Wouldn’t it be cool to try something new? A new sport, perhaps? Or, maybe try and improve at one of the many sports you know how to play in a mediocre manner?
Coming into MIT, I thought about this a lot. Even before committing to MIT or any college for the matter. I had a strong desire to explore new interests and experiences. Push myself to do things I would have never tried before. Which included I would play sports pretty informally, the last time I did a sport formally was in 8th grade (tennis)
This hope of exploring athletics felt all but dashed when the pandemic started. I expected most sports to be canceled, and in the weeks before the start of the fall semester, I was disappointed how my dream wouldn’t come to fruition. I wouldn’t even be on campus to try out an intramural sport, for example.
I desperately hoped for an on-campus spring, so I still signed up for many sports/athletics-related email lists at MIT. I believe it was at activities midway where I first signed up for Sport Taekwondo. I am not sure where/when I signed up, mainly because I joined so many club mailing lists at once, mainly indiscriminately. Signing up was just out of pure interest. I had no martial arts experience, but hey, it sounded cool. I knew like 5 people who did karate in elementary school. Yes, I know, a completely different martial art; please don’t attack me.
In the fall, I would routinely get spammed by the Sport Taekwondo mailing list. Multiple emails about belt tests, tournaments, practices, and other things. It wasn’t relevant to me, but I stayed on the mailing list. I did consider joining the club (rather than just being on the mailing list). But being at home, I knew practice of any sort would be hard without ample empty space. So in order to not break things around the house and preserve my life, I held off on that thought.
As the emails kept coming and I connected with some people I knew in the club, my interest grew. At this point, I was considering taking the PE class in the first half of spring semester which is offered every quarter. At MIT, we got semesters, but there are 5 PE quarters. And a quarter means one out of four… at this point, I’m not even going to question what is up with this school.
Accelerating the timeline to IAP, I was looking for what PE classes to register for during my first on-campus semester. For reference, PE class registration might be the most chaotic affair I’ve had to see in my relatively short MIT experience. It’s one of the only first come, first served things, and classes fill up in signed up for a class in 20-30 seconds, it was full
When I was looking at classes a bit before registration, it hit me that I couldn’t find the intro Taekwondo class anywhere. By this point, I was semi-attached to the idea of taking the course, and after some more talking with people who were in Taekwondo, I kind of just was like, might as well join the club.
The White Belt Experience (February – April)
Yup, that’s me. I’m still wondering how I got here, despite just detailing a page’s worth of details about that.
There was some signing a contract saying I accept whatever happens to me or my soul beforehand, but I started Taekwondo sometime in Mid February, shortly after moving on campus. The meeting structure for Taekwondo was pretty flexible. Generally, it was requested that you were available at 2 meetings per week, and meetings/practices were 3 times a week, sometimes with an extra 4th session on the weekend. In the club commitment form we had to fill out at the start of the semester, I said I wanted to attend the Wednesday and Friday practice, but I quickly switched to the Monday and Wednesday classes. At the first meeting… uh, to be honest, the beginning of Taekwondo is a bit hazy in my mind. I only remember I had to introduce myself in front of way too many people, which was not the most enjoyable of moments. You would think someone who writes stuff read by plenty of people on the internet would be better at this, but apparently not. So due to my amnesia, for the rest, allow me to instead summarize what I learned over this time.
You see, I am a person whose wrists are basically useless and cannot support their body weight. I say this mainly as a joke, but not entirely so. I am TO AN EXTREMELY MODERATE DEGREE but not push-ups by any means, and I absolutely despise them. So every time at practice, if they said 50 push-ups, I would just die on the inside, outside, in every dimension. I never hit remotely close to 50, and I appreciated when push-ups were more distributed later in the semester, so instead of 50 in a row, it was more like 20 + 10 + 20 or something like that. Push-ups weren’t the most challenging thing somehow. One instructor had strenuous exercises for us to do, and it wasn’t long before I (politely) switched to different days of the week to come to practice.
When I look back at my first few weeks, the form for punches isn’t something that particularly comes to mind. We didn’t learn I'm not entirely sure what different punches would look like and we mainly just learned punches as a part of drills. I did not find punches hard, though the technique was tricky, and I still need to work on it now. Generally, we learned that most of the punches we would be using for the time being were to be aimed straight forward towards the solar plexus. The problem was, I had no concept of what a solar plexus was or where that was supposed to be. I just learned it right now while googling to see if I spelled the phrase correctly. Since I don’t have much to detail here, enjoy this choppy animation I made while thinking of how to write this blog.
