I DID IT! I Trained to be a Black Belt in Korea!

It was 6AM when my alarm clock rang on a freezing cold winter morning in Korea. I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth and walked outside my apartment to a pitch black sky.  I couldn’t feel my face due to the brutal wind chill of 5 degrees (-14 Celsius).   I headed to the bus station to meet my Taekwondo Master.

We jumped on a 1 hour bus to Kukkiwon Stadium in Gangnam – better known as the World Taekwondo Headquarters.

This was my time to shine.

I was so nervous that I could feel my heart beating out of my chest.  All my skills were about to be put to the test in front of several hundred people.

I had been training Taekwondo for 4 days a week over the last 12 months in my rural Korean village.

But what was going to happen when I had to demonstrate what I’ve learned on a big stage, in front of 3 grandmaster judges and hundreds of people in the crowd?

My master and I were one of the first people to arrive at Kukkiwon stadium.  Chills spread through my veins from the moment I laid eyes inside the building.  This place is the MECCA for Taekwondo in the entire world.  It’s the Madison Square Garden.  It’s the Wembley Stadium.  I couldn’t stop staring at the massive sign saying “World Taekwondo Headquarters” and all of the country flags that were represented on the walls.   This was as legit as it gets.

I was the only foreigner in the entire building. About 400 kids were anxiously waiting to be tested for black belt, and their families were quickly filling up the seats.

Everywhere I went inside the facility, I could overhear people gossiping about me in Korean. They were saying things like “Look, there’s a foreigner!” and “What is that guy doing here?”

As I was waiting for my name to be called down to the floor, I kept running through the 8 routines in my head to mentally prepare for the test.

After 2 hours of waiting, I was rushed down to the floor to be the next person tested.  I didn’t have any more time to think.  Anxiety started to take over, but I tried to remain as calm as possible.

First, I had to do a series of kicks which I passed. Then the judges randomly chose 2 routines to perform with 100% accuracy (of the 8 that I had memorized). Finally, I had to wear pads and fight another girl using only kicking techniques. The test went smoothly!

I screwed up a bit on the memorization part, but I still felt that I did well overall. My Taekwondo master even told me that I passed the test, but I still won’t officially find out for a few more weeks. If I do pass, then I get my name in both Korean and English engraved on a black belt, and a certificate of proof that I did it.

Training to be a black belt in Taekwondo in Korea was one of the best decisions of my entire life. I am felling happy and as confident as I’ve ever been.   And yeah, I can kick some ass too!!

The following are 4 more reasons why it was so awesome to train to be a black belt in Korea.

1. Taekwondo is a Korean Martial Art

In the Korean language, Tae (태) means “to strike or break with the foot,” kwon (권) means “to strike or break with the fist,” and do (도) means a “way”, “method”, or “path.”

So put it all together, and Taekwondo loosely translates to “the way of the foot and the hand.  Pretty neat, eh?

Taekwondo originated in Korea in the 1940s.  The martial art combines combat and self-defense techniques, through intense conditioning and exercise.  Taekwondo has a huge emphasis on kicking techniques and punches thrown from a mobile stance.

It’s safe to say that I trained with the best of the best.

Everyday training included a unique combination of kicking exercises, open hand strikes, joint locks, and different kinds of take downs.  In addition, we worked on self defense techniques from over a dozen positions.

For example: We practiced situations where someone was grabbing my wrist, and I learned how to reverse the move and flip them over to the ground within less than a second.

Not a word of English was spoken in class. All of the commands, including coaching, drills and techniques, are shouted in Korean. It was awesome.

2. Conditioning

Taekwondo uses intense conditioning in addition to the kicks and self defense.

The room that we practiced in was pretty small, like the size of a normal school classroom, but we sure made use of every inch inside the room.

Some of the activities that we did were “circuit training,” where everyone sprints from corner to corner doing a variety of kicks, somersaults and cart wheels along the way. We sometimes do that non-stop for 20 minutes.

