“I want to try something new” is such a teenager thing to say.
But when I was 14, that’s exactly what I thought. I had started my Tae Kwon-Do journey when I was 8 years old, and it was one of the best experiences of my youth. But when you’re young, there is so much life ahead of you. It is difficult to appreciate something truly special, like Tae Kwon-Do, in your life.
When I turned 13, I moved from the kids curriculum to the adult curriculum. I was already a 2nd degree Black Belt by then. But when I switched over, I was no longer able to participate in some of the things I did when I was younger, like Demo Team and fun extracurriculars with the youth group at the school. That transition was pretty hard on me.
In the adult class, I was the youngest and one of the shortest (I stopped growing at 5’2”). It just didn’t feel the same to me. I lost the connection that I used to feel with Tae Kwon-Do. So, I decided to take a break and try other things.
I liked basketball a lot, but there were 84 girls that tried out for that team my freshman year of high school, and I didn’t make the cut. So, I eventually found a niche with soccer.
Tae Kwon-Do really helped me enhance my soccer skills. I had agility. I had balance. I was tougher, stronger, and more solid. On the soccer field, it meant that I anticipated better and stood my ground as a defender. I was able to meet the physical demands of a soccer player because of Tae Kwon-Do.
I played soccer in high school and all the way through college. When I was around 19 years old, I decided to pick my Tae Kwon-Do training back up.
The biggest challenge going back was trying to reconnect with the art itself. Physically, it wasn’t so difficult because I had been active with soccer. But when I returned to my training that first time, many of the people I had known had transitioned away. Also, since I was away at school in Pittsburgh, my training this time around was sporadic. I could essentially only train on my winter and summer breaks. After I graduated, I was able to train more consistently.
I was still committed to reconnecting, and I was able to build some long-lasting relationships with other students. I even tested for my 3rd degree black belt during that time.
As a school changes, and the culture of that school changes, the challenge to a student is to decide how Tae Kwon-Do training impacts them day-to-day, and how the family culture of the dojang supports them. The second time I transitioned out of Tae Kwon-Do, I remember losing a little bit of that culture. Many of the female students I came up with and built relationships with moved on to other schools or took different paths in life. I also suffered an injury playing soccer. Overall, I started to feel that disconnect again and ended up taking what became a 10-year break from Tae Kwon-Do.
I returned again in 2016 when I joined Master Gorino’s school. I remember driving past the school on my way home, having heard his commercial on the radio not long before. At that time, I had been feeling something missing from my life. I stopped playing soccer, mostly due to some of the physical demands of the sport, particularly on my knees and other joints. My career prevented me from playing the way I had been used to as well.
Tae Kwon-Do had been such an important part of my life, and this seemed like the perfect time and opportunity to return to it. Once again, I think it was that desire for connection that drew me back in. But this time, I decided I would go back in with no expectations.
Walking in the door, the biggest challenge was being at a completely new school. I had devoted about 10 years total, training at my previous school. Even though Master Gorino’s was a similar style of Tae Kwon-Do to my old school, I still felt nervous about finding my place in a brand new environment.
Would I enjoy the instruction as much as I had before? Would I get the health benefits I was looking for? Would I develop friendships like I had in the past? Would I be able to find that deep reconnection to Tae Kwon-Do and a dojang family I had been longing for?
I started by meeting with Master Gorino. We discussed my previous training. I explained to him that I was a 3rd Degree Black Belt, but that it had been several years since I last trained.
Master Gorino was not very excited to have me there at first. He had some negative experiences in the past with students coming in with a high level of training from other schools. Those students often had trouble finding their place at the school and would have trouble committing to learning the way Master Gorino and his instructors teach Tae Kwon-Do.
I came in with a very different attitude. I was excited and highly motivated. I was there trying to find my place. I was seeking a commitment to train in a new way. So, I took Master Gorino’s skepticism as a challenge, and promised him I would give my best at all times. He explained to me that he expects a great deal from his black belts; that they are expected to train twice per week. I planned to come in three times a week. Or more.
The first day I walked in to train, I was nervous. I didn’t know how I would fit in with the other black belts. It was like being the new kid at school again. The other students were generally pretty nice to me, but everyone was still feeling each other out.
The class started and everyone had lined up, and I immediately fell back into doing what I was used to, which was a very traditional, disciplined style of Tae Kwon-Do. I got into my junbi, and I just stood there in ready stance, trying not to get yelled at. At my previous school, I remember students being yelled at for not always being at attention and ready while an instructor was speaking.
I noticed that everyone else was a bit more relaxed, though, and I quickly learned why. Master Gorino put out a much more comfortable vibe in the way that he taught and explained things. He made it feel like a family.
He went through some announcements, then introduced me and told the class about my previous training. He noticed immediately that I was in attention stance and told the other black belts that I was “old stock.” That praise felt good!
The first month was a period of remembering and reconnecting. I was reminded how challenging Tae Kwon-Do was, physically, emotionally, and mentally. But I was committed to staying and learning about everyone, understanding the school’s culture, and what it was like to truly be a part of Master Gorino’s.
At the end of each class, my hip flexors were really sore. As a third degree Black Belt, I had a lot of knowledge of material in my head, but was out of practice. There was a lot that my body had forgotten. Learning a slightly different version of Tae Kwon-Do than I had before made it even harder.
During that first year, I actually went down to 2nd degree, and Master Gorino challenged me to test again for my third degree. That forced me to really learn Master Gorino’s way, particularly when it came to some of the self-defenses and sparring concepts that we do here.
My favorite memory of coming back was my first tournament. I had only been back for a few months, and had no intention of competing. Master Gorino would have none of that. I was going to compete in patterns and sparring, and that was that. I had no choice but to take the opportunity and run with it.
Patterns did not go well. I tried one of the new patterns I was practicing for third degree and ended up having to bow out. Bowing out of a competition was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I was upset with myself, but grateful for the experience. It reminded me that I have it in me, but I need to do the work.
Sparring went much better. I hadn’t done it in a long time, and no one knew what I was capable of. I earned some respect that day. The tournament could have gone either way, but doing well was really encouraging as part of coming back to Tae Kwon-Do.
When you’ve devoted significant time and energy to something, leaving and coming back can be difficult. It’s not the way you remembered it. For me, though, reconnecting has brought back the more beneficial and positive feelings I remembered.
I feel very fortunate to have arrived at a school that has helped me hone back in on my passion for the art of Tae Kwon-Do. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue training at a high level, to be able to teach others, and to have been welcomed into the incredible community that Master Gorino has built.
So, if you have left Tae Kwon-Do for any period of time, know that there is always a way back. It’s about finding the right place and making sure that you’re doing it the way you want to do it. The right time is whenever you’re ready to recommit.
For me, the right time just happened to be driving down Niagara Falls Boulevard with the radio on.