In my personal opinion, kicks are a double-edged sword. In one sense, they are one of the basic, I know parts of Taekwondo to me. However, at the same time, they are hard to get the proper form and technique for. This fact wasn’t helped by my tendency to injure myself, which was very prominent last semester. I’m pretty confident I pulled something in my hip during my third meeting.
Doing what exactly made me hurt myself, you may ask? Lo and behold, the iconic:
To start off, in most Taekwondo kicks (THAT I KNOW SO FAR), you first lift up your knee straight up and then do whatever is needed for the kick. I probably won’t mention this information after here; it will be assumed knowledge, a prerequisite if you will.
A turning kick is basically taking that lifted knee, turning it 90 degrees-ish, and kicking across through the paddle/your victim.
Personally, I’ve always found the kicking across part of the turning kick pretty hard to get. You have to pivot the foot on the ground, lift up your knee, And I was never the same. and kick pretty quickly. I find myself often doing 3 out of the 4, and forgetting one. During the 3rd step, I injured myself, and I think I kind of, unconsciously or consciously, started doing turning kicks in a I was not like in a beautiful form before either but uh after hurting myself. It’s something that I still need to work on and hopefully will improve on with time. I’m basically trying to unlearn my mistakes now :(
And now that I introduced my pain and suffering, please meet the kind and endearing front kick. Front kicks are kicking up and high, and they are probably my favorite kick. I used to like to kick high way before doing Taekwondo, so they were a bit familiar and fun to me as well. In my time as a White Belt, they stressed form a lot, which included things like not immediately bringing your foot down from its top point. And when you are bringing your foot back down, you should return to having your knee up and bent. Returning to that earlier point is kind of like being ready to fire. Always gotta be prepared to go off. So I love front kicks, though keeping my foot raised can be challenging.
Someone swings their leg at you.
You have two options.
Dodge and move away
Oh, and maybe attempting to block their kick might be a good idea. Usually, blocks are moves where you move your arm into a defensive stance to keep the kick from ending your soul. I don’t know how to describe blocks, so this part is pretty visual. I hope you can discern stick-man’s motions. There are three blocks that I have learned in Taekwondo, the first of which is the
This is a pretty simple move, and I find nothing simple pretty much. You basically move your hand right above your knee (like a fist-worth of spacing, and your other hand goes on your waist. And you hope your knee caps stay intact.
For some reason, this block feels rather badass, and of the three is probably the hardest for me to get. You don’t want your arm bent too much or too little since a 120-degree bend is optimal. You also want your fist to be at roughly shoulder height, and these little details are what make this move hard for me since I struggle at precision a bit, to be honest.
Long ago, a man said you should have gone for the head.
If someone goes for your head in a Taekwondo match, I assume a high block (might) be helpful. In this block, you place your hand in a 90 angle over your head, with some spacing, which I guess helps you take the hit. I have not used this too much, besides in the (spoiler alert) yellow belt form.
These are positions your body is in, and I can’t really explain them other than legs are in pain. Besides for walking stance, which is like your body is walking, and sitting stance, which is like you are getting up from your chair after finishing a pset.
In the front stance, your front leg suffers the brunt of the damage. The best thing I could compare this stance to is a lunge, which isn’t perfectly accurate but a bit close. Your back leg is stretched outright, and your front leg is bent with your knees above your toes, about 3.5 steps away from your back foot. Fun times, I do not like holding front stances at all ;-;
Each belt level in Taekwondo has a set of sequential moves you must learn in order to pass on to the next level. Forms are more generally, I think, called Poomsae, but don’t quote me on that. I will remember them all for all of my taekwondo eternity… right?
For most forms (I know of), you start in an attention stance, bow, and then there is a “ready” position.
Chun-Ji is a form you can explain into two parts, and it is far above my capabilities to explain how it is done. But what I can explain is the utter chaos learning this form was for me. I greatly struggle at distinguishing left and right, which at first was funny, but I have turned on the wrong stove and been upset my food was still cold, turned on hot water instead of cold, went the wrong way to a place, it do be bad now. This form (both of its parts) has a lot of 90 degree turns, and I would always mess them up at the beginning. It took lots of dedicated help from my who is an absolute gem to eventually grasp the first part of the form: low blocks and punches. He mentioned how if your right hand is out after a punch, you make a 180-degree turn. But if your left hand is out, you make a 90-degree turn. Of course, I didn’t get which hand is my left and right easily, but thinking of it as the “hand on this side” and the “hand on that side” worked well after some time. By some time, I meant like 2 weeks, it was rough, and I’m a bad learner.