3. Flexibility

Before I started doing Taekwondo, I could barely touch my toes. Now, I can reach 6 inches past them.

Doing hundreds of kicks everyday have turned my hamstrings into noodles as far as flexibility goes. I have never been this flexible in my life!

I can also kick over my head and I never thought in a million years that I’d be able to do this.  It’s my goal to keep the conditioning going in the future.

Here is a photo of me warming up with the little elementary kids.  They are SO adorable!

4. My Taekwondo Master 

Daekwon Yeom, my Taekwondo Master, has become one of my close friends.  He is the nicest, most caring person that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.  His English is minimal, but enough to communicate along with my Korean skills.

He has done so much for me over the last year.  He brought me homemade soup to my house when I was sick.  He lent me his bike for a year to ride back and fourth between school, home and Taekwondo.  He bought me a huge red einter coat when he found out that mine was stolen.  And he pulled some strings for me to take this black belt test, because I missed the originialy deadline due to traveling.

Here is a photo of me and him on my test day.  I’m wearing the bright red jacket that he bought me!  I will never forget him!

Moral of the story

None of this would have been possible if I never took the courage to walk into that Taekwondo gym and ask to get lessons.  If you don’t step out of your comfort zone, then you won’t have as many incredible opportunities to accomplish great things in your life.

The same goes for that time when I was in Beijing on the most epic 24 hour layover, and I approached a crew of Chinese dudes on the street who eventually treated me to bottle service in the best nightclub in the city.  As goes for that time when I was in ate an entire live octopus in Korea.

Do you recognize a pattern here?  All of these situations came about because I stepped out of my comfort zone, and now I have amazing stories to share for the rest of my life.

I highly recommend giving it a try 🙂

Here is a video that was taken on my final Taekwondo class, so you can see what kind of training I did behind the scenes.  I got a black black at the end of class!


11 thoughts on “I DID IT! I Trained to be a Black Belt in Korea!

  1. This is an incredible experience. I have a bachelors of arts in English from Brown University and I would like to do the same thing you did and earn my black belt in Korea as well. Please tell me how to do this and how to make it happen. I saw your video in youtube and I was inspired to follow in your example.

  2. Hello,
    Thank you for your interesting website and activities.
    I and my wife have a research center that work on Montessori Method for children in 3-6 years .
    We have certificate from NAMC(North American Montessori Center) and my family are familiar with Taekwando sport.(Red Belt)
    We want to go to Korea and have collaborate with a Gym to initial a school (kindergarten) for education and sport aims.
    Please let us know your idea.
    Best Regards,
    Website: http://www.researchs.net
    Mobile No: +989133171116

  3. I love your blog post, it brought tears to my eyes. I trained tkdo since I was 7 to 19, and it helped me in so many ways. I stopped training because of the hard schedules that my college had. I miss it everyday. I went to US and met one of the best tkdo masters I ever had, he told me we could open a school for small kids, I was so happy, A few months later he died of an aneurysm. I continued school, havent trained in so long, my legs have lost flexibility. Now I finally graduated and got a job. I spend all day in the office boring, and sometimes I wonder where my dreams of training in Korea and having a taekwondo school went, they feel far away and gone :(, Im only 28 years old but still I dont know what to do…

  4. Hello, i was curios how much did it cost you to have your black belt + certification and your gi.
    Thanks and also congratulation.

  5. Congratulation on your great accomplishment. My daughter and traveling to Seoul for summer to visit family and friends. She is currently a Sr. Blue belt in Tae Kwon do and I would love for her to keep it up. Would you mind sharing the name of you Tae Kwon Do gym? I’m not sure where we will be staying but if your gym is too far could you recommend what you look for in gym….Thank you and again congratulations on your accomplishment!!!!!!

    1. Thank you! My gym is in the middle of the rice fields (literally) in rural Korea.. There are literally thousands of gyms that she can attend around Seoul! Just walk inside any one and ask them. Koreans are so kind. Enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *