Holly M. Tellez
22 January 2017
The unfortunate story of a clumsy martial artist
I can still remember the first time I walked into the S.K. Taekwondo studio, I was a typical 12-year-old girl who wanted to learn something new. I was terrible at every other sport so I figured I might as well try something bizarre such as martial arts. The studio was a mid-sized room consisting of mirrors in the front, bars on the sides, and a blue mat covered the entire floor various kicking bags hanging from the ceiling and on the floor. My instructor was a short Korean man named Master Tony. He showed me how to properly wear my gi and tie my belt. I was given a tour of the studio and told the rules about taking off shoes before stepping onto the mats.
When the tour was completed, I was taken into the master’s office to begin my first private lesson. All new students were required to take the first four lessons with the master before joining a class and other students. We began the session with stretches. I was informed that this is essential to warm up and stretch the muscles before exercising to prevent injuries. I was told to do the splits as wide as I could and then touch the floor with my chest. I could barely reach down so the master pushed down on my back to stretch me further and then we counted to ten. After what seemed like an eternity it was over and we moved on to other stretches. It took a few months but I was soon as flexible as any gymnast, and extremely proud of it.
After the stretching, we moved into learning how to make a proper fist, kicking, and punching. The reason it is so important that you make a proper fist is to prevent you from breaking bones in your hands. I felt overwhelmed by the many names of the kicks and punches and how to move your body to attain proper form. And these were just the basics. But I was determined not to give up, I wanted to be the best. I have a terrible competitive streak. The first kick I learned was called a front kick. All you do is position your body facing forward, left leg forward, right leg planted behind, arms up to block the face, and then you bring your right leg forward and snap it straight up to about waist level. The roundhouse is the same concept except you are facing the side and snap kick to the side. Next came the side kick which is just kicking straight out to the side with your body tilted. The punches were a combination of jabs, hooks, and straight punches. Much like training for boxing, I had to punch paddles held by the master.
The day had come when the maser told me that I was ready to join the main class. I had
already earned two tape stripes on my white belt so I was half way ready to take my test to move on to yellow belt. The class always begins with meditation to clear the mind of negative and stress so the students can have a clear mind to learn. After meditation, we did our stretches and began to learn forms. There are two main areas of study in this martial art: form also known as Poomsae is the first that is learned. Each belt has its own level consisting of punches, blocks, and kicks which increases in difficulty each increasing belt color. The second area that is learned is called sparring. I loved this and couldn’t wait to begin training for competitions.
There are twelve levels before you reach black belt, and then nine degrees of black belt after. The belt colors all have a specific meaning; the belts are as followed: white, yellow, purple, orange, green, green stripe, blue, blue stripe, brown, brown stripe, red, red stripe, and then finally black belt degrees one through nine. Each level takes months to years of hard work and dedication. Although the training was difficult I realized that this was a sport that I could finally excel at. I went every day after school and on Saturdays, the studio became my second home.
I practiced for months to become ready to take my first test. There were four of us testing to move on to yellow belt and the master was yelling commands at us in Korean in front of the Grand Master who oversaw saying if we passed our exams. We had to show a proper poomsae, sparring technique, and break a board using a front kick. I was so embarrassed when I could not break the board on the first try. Since I cracked it the master gave me a second chance and could finally finish and pass my exam.
When I became yellow belt my master told me that I showed promise and began training me for competitions. This meant harder work and more rewards. I started joining sparring classes on Fridays with my new gym bag full of brand new gear my parents had bought me for my birthday the week before. I learned new ways of blocking, kicks, and punches. The point system was difficult to learn but I came up with my own way of remembering where to strike and how many points per location as well as what moves are legal versus illegal. I developed a love and passion for martial arts.
My first competition was when I was a purple belt, I went up against a person three belts above me. This terrified me because they had more experience and the girl was huge compared to me. I did amazing in my poomsae and was awarded a silver medal, my sparring was another story. I became frustrated early on because the skill levels were severely mismatched and I was slaughtered. She came right out with a spinning back kick, that I had never done before, and knocked the wind out of me. Then she proceeded to kick me in the face while I was on the ground. Points were taken off due me yelling at her, completely worth it. I received a bronze medal for my struggles, and I continued learning and competing until my injury that ended my martial arts career. I look back on these years with fondness and an appreciation for teaching me respect and discipline.