I am a Third-Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo. I started training during my college years, took a long break, and then resumed more focused and intense training over the past nine years. In addition to my regular training and occasional teaching, I integrated my marital arts training into a therapy group for clients with eating disorders and led the group for a couple of years at Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders. In recent years, I’ve continued leading workshops for therapists, leaders, and retreat groups with the goal of helping all people face and overcome their own obstacles through the use of movement, mindset, and metaphor.
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The following essay provides some background about the ways that Taekwondo strengthened me spiritually, mentally, and physically.
Three: An Essay Written in Preparation for My Third-Degree Black Belt Test
Angela D. Schaffner
The theme for this paper is three. I am preparing to test for my Third Dan in Taekwondo, and three is a significant number for me in several ways.
I learned about the concept of the Trinity in my church as a child. The Trinity is the idea of God conceptualized as three beings in one. This concept shaped my view of God for many years. I understand God as a nurturing, creative, and wise figure who knows, sees, and understands everything, who can be everywhere at once, an advocate of both love and justice. I understand Jesus as one who understands life as a child, adult, healer, preacher, friend, relative, and advocate. I understand the Holy Spirit as an internal guide and counselor, prompting me toward wisdom and a purposeful life. My faith is central to who I am and I will keep seeking growth and understanding in the spiritual realm of my life. Taekwondo guides me to a greater understanding of God by providing a time for me to step outside of my roles, be fully present in my body, and have a more focused mind. In mok yum (meditation), I have a regular opportunity to be still, reflect on both my capabilities and limitations, and move forward in a focused and effective way.
I am a mom of three boys. When Dusty and I started the journey of parenthood, we did not know we would end up being the parents of three boys, but it’s been an adventurous and rewarding journey. Over the past seven years of my Taekwondo training, and on a day-to-day basis, Carlson (11) reminds me of the importance of consistency, predictability, and structure. His curiosity and drive to understand the intricacies of life is an inspiration to me to get clearer about what I believe and value, and how to communicate well. Caleb (7) reminds me of the importance of always making time for fun, laughter, and spontaneity and silliness. His inspiring creative ability and focus reminds me to value and keep creating art. Zach (5) reminds me to live fully in the present moment, slowing down and being still, and noticing sources of joy that are everywhere around us. He has a passion for valuing and preserving the environment, and he inspires me to do the same.
During the past two years as I’ve trained for my third Dan test, I made three significant changes in my life. First, I’ve stopped doing so much volunteer work and saying yes to so many requests. In the past, I said yes to so many requests that I often found myself rushing from one commitment to the next, with no time or energy left for family and self-care. I am still a volunteer, but I make decisions about when to say “yes” and “no” with greater consideration and intentionality. There are many good, worthwhile uses of time, so I have to choose from among the good options, not just say yes to an option because it is a good one. I have learned to say no more often (even to very interesting, engaging endeavors), with the goal of more fully embracing and committing to my yeses. Second, I wrote a book called, Revealed: What the Bible Can Teach You About Yourself. Three of the chapters in the book incorporate truths I’ve learned from Taekwondo. I am also working on another book called Breaking Through Fear: 10 Strategies That Free You Through Movement, Mindset, and Metaphor. Writing a book was a central, long-term goal for me. For years, it lingered in my consciousness as a desired but undone task that I had yet to accomplish in my life. I have been a writer ever since I could hold a pen, keeping numerous diaries, journals, and word documents full of thoughts, feelings, book beginnings, and even full drafts. But this time, I sought a publisher, followed up numerous times, and finished a book that will be published in February of 2019. Taekwondo helped me have the courage to make this dream a reality. Third, I put in my notice at the eating disorders center where I worked for the past twelve years and took a step of faith in opening my own private practice at a separate location. I left the safety and security of a larger company and took an independent, courageous risk. The timing was right, and my private practice is now thriving and bringing me joy. It’s been an empowering and creative step that I’ve been envisioning for years, and Taekwondo gave me confidence to make it happen.
