Continuing Taekwondo

One of the interesting things about taekwondo is watching people react to belt tests and rank.

I still haven’t figured out how we line up at my studio. I don’t know if the highest rank stands in the front right or front left. I do know that in the classes with really little kids, we stand by height, mostly, with no regard to rank. I’ve been told to test and I’ve skipped the testing because I don’t like the faux-in-between belts tests that my school has, nor the insane rates changed for them. I don’t need tape wrapped around my belt to tell me I’ve been studying. My belt still had only one stripe on it (showing first degree black) which confuses people when they realize I’m actually second. I’ve gotten to a point where I really don’t care what rank I am compared to anyone else in the class. I know I’ll get my sam dan (third degree black) eventually. I just don’t know or care about when.

I have noticed a few trends about belts, testing, and rank. It seems that kids are always more interested in rank than adults. The lower level belts (children and adults) usually care more about advancing. Then somewhere in the middle color belts it becomes more about showing up. If the taekwondoist makes it through the middle belt slump, there tends to be a point right before earning the black belt where the adults suddenly question themselves. Are they really ready to become a black belt?

And then, the biggest question. You’ve got the black belt. Do you continue or quit?


Last week some seventh grader was whining before class. “My dad always works! I should be a purple belt and I’m still green!” He complained that he couldn’t come to the studio alone (it’s a half-mile walk from his house) and he couldn’t get a ride from anyone else, and his father works too much.

I asked him what he’d do when he finally got purple. He said he’d keep working to get black. “And what will you do then?” I asked.

“I’ll quit and do soccer because I hate taekwondo.”

Even though he’s only thirteen (and thus…well, thirteen), I called him on it. “If you want to do soccer, quit now.”

“But I want a black belt!” he whined in that pre-pubescent boy voice.

“Hey,” I said in a stage whisper, “I’ll let you in on a secret. You can buy a black belt online for about $10.”

He stared at me and then screeched, “That’s not the same thing!”

I nodded, “But the black belt isn’t the end. It’s only the beginning.”

He looked at me like I was crazy. Of course he did. He’s thirteen.


Tonight after class an adult I enjoy training with said he was tired of taekwondo and testing. I looked at him. “I haven’t tested in more than two years. No problem with that.”

He nodded, “Yeah, I think I’m going to quit.”

“Quit testing or quit taekwondo? I mean, my taekwondo desire always ebbs and flows… Sometimes it’s just about showing up.”

He nodded. “Quit taekwondo. Think I’m going to try judo. Think I’m more built for it. Short, squat.”

I laughed. Fair enough.

But it got me thinking. Why do I still do taekwondo? When I started I had no belt goals. I’ve now gotten black. I don’t want to be a master. I don’t want my own school. I don’t think competing is a big deal (although I find it fun enough when I do it), so I’m not in it for that.

What is the motivation?

The thing is…even when I don’t particularly want to go to taekwondo, even when I’m just going through the motions by showing up, even when I’m in the ebb—I mostly enjoy it. It’s my thing.

And so I stick with it.

One thought on “Continuing Taekwondo

  1. Comment from: KicknKnit [Visitor] ·
    Quote: The thing is…even when I don’t particularly want to go to taekwondo, even when I’m just going through the motions by showing up, even when I’m in the ebb—I mostly enjoy it. It’s my thing.

    Thank you… this sums up how I feel about Karate. I couldn’t quite put it into words. Sometimes I just “don’t wanna” but when I get there.. within a few minutes I feel that drive to “just do it” and do it well.. it’s when I feel that “go hard or go home” kind of push.. something that is missing in my daily life.
    03/30/10 @ 08:45

    Comment from: Terry [Visitor]
    I started Taekwondo to learn Korean and get a little exercise, but soon really enjoyed it. Once I received 1 dan, I just couldn’t quit. I’m now 2nd dan and studying for 3rd. Sometimes it is a trouble to got TKD, 20-40 drive here in Korea and 40 or 120 minutes at home. Once I’m in the dojang, I always enjoy it!
    04/01/10 @ 00:00

    Comment from: Diana [Visitor] ·
    It’s funny how many people, not just teenagers, don’t realize that they should be doing what they want to do NOW, not waiting until some arbitrary quit-point.

    I returned to my old studio recently because I want to spend time with my Sa Beom Nim and his family before I leave Korea. This means an hour plus commute each way instead of the ten minute walk to the studio in my neighborhood, but I’m more likely to go to the old studio because I get more out of it. I think with martial arts, as with life, you just have to figure out your own reasons for doing what you’re doing. I realized that I am not really loyal to taekwondo, I’m loyal to good exercise and to my Sa Beom Nim. If I find a studio in the US that gives me a good workout for a reasonable price and where I like the instructor, perhaps I will continue, but if not… I’ll find something else I love.

    You’ve put this matter of choice and control over your own life, not by some arbitrary belt standards, into perspective beautifully. Brava.
    04/01/10 @ 22:15

    Comment from: Marc H. [Visitor]
    Hi Amanda,

    Just stumbled upon your blog…enjoyed your comments about learning tae kwon do. Brought back memories of my own experience.

    A couple of years ago I practiced at a studio in Seoul near the university where I teach…the sabeomnim was actually a friend of mine. I didn’t get very far, just a yellow belt.

    Ultimately I quit because it was awkward being the only adult in the class (other than the instructor) and I discovered other forms of exercise that I just enjoyed more. But I remember when I was there that although everyone in the class was different levels, we were more or less on equal footing and the belts weren’t so important. Of course, being a tall foreigner and one of the most flexible guys in the class didn’t hurt…ha ha. But we worked hard together, played together, joked around together, etc. Some of the kids would practice English with me and I would practice Korean with them. Once I had to break up a fight between some of the little guys. Very much a family atmosphere.

    In that sense I have good memories…actually writing about it now makes me think about going back. Ha ha. I admire your approach. I like the concept (if I’m understanding it right) of not having to attain a certain certification to prove oneself. Proving oneself came in the consistency, practice, etc. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.
    04/10/10 @ 03:51

    Comment from: admin [Member] Email
    Hello, Marc.

    My studio in Korea was very much like that. Master was like a big brother, his wife was a friend, his kids? Love them! The boys in the studio were my little brothers and it was like one big family. (Probably that Korean group-love aspect!) Unfortunately, my studio here in America is more like…every other studio in America. Pockets of friendship pop up, but not like in Korea.

    Also, I think MOST of my studiomates care about rank. I’m just at the point where I don’t care. I show up, I do my work, I enjoy it. Eventually I’ll test. In fact, it seems that my instructor also doesn’t care that I’m at second dan, because he’s been teaching me the third dan form!
    04/10/10 @ 09:20

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