Kicking and Yelling: A Father of Five on the Road to Black Belt
I made taekwondo a part of my life when I needed it most. Five years ago, my family and I were grappling with some serious health issues. In September 2009, my son, age 6 at the time, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabete, and my wife had a miscarriage. All that was added to the daily challenges of medical practice I had come to expect over the years. These new stresses had turned my family’s life upside down. My wife and I had three children when I started my training. Then came two more kids, now ages 3 years and 1 year. Daily life was busy and getting busier. In July 2010,my son joined a friend learning taekwondo. Either my wife or I watched our son through each class in part to be sure he had no blood sugar issues. He was having fun and was even selected student of the month. So, I began thinking. What would taekwondo be like for me?
Taekwondo, roughly translated as “kick punch discipline” or “the art of unarmed combat” is a Korean martial art and emphasizes multiple kicking techniques and hand strikes. But taekwondo is far more than an ancient system of self-defense. Taekwondo is a path of discipline for a good, moral life.
In February, I joined my son in taekwondo. I have to admit, the first class was pretty intimidating. Our class stood in three straight lines on the mat—each of us with backs straight and knees bent in the “horse riding” position. In unison, we yelled and punched straight ahead in the air with alternating hands. In taekwondo, to yell, or “Key-hahp!” is taught to allow focus, strength and decreased awareness of pain. Before martial arts training, I didn’t really yell. Martial arts cured me of not yelling!
On average, I would go to class about once per week. When you have two kids under the age of four, leaving the house for much other than work was really not an option. So I had to practice at home most days of the week. In addition, with five kids, we were running out of space! I would get up around 6 a.m. before work, or practice around 10 p.m. when most of the kids were in bed. On the weekends, I would have to wander from room to room, negotiating with my kids for space to practice. I also have to thank my wife, Linda, who put up with me going to all the taekwondo classes and endlessly kicking around the house. She deserves at least half the credit for my progress so far.
Often the baby’s room, stuffed animals and baby books and all, became my training room and my 3-year old daughter became my training partner. At the time, she could not pronounce “taekwondo,” so we affectionately called it “kick-kick.” A home “kick-kick” class with daddy consisted of stretches, jumping jacks, basic kicks and finally, I insisted she wear my sparring helmet; at which time, she would run away and hide.
On the road to black belt, I’ve had my share of bruises and even broke a toe practicing at home. I had to stop going to class for six weeks to heal. But that didn’t stop me from practicing at home. Every morning before work, I would lie on my back in the family room and practice kicking in mid-air. It made getting my next belt all the more worth it.
I have had some moments of triumph, too. In my fourth year of training, an instructor who had known me since I started saw me doing sprinting exercises through a grueling class. He said I moved “like any other teenager.” I am 46. That made my day.
Now that I look forward to my black belt test fast approaching, I am so grateful for the opportunity to do all that I have done in taekwondo, and have my family experience it with me. I have done my best to forge the indomitable spirit of a black belt—for whatever life may bring. So, my advice to anyone considering taekwondo. Don’t be afraid. No matter what your age or experience, you can do it—keep kicking and yelling!