Three Integrated Roles
For most of my life, I’ve been achievement-oriented and have often measured my worth in terms of the roles I’ve adopted. I’ve had professional roles (psychologist, professor, student, author), family roles (spouse, daughter, sister, mom), and personal, values-based roles (martial artist, Christian). Many times, my roles felt fragmented. I was a black belt when I was in the Dojang, a mom and spouse when I was at home, a psychologist at the office, and a faithful volunteer at church. I could be fully and effectively in one role, but I lacked an essential sort of flow and consistency between my various places and practices. In the past two years I experienced an increasingly integrated flow between roles. Taekwondo has been the integrating connector for family, faith, and professional roles in my life. For example, when I am doing work as a psychologist, I am still a martial artist. At work I developed a therapy group integrating martial arts techniques, and I saw people with eating disorders break boards to symbolize breaking through obstacles to reach recovery. I now run workshops with the same theme. When I am a mom, I am still a martial artist. For example, I taught basic kicks and strikes to children at my sons’ elementary school during their P.E. classes. When I am at church, I am a martial artist. At church one evening, I gave a sermon and invited a member of the congregation to come forward and break a board, symbolizing faith and forward movement in the presence of fear. When I am in the Dojang, I am a person of faith. I often use the mok yum time at the beginning of class as an opportunity for focused prayer. “Angela” is an integrated whole that contains and encompasses many roles, but becomes something more that transcends what any one role can communicate or accomplish. The various roles I play are connected in so many ways that I can no longer organize my self into categories, but instead experience a more solid and free-flowing existence wherever I go and whatever I do. Spiritually, I sense that it’s the type of life I’m created to live, freely flowing and at peace in the presence of God, without a need to cling to any one aspect of my identity. I have a stronger core sense of self. I feel more solid, less likely to shake or fall. We recently did a drill in class where Master Mast asked us to stand in our strongest horse-riding stance while a partner tried to push us over. At times in the past, I’ve been passive, easy to push over. And while I’m still not completely unshakable, my stance has gotten much stronger in every sense. I stand firmly in the training I’ve received, thankful for the gift of Taekwondo that makes me more strongly integrated, whole, and at peace.
Three Inspirational People
Many people played a role and contributed to my personal growth and success in significant ways. Today I want to honor three of them. First, I honor Dusty, my partner in life, love, and parenting. I could not have attended Taekwondo classes during the past seven years if Dusty had not been willing to take care of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, clean up dinner, and put three children to bed on a regular basis. Many people I know do not have that degree of selflessness and support available in a partner. He shows up at belt tests with a child or two or three, listens to me talk about new poomse, watches me practice, and gives rides back and forth to our children so they can learn Taekwondo, too.
Second, I honor my Dad. He always told me I could do anything I set my mind to do, and that I should do what I love. In my Taekwondo training, both pieces of advice have proved true. He has also attended belt tests and classes, and cheered for me in all types of athletic pursuits over the years. He coached my softball team during my childhood and teen years. He rebounded while I shot free throws in our driveway. He regularly expresses that he is proud of my achievements, without a hint of vicarious need or envy.
Third, I honor Master Mast. He sees beyond my identity as a psychologist, mother, and every other role outside the Dojang, and brings out the part of me that can kick and break boards. He has made me into a martial artist, and in doing so, has provided me with a more secure, stable, and strong core. He pushes me just as much as the young boys and men who enter the Dojang. He is a teacher and model of Taekwondo and the five tenets. His lessons make me stronger and more confident as a parent, psychologist, business owner, and family member. Also, thanks to him I have the correct Korean symbol for “integrity” (and not the one I googled) tattooed on my foot!
When I look back years from now, I have a feeling I will reflect on my third Dan test as more than another golden notch on my Taekwondo belt, but rather on a time when things in my life came together with a more integrated and powerful harmony that had a far-reaching impact on my life and the people in it. I have a feeling I’ll remember the wonderful community of people I knew who practiced the art alongside me, and how empowered and accepted I felt with them. I am grateful for Taekwondo, and I will continue to receive it as a gift for as long as I’m able to