It was a culmination of daily practices, grit and countless other hours of preparation over the course of six years. Walking up to receive my belt at the front of the dojang (training studio) was one of the greatest feelings of my life. However, when I looked around that day, I realized I was one of the few people my age.
Where was everybody? I thought.
Well, I get it. When teenagers consider taking up a sport, taekwondo is not typically the first thing that comes to mind. More often than not, sports such as soccer, basketball or football take the top spots. However, I would argue taekwondo should be a strong contender for any high school student, as almost everyone could benefit from having martial arts in their life.
A bold statement? Maybe. Let me tell you why.
To start with a little history, modern taekwondo began in the 1940s; however, its South Korean roots go all the way back to 37BC, when the sport was practiced in its oldest form in the Koguryo dynasty. Although many martial arts share commonalities, such as a commitment to character development, taekwondo is distinguished by its emphasis on kicking.
But okay, let’s get back to the benefits.
First, it’s a formidable workout. By the time the warm-up has ended, you’re covered in sweat and that’s before the kicking has even started. With running, jumping, burpees and more, the cardio will have everyone’s heart racing. The session, too, is a whole-body workout. I know this to be true because when I get out of bed the morning after a hard class, all my muscles are sore, from my neck all the way to my ankles.
If the cardio alone isn’t enough to win you over, taekwondo will also hone your strength, flexibility and balance. There is a plethora of kicking — to the air, the paddles, the bags, even aimed at your sparring partner, and that, in turn, leads to strength. The calves of a martial artist are not to be underestimated.
Stretching is a part of every workout, and with spinning kicks, jumping kicks and head level kicks, you will develop core strength, flexibility and balance without even thinking about it.
What really makes taekwondo special, however, has nothing to do with muscles or sweat. More important than any physical feat are the five tenets of taekwondo, or the heart of the sport. Courtesy. Integrity. Perseverance. Self-Control. Indomitable Spirit.
From the smallest little ninjas to the grandmasters, everyone on the mat follows these tenets, and eventually, it becomes who you are.
It seeps into the other aspects of your life, shaping the best version of you. It shapes the respect you show your parents and teachers, the way you persevere when things feel overwhelming and the way you choose what is right even when no one is looking. This is taekwondo’s secret weapon.
Last, but certainly not least, taekwondo is just plain fun. From swords and nunchucks to sparring and breaking boards, walking onto the mat to train never fails to bring joy. We are a close-knit family, one that always supports each of its members, both in and out of the training studio.
There is a place for everyone to succeed on the mat, without taking away from another, which means that we all teach, help and cheer each other on. A “master,” as we call our headteacher, will be a role model and friend for life, someone who you can always go back to for wisdom and mentorship. It is a community that really has no comparison.
So the next time you are thinking about getting in shape, getting stronger, or finding a sport you would like to learn more about, take a look at taekwondo. It may not be the most popular, or the most trend-worthy, but it has something for everyone.
Whether you need cardio, confidence, strength or practice with focus, taekwondo has you covered. Hope to see you on the mat soon!