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Taekwondo is commonly practiced as an after-school program for elementary school students, or as a major in university, or as a sport for the national team. Although I am neither of them, I can say that for me, Taekwondo is not just martial arts, but a part of my life. It has always had a special meaning. Especially to the 14-year-old girl, who had just returned to Korea after spending more than half of her life, eight years, in the United States.
I first came across Taekwondo in 2012 when I entered middle school. I was disconcerted to hear that Taekwondo is one of the regular subjects at school. No matter how much I enjoyed sports, I did not feel comfortable learning Taekwondo because the sport felt like people were fighting. Back then I had no idea, Taekwondo would become such a big part of my life.
Once I started learning, I was fascinated by the martial art. My academic stress and growing pains as an adolescent were relieved by Taekwondo. I was healthy both physically and mentally. Throughout my middle and high school years, I joined the Global Vision Christian School (GVSC)’s Taekwondo demonstration team. As part of the team, I had the chance to perform Taekwondo both home and abroad, and I could see the good impact of Taekwondo with my own eyes.
When we performed at the Philippines, we visited institutions with many young children, including orphanages, young offender institutions, and schools. While preparing for the show, I was worried the children’s reaction might not be good. I knew from my experience that the whole atmosphere in the show differs according to the reaction of the audience. Fortunately, they responded more passionately than I had imagined. Amid the show, they cheered and shouted, and later, they even asked us for our autographs on the pine boards we smashed. Many children ran to us and asked for photos. I suddenly felt like a celebrity only because I had learned and performed Taekwondo in my uniform.
That was when I realized Taekwondo can make people happy. Just one performance of Taekwondo could bring joy to these children who were left in a disadvantaged and difficult situation. On my way back home, my eyes were wet with tears. I was ashamed of myself for having complained about many things, even though my life was full of benefits. Looking back on my life, it was full of things to be appreciated of. On one hand, it was very impressive and touching to see the children and my teammates uniting beyond barriers of language and culture. Thanks to this experience, I learned Taekwondo can bridge people despite different cultures and environments.
Years later, I had opportunities to participate in performances held in the United States. The most memorable moment was when we were performing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. I was honored to have an opportunity to perform Taekwondo in front of a world-famous site, representing both my school and country. Our show, which was based on the real Korean history, drew people’s attention. Those passing by even stopped to watch our show.
Many of these people would not have seen Taekwondo and the Korean culture until now. Because at that time, K-pop nor Korea was not known like now. As a Korean, I was very proud of the show. This was a valuable experience for me to promote Korean history and culture abroad. This experience helped me realize Taekwondo can represent and promote Korea.
Thanks to Taekwondo I could stay fit both physically and mentally, and look back on my life, realizing I have many things to feel grateful about. Not only that, I was given the chance to introduce our culture and history to the world. I am grateful for the experiences I had while practicing Taekwondo. And through Taekwondo, I hope to be a positive influence on many others, too.
Kim Yena(22), is a junior at Asia Pacific University studying hospitality and tourism. She has a third-degree black belt and was part of the GVCS Taekwondo demonstration team between 2012 and 2017.