Training Mr. Universe: Pro Athletes and Tae Kwon-Do


What do Muhammad Ali, Phil Mickelson, and Herschel Walker have in common?

For one, they were all elite athletes at the top of their sports. Certainly in the cases of Ali and Mickelson, some would argue the greatest of all time. But, another thing that they all have in common, along with many other professional athletes and celebrities alike, is that they all studied Tae Kwon-Do. 

In fact, Herschel Walker, a former NFL running back, made it all the way to 5th Dan black belt. Then, at the ripe young age of 47, he decided to start training for an MMA career. In his first fight, he knocked out his opponent just over three minutes into the first round. In his next and final MMA fight, he won by TKO, a month shy of his 49th birthday. The guy he defeated was nearly eight years younger than him. 

I have discussed in previous posts how beneficial Tae Kwon-Do can be for student athletes, and why instead of leaving Tae Kwon-Do to pursue other sports, athletes should lean into Tae Kwon-Do to help make them better at those sports. The same holds true for the professional athlete as well. 

Tae Kwon-Do speeds up reaction time. It sharpens focus and concentration. It teaches you discipline. It increases strength and flexibility. In my opinion, there is no better exercise for breathing than sparring. Tae Kwon-Do is the perfect form of training for athletes in other sports. I have seen the results first-hand.

Back in the 90’s, I trained one of the Buffalo Sabres’ captains, whose name I won’t mention. He insisted on private lessons, and I will always respect a student’s privacy. What I can say is that he was, all-around, a very nice guy, and he came to me because he wanted to improve his reaction time and explosive skating speed. He also wasn’t much of a fighter on the ice, so he admitted that he wanted to learn how to fight better. 

Another private student I had for a while was a local man who was crowned Mr. Universe. This guy was an enormous bulk of muscle mass, carved out of granite. I’ll never forget the size of his arms. They were massive. “Geez… your arms are bigger than my butt!”, I used to joke with him. 

During his first lesson, I was showing him how to hold up his hands to guard his face. His arms were so big, it looked like he was flexing them, which is the wrong technique for blocking. So, I just told him to relax, and not tense up like that. 

“What do you mean?” he said. “This is relaxed!” His arms were just that big. 

The odd thing about bodybuilders is that even though they are these Adonises to behold, they are, for the most part, usually in pretty terrible overall shape. As evidenced by the example above, they’re typically not very flexible and often have very poor cardio capacity. 

That’s why this man came to me to train. He didn’t come in because he needed help training for Mr. Universe. It was actually the opposite. He was trying to get off of his normal bodybuilding regiment, and actually “bulk down,” as he put it. 

Over the course of about a year and a half, we helped him get down to a more manageable weight while replacing his huge, bulky muscles with longer, leaner, more fluid muscles. We also helped his cardio immensely. And, he said all along that he had a blast doing it, and he even brought his kids in to the school to train as well!

The discipline and work ethic that it requires to become Mr. Universe makes someone like that an easy student for me to train. I know that they will do everything that I tell them to do, and they will stay with it in order to achieve the results they want. 

But you don’t have to be a Mr. Universe, an elite NFL running back, a PGA Champion, or the greatest boxer of all time to reap the benefits of Tae Kwon-Do in your other athletic endeavors. 

You just have to have the dedication and indomitable spirit to become better.


Master Gorino’s Tae Kwon-Do offers a trial program for individuals and families in Buffalo, NY and the surrounding areas that allows you to get a feel for the different classes, meet our instructors, and experience our dojang. It’s a great way to see if Tae Kwon-Do is right for you. To learn more or to sign up, register online or call (716) 836-KICK (5425) and a member of our team will follow up with you on next steps. We look forward to helping you achieve your goals. Pil-Sung!


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