Taking Charge: How Taekwondo Helped Me Gain Strength of Body & Mind

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peter harrison

Photo Credit: Peter Harrison

Anchee Min wrote, “If you can’t go back to your mother’s womb, you’d better learn to be a good fighter.” It’s an undeniable truth that in this life we are vulnerable, to the elements, to illnesses and injuries that steal our movement and breath. We are vulnerable to abuse from our society and people willing to hurt us.

One of the times I was most vulnerable was between eighth grade and the first year of high school. I was bullied by this kid who made it his personal mission to drive me insane. My anxiety was at an all-time high. Studies have shown that those who are bullied have a higher risk of mental health issues and that people who have experienced bullying as children are five times more likely to experience anxiety and twice as likely to suffer depression and self-harm in comparison to those who are maltreated at home. Further studies have shown that anxiety has been correlated to bullying at any age, not just childhood, triggering mental health conditions which are often connected to physical conditions or aftereffects, such as high-blood pressure, nausea, and excessive sweating which ,if not treated, can lead to serious physical consequences, such as suppression of the immune system, digestive disorders, muscle tension and possible heart attacks.

I had heard martial arts being recommended as an activity to relieve stress and anxiety, as well as the effects of bullying, and decided that maybe I should try it out. I was always interested in them, mostly fostered by a love for Avatar, The Last Airbender, and Jackie Chan Adventures and a Taekwondo existed two blocks away from my house.

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art recognized as one of the oldest forms in the world. It was introduced to the U.S. in the 1950s when pioneering practitioners of the skill came to America. Since then it has been recognized as an internationally renowned art form and included as a category in the Olympic Games. The typical curriculum involves forms (choreographed patterns used to memorize the basic and essential steps, blocks, kicks, and strikes of Taekwondo), sparring (free-style and point-sparring, in which individual points are counted depending where they strike the body), lengthy aerobic and cardio workouts, as well as relaxation and mediation exercises used to develop breathing techniques. There are several medical benefits to Taekwondo, including increased motor skills, hand-eye coordination and increased endurance. It’s an excellent aerobic and cardio exercise.

It was, to say the least, difficult. The class seemed like a tedious repetition of motions, pushups, sit-ups, jumping jacks. There were forms to memorize ten, a hundred, a thousand times until you had to learn the next one. But in the sweat and struggle, there was… relief. At the end of every class, exhaustion washed through my body. I felt that clean pure feeling that only comes when the body is so spent that the mind is allowed to finally relax and just give in. I also noticed physical changes. My body began to tone and I found new muscles in my arms, legs, and stomach that hadn’t existed before. Exercises that had previously left me out of breath no longer did and I had greater endurance, could fight longer, and lift heavier objects. I was becoming healthier, calmer, and stronger in mind and body. Taekwondo is a class where you’re encouraged to scream as loud as possible. I found I could release the ki, more commonly known as chi which is internal energy. It became a place where I didn’t have to worry about disheveled hair, sweating, or even messing up because I could always try again until I got it right. It was empowering to own my anger, body and strength.

Taekwondo is a difficult and grueling process and if you’re looking for a Get thin quick class it may not be your sport. But for me, the martial art has become a chance to deal with my frustrations and insecurities in a healthy way. It continues to be physically, mentally, and emotionally rewarding.

Author: Michele Kirichanskaya

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