Published: December 25, 2006
THE TAEKWONDO SPIRIT
By Jo Greenland
Many people start a martial art with the aim to develop an improved level of
fitness and physical strength. However, it is not until you reach a higher
standard of competence, or as I found out, until you come across a major
challenge in your life, that you realise that it is the mental strength you
have acquired through the training which is equally, if not more important.
I began taekwondo within the TTA whilst studying at Nottingham University, and
attained my 1st Dan in September 2001. This achievement meant an enormous
amount to me, and I felt that I was now just starting to really appreciate
taekwondo. Unfortunately though, events began to happen in my life which had a
major impact on me and my taekwondo training, and which demanded every ounce of
inner strength I had.
During the Christmas and New Year period of 2001 I became increasingly unwell,
with what I thought was a severe cold and chest infection. However, I was soon
to be admitted to hospital with extensive pneumonia, which was further
complicated by a very rare autoimmune disease, requiring unpleasant treatment
in the form of chemotherapy.
Overall, I spent three weeks in hospital, not only fighting the pneumonia and
autoimmune disease, but also attempting to regain the stone in weight I had
lost, and mend six fractured ribs which had broken as a consequence of high
dose steroid treatment. A further two months were spent recuperating at home.
Life gradually returned to normal, and I started back at work, although
continued to take powerful medicines. I then began to consider returning to
taekwondo training. Thankfully my instructor and the entire club were very
supportive, and helped me reintegrate gradually.
This proved to be a challenge in many aspects. Firstly, my muscle strength and
fitness were understandably markedly reduced, making the sessions highly
demanding and very draining. Also, due to contracting intermittent infections
as a result of being on immunosuppressant drugs, my attendance continued to be
relatively patchy. