Mastering Kicks and Sustaining Injuries in Taekwondo
“Today you die!”
This is the almost constant refrain I hear from my Taekwondo teacher when I come to class.
“Every day you say, ‘today you die,’ but I am still here. I can still kick, see.” I demonstrate my mediocre front kick and my Taekwondo teacher smirks as he walks into the bathroom leaving me to start warming up.
In some respects, Taekwondo is doing its best to kill me. I started Taekwondo in March with the hope that I might find a workout that I like. Now, nine months later, I’m practicing six days a week to prepare for my black belt test. In those nine months, I found out I have arthritis in my left knee due to an unnatural amount of cartilage loss. This is from years of athletic abuse, so I won’t blame Taekwondo, but I’m sure the kicks aren’t helping.
Lately, I’ve been coming home covered in bruises from sparing practice. Last week I hurt my foot while sparing. This injury resulted in a trip to the doctor to check if the foot was broken (it isn’t), and two days of limping around. The doctor smiled as I limped into his office and exclaimed, “Long time no see!”
With the stress of practicing for my test, and my almost weekly list of new injuries, my mother is worrying about me more than usual. When we Skyped last week as I was getting ready for another Saturday morning practice session, my mother shot me a worried look and said, “So… are you still going to do Taekwondo if you get your black belt?”
“Of course!” I said as I wrapped my knee and foot in medical tape. “There are other levels beyond black belt, you know.”
“Oh…” My mom hesitated, let out a big sigh, and continued, “Maybe you should try a different sport. If you keep getting hurt
“I can’t stop Taekwondo!” I interjected. “I love it!”
I understand why my mother would prefer me to go back to rock climbing or really any sport that doesn’t involve fighting but I have a lot of reasons to stick with Taekwondo.
Taekwondo fits well with my exercise style. When left to my own devices, I’m a fairly lazy person, but if I have a class that meets five or six days a week and people are waiting for me to show up, I’ll go. Also the belt system has built-in rewards that I get if I work hard. Any sport that gives me a new accessory for learning is something I’m going to stick with for at least a few months.
Also, Taekwondo is really fun. I’m not one of those people that exercises on autopilot in order to tune out the world and mull things over. I want my mind and body to be engrossed in what I’m doing so I don’t have to think about anything else except what I’m doing in that moment. In Taekwondo, I’m focusing on my form, speed, action sequences, and my next move. Plus, when I have a hard day, nothing feels better than kicking the crap out of something.
The real reason I won’t drop Taekwondo though are the people at my studio. My Taekwondo teacher and my fellow students are awesome and the idea of quitting and never seeing them again is more distressing to me than having no cartilage in my knee for the rest of my life.
My Taekwondo teacher’s English might not be the best but he is nothing but kind and fun, even when I’m cranky and tired after work. His wife, my fellow student and practice buddy, looks after me like a second mom. Onchuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving, she made me Korean food and bought me socks since she knew I had no Korean family. When I told her I liked her cooking, she made sure to make extra food so I could have some later on. Then there’s their two-year old daughter who never fails to brighten my day.
“Their daughter calls me imo, Mom! Do you know what imo means? It means aunt! I can’t quit!” My mother did not find this as precious as I do, but she’s never seen how adorable it is in person, so I don’t expect her to understand.
I’ve had a lot of fellow students come and go since I’ve started. Some are university students, a couple are fellow foreign teachers, and some elementary, middle, and high school students. Everyone has been welcoming and friendly. No matter how my test turns out, I’ll still be there the next week, ready for practice, even if I am a little banged up.