T is for Taekwon-Do (a love letter)


(This is long, you may want to grab a cup of tea or a beer first. Maybe a snack too.)

I hardly know where to start to talk about Taekwon-Do. Yesterday, I wrote about how illuminating it was to discover that stories were the common thread in my entire career, today I’m thinking about how learning Taekwon-Do has been instrumental in understanding so much about how I learn, about how I think and in figuring out how the stories I (used to) tell myself limited the things I thought I was capable of doing.


One of the many, many photos we took the night I received my black belt. Yes, I do have just my thumbnail painted black – it was a focus reminder for when I was doing my test. 🙂

I have wanted to know a martial art for as long as I can remember.* Every time I saw someone in a movie execute a perfect kick or punch, I wanted to be able to do the same. I didn’t even try though, I never researched it, never took a class, nothing of the sort. I was afraid I would try and fail and then never be able to learn it. This is of course, hindsight, if you had asked me years ago, I would have told you that I just hadn’t done it YET, I wouldn’t have realized what was holding me back.

I’m actually lucky that I didn’t get to it earlier. Unlike some of the other adults in my class who wish they had started earlier, I think I started at exactly the right time. If I had started even 3 years earlier, I would have quit in frustration because I was so uncoordinated, so thick when it came to my patterns. I would have crumbled under the pressure of learning so many new things.

I started TKD with my oldest son**and I was so concerned about setting a good example for him that I was able to persevere. And by then, I had read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset and learned how much my fixed mindset was limiting me – making me think that what I could do at that point was the sum total of what I would ever be able to do. So, TKD came along at the perfect time for me – not only did I have a new way of thinking about how I learn, but I had an excellent excuse for pretending to be patient with myself (I had to be that good example).

I’m not pretending it was easy. If, like me, you are a global learner (things come to me more in a flash than step by step) and if you haven’t got a strong body-spatial sense (telling me to put my feet a shoulder-width apart means virtually nothing to me)and if you struggle with perfectionism and over-thinking, then no physical skill is going to come easily to you.

It was important to me though, I wanted this badly. And, for the first time in my life, I swore that I was going to trust in the process and take things step by step. I decided that I was going to try to say thank-you when I was critiqued***, and that I wasn’t going to worry about what the black belts could do, I was only going to focus on the next step in the process, the next belt level.

I wanted the black belt though, even though I wasn’t sure I would be able to get there, I wanted it so very badly. I wanted to have that knowledge and that skill. I wanted to make my instructors proud and I wanted to make myself proud. I wanted to work hard and know that my belt was well-earned.

I was surprised to learn, though, as I got closer to the black belt level, that the black belts still had so much to learn. When you start in TKD, it seems like the black belts have everything under control, they know everything there is to know. In reality, though, getting your black belt is when things really start happening for you.

I passed my black belt test in on March 16, 2014 after a lot of hard work, and by then I had learned that my real work in TKD was just starting. As I said in blog post last year, it’s like I spent 5 years learning the alphabet and now I am finally starting to write words and sentences. I don’t always get those words and sentences right, but I am on my way.

Learning TKD has given me more physical power than I have ever had in my life, but the mental power it has given me goes far beyond anything that I have every experienced. They say when you start a new goal, you should review the things you have done successfully in the past and use those experiences to shape your plan for the new goal. I always use TKD as a structure now, encouraging myself with my past success: ‘Christine, remember when you had so much trouble doing the other half of Chon-ji? You worked through it slowly and you gradually learned it. You can do the same thing here.’

My successes with Taekwon-Do have spread through every other aspect of my life. I can apply the lessons from TKD to my writing, to my life-coaching, to the teaching that I do. I feel like it has changed something fundamental about who I am and how I approach my life and I feel incredibly grateful for that.

I truly love learning Taekwon-Do and I picked exactly the right school and the right instructors for me. Master Downey and Mrs. Downey are endlessly patient with me and they inspire me to work hard and learn more and keep on track. I like how they have complementary teaching styles and they both focus on different things while building on the same basic skills.

They are both terrific, but I am especially grateful to Mrs. Downey because while martial arts are often seen as a male domain, she is having NONE of that nonsense. Having a powerful woman as an example is incredibly inspiring and keeps me working harder to hone my skills. Seeing what she has done (and can do) makes it seem possible for me.****

Finally, the fact that both of my sons and my husband also do TKD with me makes it even more enjoyable. By the middle of 2016, we’ll have four black belts living in our house. Isn’t that cool?

Apparently, once I get started talking about my love for Taekwon-Do, it’s hard for me to stop. 🙂 Taekwon-Do has pushed me mentally and physically to become a better person, both in how I approach my own life and in how I interact with the world, and I can’t imagine where I would be without it.

Thank you for reading and congratulations if you’ve made it this far in my post. 😉


PS – I want to take an extra second and give a shout-out to my friend Kevin here. Even though my learning process makes NO sense to him and he ‘gets’ TKD on a different level than I do, he has a remarkable store of patience for me and helps me figure things out, encouraging me as I go. Thanks, Kev. You rock!

PPS – Bonus shout-outs to Mr. Williams, Mr. Power, Mr. Burke, Mr. Snow, Ms. Collins and Ms. Vere-Holloway, all of whom have helped me figure things out as I went along. Outlining their specific help would make this post even longer, so I’ll leave it at that.

*Note, I didn’t say that I wanted to LEARN one. I wanted to already know it. I was massively jealous when Neo downloaded all those martial arts skills in the Matrix.

**He had done a kids’ TKD program. Our plan was that either my husband or myself would start with one kid and the other would start with our youngest. I was apprehensive and tried to convince my husband to start first but when he couldn’t do it, I stepped up. I’m glad it worked out that way, because he has a natural talent for it and I think it would have been an hard act to follow.

*** My success with this is varied, but I do put the effort in!

****This is a great example of why we need representation of all genders and races and abilities in all kinds of activities. The female black belts in my class are clear examples that things like this can be done by someone like me. Sure, they are way ahead but that’s inspiring, not discouraging.

2 thoughts on “T is for Taekwon-Do (a love letter)

  1. No post is too long – except when its dull. This was anything but dull. I haven’t been involved in martial arts since we were taught judo at school. But that was a self defence thing, so there was no mental aspect. Its definitely the mental aspect that draws me, although there is no doubt that it would’ve been a great help with my balance issues (I do pilates for that now). Whilst studying psychology, I found Gestalt overall chimed with me (once you get past Fritz Perls and his showmanship). Thanks for this post, Christine.

  2. Oh, thanks, Debs! I was concerned that I had pushed the limit on reader attention with this one for sure.

    The mental aspect is definitely huge with me, too. I can do anything for exercise, and all movement has brain benefits, but there is something particularly beneficial about TKD.

    I don’t know very much about the specifics of psychology or psychological theories beyond information related to habits or mindfulness, I’m going to go look up the things you reference in your comment right now.

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