There are many reasons why I started Taekwondo. In order to understand these reasons, it is necessary to review the circumstances of my life at the time I decided to start Taekwondo. As well, a review of these circumstances is necessary to understand how my life has changed since I started Taekwondo.
I started Taekwondo at the end of October 1999 at a do jang called Tiger Kim's Martial Arts Academy (which would later be renamed Black Belt World operating under Master Tommy Chang). At the time I started Taekwondo, I was doing what most people do after graduating university - working a typical "9 to 5" job, struggling along with bill payments, student loans, credit card debts and most of all struggling to find some inner meaning behind everyday life. Working was anything but thrilling or exciting or even anything what I would call a success. Being a not-too-recent business graduate, I was somewhat brainwashed into thinking that "yes, I'm going to make my millions working for some major corporation" - that thought was quickly shattered after struggling since graduation for more than 2 years already.
So there I was struggling along working in my fourth job since graduation. I had started out working for a year and a half at a medium-sized marketing company which underwent major corporate changes due to a takeover from a large U.S. conglomerate. Eventually, when it came down to letting my coworker or me go, it was I who had to leave - I was making $2/hr more than she was. After that, I did a stint at marketing research only to realize I could only go so far unless I went back for a Master's degree in Sociology and also that the work was really seasonal. After that, I enlisted the aid of an employment agency who placed me where I was in October 1999, at a temp job where my supervisor didn't know what she was doing any better than me and instead of letting me do my work, she would come and ramble on at me about some decision she needed to make.
There I was - at a job which was less than desirable, but I needed a monthly income and me being your typical Ox child according to Chinese astrology, I was patiently struggling along knowing someday my successes would come along.
Then the amazing thing happened, I received a phone call from Tiger Kim's Martial Arts academy. Two months previously, I put my name and number in a draw for some free martial arts classes - Taekwondo. I was, suffice it to say, a bit surprised they called because "No one ever gets calls from those silly little draws, but well, I wouldn't have put my name in that draw if I didn't really want to, now would I?" So, I went in and talked to the receptionist, whose name for the life of me I can't remember, but I remember her enthusiasm and energy and that she gave me a month of free classes. She decided to give me a month of classes because with only two weeks of free classes, I probably would only go to about 4 classes which was definitely not enough for me to decide if I really wanted to sign up later or not.
Now I should mention that growing up I was quite active in high school. I tried a few sports though I will admit to being not very good at them - basketball, volleyball, and soccer to name a few. However, in university due to the heavy study schedule, I hardly had time to make it to the gym and workout. Also, I really didn't (and still don't) like aerobics classes, you can call them by any name, even something like Power Punch, but I still won't like it. After 4 years of university and two years in the work force, I was basically unfit, aside from the couple of nights out dancing each week. Even though I could dance for nearly 3 hours straight aside from water breaks - it still is not the same as some kind of athletic training.
So, what happened? Well, I did sign up. Though I was a bit worried about my finances, but I wanted to live life and have some kind of enjoyment, not just work and then go home and worry some more.
Over the next few years, I started to train more and more. I always trained hard, pushing myself to my limits. I found that the many benefits claimed by Taekwondo are true. It builds confidence and relieves stress. For me, it was part of my happiness. Overall, I would say the main reason I started Taekwondo was that I always wanted to, and if it was the time to start, then so be it. That wasn't exactly the answer I gave when I signed up, but the answer I gave was another reason, I wanted to be physically fit again. I have achieved that goal, but somehow I managed to stick with Taekwondo, even though I acquired a knee injury and had to go through knee surgery to continue with it. So here I am, on the verge of getting my black belt. Not so bad for someone whose intent was never black belt to begin with - I just wanted to be physically fit and get some enjoyment from life. (Once when I was a green belt, a black belt asked me if I was going to get my black belt. I replied that I just train because I like it, not because I want a black belt. His response was, "So you don't want a black belt?" I replied with a smile, "Well, I'm not going to turn it down!")
Since I started Taekwondo, my life has changed quite a bit. While I still have the bills, student loans, and credit card debts, I don't stress over them quite as much anymore. I no longer work in a "9 to 5" job. The change was gradual and I even tried a career change, but that didn't work out either. Now, I'm intent on working for myself and doing things I love. I no longer classify success in material terms. Today, I say I'm successful because I'm happy and I like my life. I have someone who loves me and understands my goals. I am physically fit and much stronger than I ever was growing up. (I couldn't do a pushup when I was a white belt, now on a bad day I can do 60 or 70. On a good day, I try for over 100.) I am successful because I have gone through many trials and challenges, not just in Taekwondo, but in life. With the achievement of each belt level, something has changed in my life and in me. I suspect that is the meaning of the Taekwondo belt.
As I am about to receive my black belt, I look at the time spent going from white belt to black belt as a spiritual journey as well as a physical, mental and emotional one. It is a journey of a martial artist, a spiritual warrior. A few months prior to starting Taekwondo, I started to explore my own spiritual path. Taekwondo has been every bit a part of that path for me. I used meditation to help learn the Taeguks. Each of the belt levels has meant something for me. White is for the beginner, the person with no knowledge, innocence, and the beginning of a journey. Yellow represents the beginning of understanding, opening up to new experiences and reaching up to the sun to absorb the knowledge it shines forth. Green represents growth after absorbing the knowledge from the sun. It is at this level where I started to train more and more - definitely a stage of growth. It is also about expansion, expansion of the mind and life aside from Taekwondo. It usually takes about a year to get to this level. After that amount of time, the philosophy of Taekwondo creeps into everyday life. As well, after a year, many people form friendships with others they train with. Blue represents the sky and limits. For me, it has been reaching beyond my own limits and achieving more than I thought possible through sheer force, will, and determination. Red traditionally means danger. The person is more of a danger to herself than to others - this is definitely true. This is the stage where a lot of injuries occur in Taekwondo - at least that seems to be the trend. This is also the stage where I injured my knee. For me though, red meant to continue on and not to give up. The journey is almost complete, so why give up now? Look how far the beginning of the journey is, the end is closer than going back, so why give up? Black is the end of the journey, but for me, as many others before me have found out, another journey begins.
The Taekwondo belts for me have been about change and transformation. I have been changed. I have been transformed. I never started this journey intending to get a black belt, nor did I intend to become a martial artist, but I did start this journey intending to find myself and I found a martial artist. The end of this one journey is near and it is with a smile that I look towards a new journey as a martial artist.
(Many thanks to everyone who has made this journey what is was for me - current Instructors and Masters: Master Tommy Chang, Instructor Stephen Sealy, Instructor Dayo Odesanya, Instructor Luis Sanchez, Instructor Shara Pestaluky; former Instructors and Masters: Master Hwan Yong Seong, Master Jung Jin Park, Master Chan Jeong, Master Ahmad Foroughi, Master James Kim and other Masters and instructors not named; other people who have inspired me: much too many to be named; and most of all, everyone I have trained with, you have taught me more than you know. Thank you.)
Copyright C.J. Chow June 17, 2004