So, I practice taekwondo. You might have noticed that elsewhere on my blog.
I also have a book coming out about it, and it’s funny what I worry about and what I don’t worry about.
I’ve had my anxious moments of wondering if I’ll get lambasted by the karate bros and Wing Chun dudes on social media. I didn’t train for ten years to test for black belt or have a test that lasted three days complete with a five-mile run, psych eval, hour of multiple person sparring, and a fifteen-page dissertation as some people have purportedly claimed to have done (I’m only exaggerating a little). What if I’m not taken seriously? What if my book is panned universally by martial arts enthusiasts? What if Bullshido turns me into a meme along with the anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists?
Okay, okay, I get it. Modern taekwondo is prone to lots of McDojang-esque tomfoolery such as undeserving eight-year-old black belts. Demos these days look more like dancing than fighting. All that kicking can lead to serious leg injuries. (Or so I’ve been told. *eyeroll*) I’m tempted to explain that I learned a lot of hand-based technique from an old Korean (from NORTH Korea, technically) who taught the US military in the 1960s and taught in Detroit in the 1970s. I want to pop up and say, “Wait! I learned old-school hapkido gangster shit, not chicken fighting! I think the back-hand blocks in Taeguk forms are ridiculous!”
But why should I go to that trouble to defend my choice? I mean, honestly, who cares what people do in their personal lives?
I’m not here to be an apologist for taekwondo or give bullet points about the pros and cons of taekwondo. I don’t necessarily think it’s the best martial art nor do I care to analyze and explore which one is.
I grew up in a town full of pushy prostetyzers who used religion as a weapon for bigotry. I’m strongly opposed to trying to convert anyone to anything. If you come away from this post feeling good, bad, or neutral about taekwondo, that’s fine with me. I just want to explain why I do something that is at worst the butt of many jokes and at best…the butt of many jokes.
I do taekwondo for one main reason: it saved my sanity.
Taekwondo was the only martial art in my rural, small town. When I told my parents I wanted to do a martial art, that’s what we did. When I was at my lowest emotional point and suffering pretty badly from mental illness, I wanted to immerse myself in something familiar, wholesome, and completely disconnected from who I’d become as a high-functioning crazy and a lonely mess. Back to taekwondo I went, and there I found my compass, my purpose, and my home.
Many people get into martial arts for physical fitness or self-defense needs. I got back into taekwondo purely for my mental health, and I am a completely changed person because of it. That alone is worth everything I’ve gone through and have yet to go through on the mat. The physical fitness and self-defense are fringe benefits.
Even with the devastating knee injury and long recovery from surgery, I’d do it all over again. I’m so much happier and more stable, even now as I’m unable to fully practice my martial art. I’m happier and generally more satisfied with my life with a weakened right leg than I was with two unencumbered legs and a chemically imbalanced, unstable brain. Taekwondo never left me during all those years I was lost as a teen and young adult, through the agonizing year of realizing I had to leave my dojang for greener pastures, and it hasn’t left me yet despite a pandemic and major injury.
On a lighter note, here’s why I also do taekwondo: Because I can. Because I want to. Because it’s fun.
I have to play by a lot of corporate and societal rules to keep a roof over my head and money going into my retirement account. I have to ‘adult’ a lot. I’m forty-one years old, and it’s starting to show.
So when I have free time, I do WHAT. EVER. THE. F. I. WANT. Do you know how amazing and liberating it feels to run around and kick and scream and hit things after sitting on conference calls listening to people say “pivot” and “pain point” and “drink the Kool-Aid” all day?
Several months ago I posted a video of me breaking boards and a high school classmate commented, “Why do y’all do that shit?” (Imagine a West Texas drawl with that question.) A fellow black belt jumped in with a detailed explanation of the history and continuation of board breaking in martial arts. I replied with something simpler: “Why not? It’s fun.”
Taekwondo makes me happy, and it’s fun. Sure, it’s been life-changing and soul-gratifying. Even if it weren’t, the fun and happiness it brings me is worth it alone. Loving taekwondo has helped me love myself.
Happy Valentine’s Day to the martial art I love. May you find whatever it is that brings you joy.