Taekwondo Saved My Life (Probably)

So it begins.

For over a decade my life had been increasingly sedentary. I work at a keyboard for the better part of 8+ hours nearly every day. I’m an IT guy, what else would I expect. The problem however, is that outside of computers/work I had no real hobbies to speak of anymore. Whereas in high school and even college I would play team recreational sports like soccer and basketball, in adulthood I fell into the classic trap of “I’m too busy” and “I’m too tired”.

Pizza on a Chair - Two of my favorite things.
These are a few of my favorite things!

Those excuses, as you may guess, served as the launching points of my physical downfall. As a result of this lack of activity and the food choices I was making I found myself steadily gaining a few pounds every year. It really was a downward spiral, the more weight I gained, the less likely I was to get up and move. Later the realization that this was a depressive behavior dawned upon me, but not for many years and, therefore, many pounds.

Always a big guy, even in my “prime” I was around 220 lbs, which at 6′ 2″ wasn’t a terrible weight. Flash forward 15 years or so and that number had exploded to somewhere north of 325 lbs; the scale and I weren’t on good terms, you see, so 325 lbs was the first measurement I took after losing some initial weight, exactly how far above 325 lbs I was, I don’t know for sure.

I had studied Taekwondo in my early teens and enjoyed it. So I constantly toyed with the idea of getting back into martial arts, and made a half-hearted effort back in 2010 or so to do so, doing lessons with a friend who is a black belt in Kenpo karate. The problem was, I wasn’t really committed, and that lack of commitment meant that “finding time” to practice and even schedule lessons was not high on my priority list. I won’t say it didn’t help at all, but I didn’t make it very far and it eventually stopped altogether.

Taekwondo, I missed you!

That began to change about a year ago, however. I took a 6 class, weekly Taekwondo class at a local community center and it changed me. In the back of my head, I knew that I was fat and out of shape, but since that was my daily reality, the extent of my physical condition had been rationalized away. That beginner’s class showed me exactly how out of shape I was, with incredibly simple movements and techniques that I had done many times in the past making me physically dizzy from exertion. Twenty jumping jacks and a few dozen basic kicks shouldn’t make you gasp for breath and sweat profusely; yet for me they did.

The biggest realization was that the day after that first, incredibly basic 45 minute class, I hurt all over. My muscles were incredibly sore and it took me days to feel “normal” again, usually just in time for the following Saturday class. Something had changed inside me though. I didn’t like being out of breath and sore all the time, so I started walking several times a week. Lunch time would come and I would go for a walk instead of going for a pizza or whatever else tasted amazing. The mental change helped the physical changes begin to come about. As the saying goes “Move the body and the mind will follow.” I have found this to be so completely true that it’s astonishing.

After the first six weeks, I was starting to feel better and I was hooked; signing up for twice weekly classes. Again, I was in pain pretty much daily from my training, but it was that “good hurt” from physical exertion. The work was beginning to pay off. My instructor, Master Jung has a long history of working with the military and is equal parts Taekwondo Grand Master (he holds 8th Dan and 7th Dan from different organizations) and personal trainer. He knew all the right mental techniques to get me to push a little harder, do a few more reps, and try again when I failed. Mental fortitude was being drilled into my head each time my body was pushed beyond what it was capable of.

Slowly my body became capable of more and more, and it was becoming easier to do the basics. Now I was moving into intermediate skills and finding those challenging as the basics became easier. I was noticing small changes here and there, and my pants started getting loser, which was a nice feeling. I was losing weight at what, looking back, was frankly an astonishing rate. Then I was down to the last hole on my belt. After around 6 months, I weighed in and realized that I had lost over 50 lbs. The weight started coming off more slowly after that, since the early losses are always the fastest, not to mention that I was adding muscle mass, which weighs more than fat.

Time for a new belt.

I tested for my green belt around the time I was realizing that my current belt that held my increasingly baggy pants up was too big. I busted out my awl and added a hole to that belt. I’ve now Taekwondo Blue Beltadded two more holes since then. I’m down around 70lbs, but I’m guessing that’s about 80-85lbs of fat, with some additional added muscle skewing the numbers. I realized while writing the initial draft of this post that I should break out a ruler to measure the difference in my waist size on my belt notches; it’s roughly 8 inches lost on my waist so far.

By moving my body I had begun to re-program my mind to enjoy physical activity and be conscious about what I use to fuel my body. That was another valuable mind-shift, seeing food as fuel instead of just pleasure. Food was my go-to comfort. Don’t get me wrong, I still love food. But I can abstract away the pleasure of eating to see it as fuel for my body more easily now.

Now I ride my mountain bike 40-50 miles most weekends, go for walks for the simple pleasure of it, and enjoy getting out and about doing things, on top of 2-4 hours of Taekwondo 2-3 times a week. Not bad for a guy who used to get tired climbing a flight of stairs. At this point my cardiovascular health is significantly improved and I no longer have high blood pressure.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

My journey is really still just at the beginning. I’m about to test for my blue belt this month, and I still would like to lose at least 40 more pounds, but that’s just a number. I have really learned to listen to my body and my measurements, not so much the scale to know how I’m doing and what my next goal should be. My initial goal weight of 225lbs is getting closer and I suspect I can even go lower, but again, this is a journey that will last the rest of my life. Every goal from here on out will be more difficult than the last. My black belt in Taekwondo is still quite a ways off, but I know that by training for that I will surpass my current health goals and doubtless set and surpass others along the way.

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