Then I had to learn the second part of the form, which is middle blocks and punches. For this, I had the same problem of left and right, but it was a bit easier with the tips I got. I had issues placing my hands correctly for middle blocks and actually chambering, which is basically a term for loading up the move. I improved with work and practice, but I was still wonky when it got to the belt test, I feel. That being said, there was a sense of accomplishment felt by the end.
- Idk the name; I call it Jab cross cross
I liked this sparring step quite a bit, but I was always confused about why it existed. It felt a little out of place in comparison to the other sparring steps. I still am not sure how one would be able to use this in sparring, but maybe I should watch the Olympics to find out. Here, you basically jab, punch with the hand you did not jab with, and do a turning kick. I guess I find it hard to see how to incorporate both punches and kicks in a fight. But with time, hopefully, I will see :o
- Fast kick
An aptly named kick, the fast kick is pretty nice to do. I’m not really sure how to describe it, partially because my own understanding is kinda fuzzy. You move your back foot to your front foot’s location, and launch a kick that is either a step or a cut kick. Not that you can choose between these two kicks, I just don’t know which one is more accurate to call it. Since I didn’t mention what those are before, they are kicks that go straight out your body. Like if you were to look at someone from behind, their legs would be at almost a 90-degree angle. Not sure if that helped much, but hey, I’m trying.
- Reverse step turning kick
Out of the sparring steps in the white belt form, this one is my favorite. It’s kind of like those cool spiny moves you see in movies where the good guy takes out 10 bad guys in one action. While searching for a scene that came to mind, I stumbled on this video, which is pretty damn insane and also has the added bonus of a remarkable comment section:
But back on target. The reverse step isn’t the above level of crazy by any means, but it is still cool :). You don’t really spin; it’s more like an abrupt dizzying turn to me, after which you do a quick turning kick. It’s a move that’s more on the offensive side and fun to practice.
For the white belt, we had a test at the end to check our learning. Going into it, I remember being pretty damn sure I was screwed cause when left on my own to show what I’ve learned, chances where I would forget how to do things right. I honestly don’t remember the test, besides the fact that the judges asked us to do an axe kick for our * virtual * board break, and I was like, uhhhhhhh. I have not heard this term in my life, other than from those 5 kids who did karate I knew. They said I did it fine, to which I was like o__o how? I ultimately passed, to my surprise.
My only regret during this time was not nursing the injury I got in my hip (that I mentioned earlier) better. I would ice it, do stretches and stuff, and be fine for a few practices, and then ABSOLUTELY die one time doing a random kick. I guess I wanted to keep pushing myself to go to practices and work on stuff, but ah, it was at a cost.
The Yellow Belt Experience (April – May)
Ooh, a sparkly, cool white uniform with a nice belt. After getting your white belt, you get an actual taekwondo uniform :D. I think you usually pay for the uniform and belt and also testing, but for some reason I am not sure of, we didn’t have to this year. I was terrible at actually scheduling a time to pick up a uniform and belt from someone I knew, but I eventually got on it (I think).
This part of my experience was shorter than the past one, and I’m surprised it winded up that way. I had some difficult personal times to deal with on top of a murderous load of classes. I couldn’t focus on extracurriculars that much, so I often only went to 1 practice a week rather than the expected 2.
Ok, I still don’t know what these are. These were taught at practices I was not at, and I didn’t even realize it. For any test after white belt, you have to get “checked-off” by people or instructors in the club who have upper-level belts (think black belts and around there). I guess this is to make sure everyone who tests has a decent idea of what they are supposed to be doing. I learned these roughly a day before my test with the help of the same person from whom I got my uniform. Who I actually met about 2 years prior or so, fun fact. He showed me the moves, which were tricky for me to learn because of the left/right issue. But I got it somewhat eventually. The motion included crossing your feet and extending your hand outright, flat out, kind of like a spatula? Maybe not the best descriptor…
Form Taeguk 1
By this point, I really realized how bad I am at directions since the same issues that plagued me before continued to follow me during this phase of my learning. I tried to use the trick of letting my pointed-out hand determine which way I should move, but it turned out to be something you could only use for the white belt form. I found myself tripping up a lot because I didn’t realize this, usually going the wrong way. It sucked, but I eventually got the form and had to use my feet as a pointer to see where I had to go. This form has many walking stances, which are much chiller than front stances, so I liked it quite a lot. It’s fun for some weird reason, and once I got it, pretty logical.
