The journey, not the destination
In December of 2019, I made the decision to sign back up for taekwondo classes at Faiferlick Martial Arts after about an 18-year hiatus from the sport.
When I was a child, going to taekwondo was a family affair for my dad, two older brothers and myself.
I was about 5 years old when I first got involved. It took some convincing as mom thought I was just too young.
When I was allowed to go, I excelled, advancing quickly through the belt ranks for my age. At that time in the mid-1990s my family attended class at Hemann Martial Arts, located at the Trolley Center downtown.
To this day, driving by the Trolley Center and seeing the door that we all had to step up into on the north side is pure nostalgia — there were no steps. We still remember the orange-brown carpet and the rows marked with white masking tape.
Outside of class, my family turned our unfinished basement in Dakota City into a dojang of sorts — we rolled out an old wrestling mat, hung up a black Century punching bag and had all the pads. We had a blast — as a family.
And it wasn’t until my brothers and I were much older that we realized it was one of the best things we did do as a family. We often talk about how flexible we became and how fun it was to compete. It taught us discipline, respect and instilled in us a fighting spirit.
My brothers are twins. They were each born with cerebral palsy, which left them with physical disabilities for life. Taekwondo allowed us all something to focus our energies on. Taekwondo allows for growth from anyone, regardless of age or skill level.
My brothers and I practiced our techniques in our forms and sparring. Taekwondo kept us physically and mentally sharp.
And before it was all said and done, my dad and two brothers earned their black belts.
The last belt rank I earned was brown belt decided in 2001.
Eventually, through other interests, we all stopped going to classes.
For years, when the subject of taekwondo would come up, my dad and others would often highlight the fact that I never got my black belt. And it wasn’t necessarily to shame me, but reminiscing how good they thought I was at the sport.
And yet I’d be lying if I said conversations like that didn’t bother me. It’s definitely hung over my head for a long time. Still, years went by and I was either focused on another sport, work, school or just hanging out with friends. I hadn’t seriously considered getting involved in taekwondo again.
But in December of 2019, I did some reflecting.
I wanted a different outlet aside from my work at The Messenger. With my schedule, sometimes extracurricular activities can be difficult to make it to. But I found out classes were offered on Saturday mornings, so I finally built up the courage to walk in and talk to Master Justin Faiferlick about my interest. Faiferlick also began his taekwondo career at Hemann Martial Arts. And he knew my family from years past.
Since signing up again, I’ve been going to class once a week, almost every week. In the beginning, it was a little awkward. I forgot so much and have so much to learn. I always will have a lot to learn — that’s the best part.
COVID, of course, has slowed what we have been able to do in the gym. It’s slowed a lot of things for people and has made it more challenging to try something new or reach for new goals.
But little by little my flexibility has increased and my techniques have improved. I re-learned the brown belt form. And in August of 2020, I tested for my next belt.
Today, for the first time in about 19 years, my belt is another color other than brown — I have earned my red belt.
In time, I plan to test to become a black belt. However, I am not motivated by the color of the belt and I really am not worried about how long it takes. Taekwondo has me feeling better physically and mentally, that’s the real payoff. It will of course be a great feeling to someday earn that belt, but to me it’s so much more about the journey. I’ll get there when I’m ready.
The point is, taekwondo has provided me with all of the same benefits it did when I was a child. I’ve gained back a ton of flexibility. It has given me a new focus. And I love having that sense of competition back in my life.
One of my best teachers in class right now is a 16-year-old student. I am taking everything in stride and just trying to be better than I was yesterday.
But this piece isn’t just about taekwondo. This can apply to anyone’s interest, career or path. Now is as good a time as any to revisit something you did when you were younger. It’s also a great time to try something completely different. One of my brothers is pushing himself to compete in an ultramarathon later this year. My other brother is excelling in his career as an educator.
It doesn’t matter where you stopped at or what you have accomplished to this point. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed. It doesn’t matter if you messed up. Put the past behind you. Don’t be afraid to walk back into the proverbial gym and take your licks. Fall down. Get back up. Fail and fail again. Keep moving forward. You’ll be glad you did.
Chad Thompson is city editor of The Messenger