Thursday, March 8, 2012

How Taekwondo Improved My Physical Fitness

by Mary Sudul, Chosun Black Belt Instructor
appears in TaeKwonDo Times Magazine

When I first walked into the Chosun Taekwondo Academy dojang in February of 2009, I was a typical middle-aged, overweight, sedentary woman with a standard American diet. I had been athletic as a teenager and young adult, but work, children, and home had come to take up all of my time. For a long time I used the usual excuse of “I don’t have TIME to exercise.” I also really didn’t like exercising, it’s such a sweaty thing to do! So I found myself at age 45 living in an unhealthy, unfit body, about 15 pounds overweight. Walking into the dojang turned out to be the best thing I could do for my physical health.

I began slowly, as all white belts do, though I threw myself whole-heartedly into my training. My 6th Dan Master, Doug Cook, offers classes nearly throughout the day and I am able to take advantage of numerous daytime classes while my children are at school. I try to train a minimum of 4 classes per week and frequently train more often than that. Taekwondo became a pursuit that I happily MAKE the time for even though I sweat.
I didn’t want to over-tax myself in the beginning and end up burning out and quitting. So while I did push myself, I tried to be aware of my limitations at all times to avoid too much muscle soreness and injury. One of my main challenges is a lack of flexibility. Though my upper body can be fairly loose, my leg muscles and tendons always seem to be tight. Master Cook begins every class with a comprehensive stretching regime that takes about 20 minutes. I notice a big difference in my flexibility because of this. I will never be able to do a split, but my side kicks are getting higher and higher.
Despite my care, I did suffer a few minor injuries in my early months of training. I clearly remember one Saturday morning class when I was a green belt, I landed awkwardly after a jumping round kick and my knee twisted and buckled under me. I was carried off the floor that day. Luckily, no serious damage was done, but it took more than six months before I felt comfortable trying that kick again.
I feel that the most effective way to improve your fitness in the martial arts is to put 100% into your technique. The tighter you make your fist, the stronger and faster you attempt to perform your strikes and your kicks, the stronger and fitter your muscles become. The more intensity you put into your forms and your sparring, the more aerobically fit your body becomes. The more careful you are to perform your techniques correctly, the more coordinated you become. It is a slow transformation, but one day I noticed that I looked, felt, and performed better than I had since my 20’s. Sometimes I just look at my hand making a fist and notice the definition of the muscles in my hand and lower arm.
As for weight loss, well, I did lose about 10 pounds at the very beginning of my training, but little by little over the next year and a half most of that weight came back. Starting in March of 2011, I cut all grains, dairy, legumes, and sugar from my diet. It’s actually easier than it sounds, and the cravings for these items disappeared after a couple of weeks. I lost 20 more pounds in two months and have kept it off so far, putting me well into the normal weight range for my height. Taekwondo gives me the life discipline to maintain this diet, and I love being able to perform the skills with less stress on my body. This diet and the accompanying weight loss have improved my muscular composition and definition.
There is plenty of room for improvement still, but as I prepare for my black belt test in October 2011 at age 48, I feel like a new woman, a much fitter woman.

1 comment:

  1. Taekwondo is one of the best ways to up your endurance levels, achieve high fitness levels as well as attain total body strength in a very healthy way. Thanks!