- Forward Step Turning Kick
Not gonna explain this one too much because it is similar to the last sparring step in the white belt. This time, it’s more of a defensive move, and you rotate away from your opponent and throw a turning kick. Since I like sparring step 3, I generally like 4 as well
- Uh, Switch Legs Turning Kick?
I think I got this one rather quickly because it reminds me of the jab cross cross, and I also don’t remember its name very well. You basically switch your feet pretty fast and throw a turning kick like many other moves. I kind of forgot this was a sparring move until I wrote this blog, so oops. This is actually a move I kinda tried to use one time during sparring, and I can’t really objectively judge how it went, but I felt it had potential.
- Double Kick
This one is cool! Double kick is, as you would have never guessed, two jumping flying turning kicks. Though it is a fun one to attempt, I found it the hardest out of the 3, mainly because none of the other moves I had learned thus far involved any form of jumping while kicking in them. However, over time I improved because I practiced it quite a bit, including randomly in the hallway where I nearly fell and died a few times. I am here writing this post, though, so you can tell I made it out of all those ordeals alive.
At long last, I was able to attend some practices in person. Last semester, I went to some of the practices on Sundays, but these were relatively rare. Generally, we would play frisbee as a warmup for a bit, and then there were some drills or just independent practice. Not much to say here, but I enjoyed doing something physical in person for the first time since high school.
Initially, I was not supposed to test for my yellow belt. It landed on the same day as my 2.00B final presentations, so I was going to try the next time I could. Then I was told about a make-up test being offered, which led to me hurriedly getting the “check-offs” I mentioned earlier. The test was in front of so many people, to my chagrin, compared to the white belt test. It was at our club’s master’s dojang and still is somewhat of a blur. A fellow student who also missed the test due to 2.00B and I were asked to demonstrate different moves (I was a yellow belt, and they were a white belt), and I think there were some warmups along the way. The final step of the test was a board break, which I had done for the white belt test, albeit virtually. The one problem was this time, they were bringing out, uh, actual boards. As I slowly awaited my fate, I barely heard what they said about the board break. Which went like this (I definitely did not neglect to include my misses):
Hip Hip Hooray :D
So I was passed to Green Stripe. I am not sure what I am doing. That being said, do I ever?
Since the end of the semester, I have hurt many more body parts while taking part in Taekwondo’s many summer activities. There have been some zoom practices, but I haven’t felt very motivated to go on more video calls than needed these days. Usually, I try to head to the Wednesday and Saturday in-person practices held at the Z (the fitness center) or outdoors. On Wednesdays, lots of stuff is usually practiced but mainly centered around sparring techniques and things of that nature. Sundays, in my opinion, are really fun because thanks to changes in covid policy, we can actually kick real humans now in full-on sparring :)). That, unfortunately, comes with the caveat that I, a human, can be and get the life punched out of me :D as well, but hey, compromises.
To wrap up the longest post I have written, I have to say these past few months have been quite an interesting time, and on the net, I am definitely happy I joined Taekwondo. Just doing some physical exercise during the past year and a half, where I have been pretty much stagnant, has been a good thing, and I’m glad for that. The club’s kind, friendly, and encouraging community has been one of the many things that have kept me coming back, and I look forward to more adventures in the future. Which I guess means this is just a start… 시작!
- I would play sports pretty informally, the last time I did a sport formally was in 8th grade (tennis) back to text ↑
- first half of spring semester back to text ↑
- signed up for a class in 20-30 seconds, it was full back to text ↑
- signing a contract saying I accept whatever happens to me or my soul back to text ↑
- TO AN EXTREMELY MODERATE DEGREE back to text ↑
- I'm not entirely sure what different punches would look like back to text ↑
- basic, I know back to text ↑
- And I was never the same. back to text ↑
- I was not like in a beautiful form before either but uh back to text ↑
- who is an absolute gem back to text ↑
- and get the life punched out of me :D back to text ↑