The first time I set foot in my dojang after the night I tore my ACL was in mid-December 2020. A girl who had been a student of mine at the old dojang before transferring to our new one was testing for black belt. I was still wearing a knee brace and was deeply mired in rehab at home and at the healthcare facility.
I hadn’t felt much like a taekwondo athlete during those five-ish months. I was just glad that at that point I could drive and shower standing up. Watching the test rejuvenated me, and just for fun after it was over, I broke a board with an elbow strike.
A year passed, and I planned my return. In January 2022 I took my tentative first steps into the dojang as a taekwondo athlete and not just a spectator. My coach and I agreed on doing at least a year of private lessons so I could re-enter my practice safely and under mindful supervision.
The first few months were lessons in trial and error – what still hurt, how to modify certain things, other parts of my leg that were compensating for my knee (guess who wasn’t flattening her back foot in front stance?), what I remembered of technique, and where I could push myself. Even simple things like sliding across the floor in a fighting stance were more difficult than it seemed.
Each lesson involved a warm-up that I eventually started doing on my own before my coach arrived, plus kicking focus pads, doing drills across the floor, and forms. (We later added self-defense and bo staff. Yes, I’m learning bo staff. I’m awful, but it’s fun.)
Later in the year, we started to notice the fruits of our labor. I was stronger, faster, more agile, and more precise. I started to feel like a taekwondo athlete again in earnest.
At my most recent lesson, I practiced my (no pun intended) rusty knife-defense skills with another second Dan willing to let me twist him arm and throw him on the floor. I felt clunky at first and still haven’t gotten my self-defense mojo back, but I did give my partner a scare when I threw him faster than he expected.
My lesson that night ended with black belt forms. I did Keumgang by myself, and then spontaneously, my coach asked if my knife defense partner and another black belt, a fourth Dan, wanted to join me. We flowed through the form together, watching each other out of the corners of our eyes and listening to our breaths to ensure we moved in unison.
Like breaking the board at that black belt test in 2020, doing a form with my comrades felt a little awkward at first but also deeply familiar. The private lessons have been invaluable in rehabbing my knee, getting me back into black belt shape, and getting my head back in the game. Re-entering my community and practicing with other black belts, something I hadn’t thought I’d missed so deeply, was icing on a delicious cake.