Robert Houben

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At the end of the summer of 2002, I decided that since I wasn't on the road a lot, I wanted to get into something of a regular nature that involved some hearty exercise. Since my time was still pretty scarce and valuable, I wanted to get into something that I could do with my son, Matthew, who was 13 at the time. I had taken Taekwondo for a short time when I was 16, and had talked to Matthew about it, and he sounded interested, so just before the Labour day weekend, I walked into a Taekwondo school that I had seen, sat down with the gentleman there, Master Kim, and signed up my son and I. He convinced me that anything less than 2 days a week would be pointless, so we went for it.

The following week, Wed, September 6th, I walked in with Matthew, with huge misgivings. I was the oldest looking, least fit person in the room, and something was saying "What on earth are you doing here! You're crazy!" To make things worse, I pushed myself too hard, and 15 minutes in, I had to step outside and let the world stop spinning for 5 minutes.

Despite this rough start, I persisted. I have to say that I alternated between thinking "I'll never get anywhere near a black belt" and "I just might make it, if pigs can fly!" But I did something that I've always been inclined to do when faced with challenges, whether spiritual, or work related, family related or financial. I put aside the long term goal and picked a more reachable short term goal. I figured I'd keep at this until it became clearly futile. All I had to do was make my next test, and get that white belt with a yellow stripe on it. Then, when I got that one, my challenge was the next test.

The first pattern confused me. I can' t believe now that it confused Matthew and I, but it did. We just didn't know which way we were turning! I saw Matthew get really frustrated, and was worried he would want to quit, but one of the instructors, Mo (Moustapha) saw his frustration, took him in hand, and drew it out on a piece of paper for him. About a week and a half before our first test, it suddenly clicked for Matthew and I.

The next, and probably biggest hurdle for me was the next test. In the first test, you had to break a 3/4 inch pine board with a running jump and a side kick. I have terrible flexibility, so the side kick was, and still is, my worst kick. But with a running jump, I knew that if I hit the board in the middle, my nearly (at the time) 200 lbs. of weight would break the board. The problem with the next test was that I had to break the board with a stepping side kick. I can't touch my toes. Probably never will be able to. I also can't do the splits very well. I had trouble getting a side kick higher than my knee height, and when I did, it had no force.

I explained my concerns to Master Kim, who told me that they could hold the board a bit lower for me, and that he felt I could complete the test. So, I went ahead with it. I kept practicing my kick, and about 2 days before the test I found that I could do a kick about 2/3 of the way from knee to waist height with power that I thought would actually break the board. I was pretty impressed with this. It seems that if I really worked at it, I could get more flexibility out of this tight-wound body of mine! As you can probably guess, I passed that test.

I was so impressed with Taekwondo, as time went on, that I signed up my two nephews. I had originally been reluctant to do this since one of them had a tendency to be overly rough. But I quickly realized that it actually worked the other way. Even when you go to sparring, it's like a game, not a fight. You are scoring points by hitting someone on a target on a pad. If someone gets hurt or winces hard, we're inclined to stop and make sure they're OK before proceeding. I watch the instructors working with the kids in the classes just before ours, or with the younger teens in our class, and they know how to balance fun, instruction, cardio, technique and everything else that goes into Taekwondo.

I can say that the kids and young people I've seen in Taekwondo, are a happy, well-adjusted lot, who have a lot of fun, but also gain a lot of confidence, respect, and have a great opportunity to get in shape.

Oh, and did I mention that I went to both the provincial championships and team trials and the national championships and team trials, and that at the latter, Matthew and I were scorekeepers? Two people in our school, that we regularly train with (one's an instructor) and have sparred with, are provincial gold champions in their weight rank. I'll admit I'm out of my league with these guys, but when you have people of this calibre in your class, you get a good workout, learn good technique, and lots of good advice. It's an honour to be a part of Taekwondo, and especially part of S.C. Kim's Taekwondo!

And by the way, just the other week (March 24th, 2005), Matthew and I got our brown belts. I'm two tests away from a black belt and I know now, that if I work hard, I can do it! Below is a link to a small video clip of my nephew breaking his board to get his blue belt, followed by myself, then Matthew breaking our boards for our brown belt, and then the Provincial feather-weight gold champion breaking two boards. The one I'm not holding, he breaks with my next kick, called a hook kick!


Copyright 2005 © Robert Houben