just wanted to hug my leg the entire class. I would (mostly) patiently remind him that he was here to learn and all he had to do was what I was doing. I was going to be right there with him the whole time. No dice, dad. A few tantrums later, we made it through our first class. I messaged the teacher afterwards that I wasn’t sure we’d be back for a second if I couldn’t convince him. I showed him a couple of YouTube videos of what he could do with his skills if he kept with it. Breaking boards goes a long way for a young boy (and even when you’re in your 30s, it helps!). 

That was three years ago now. We haven’t looked back since! I think we may have missed a total of 8 weeks in that entire span. You can’t keep us away from training now. In that time, Alex has been able to do an 11:30 plank (before he got bored) and I’ve gotten up to 8:30. We’ve learned nine different forms, plus three more for different weapons. We spar regularly, and revel in the challenge of lighthearted combat with our friends in class. Bruises are worn as badges of honor. As I’m writing this, I’m nursing a sore knee and jaw from a couple of errant kicks. It reminds me constantly to keep my actions under control, lest I inflict similar injury on others.

Both of us are now confident enough that if we were into get into a situation that required our skills, we could get out of it safely. I’m 100% confident that if my family were threatened by an attacker, I could send him (or her) to the hospital with serious injuries and a lifelong regret that they ever came across us. But that’s not really the point of martial arts practice. I’m more aware of myself and who I’m created to be. I know Alex is too. We’re created to have influence over the part of God’s kingdom in which we have say, however small that is. We need to control our actions, and live with integrity. We have a responsibility to honor ourselves and others. We don’t see failure as the end, but an opportunity to learn and grow. We’ve also begun to learn how to enjoy the journey. Just getting a black belt isn’t the goal, it’s to enjoy the time together along the way. Plus, if Alex wants to get that sixth degree like he says he does, we’ll be at this until we’re 80 anyway. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re just a few months away from testing for our first degree black belt, and it’s definitely a point of pride with me as a dad to be able to share this journey with my son.

When your training gets hard and you just want to throw in the towel, it helps to have someone there with you to keep you going. Some mornings, Alex doesn’t want to go to practice and I practically drag him out of the house. Others, I’m chugging coffee to stay awake while Alex bounds to the car. We keep each other in check and moving forward on our journey. Sometimes you’ll literally get kicked in the throat (thanks Sean…) and you have to decide then: are you going to give up? Or are you going to take a minute to breathe and get back at it?

You also need to celebrate the milestones along the way. So many times in life, we just finish one thing and are eager to get on to the next. When we are awarded a new belt in taekwondo, it is always a reminder to celebrate our accomplishment and thank those who have helped to make it possible. Tracy, if you’re reading this, I owe you a debt of gratitude for all those Saturday mornings that Alex and I took for practice. It’s been immensely amazing to have your support in this journey, and I couldn’t have done it without you. As you read this, think through your own journey so far. Who has been there supporting you? Have you thanked them recently?

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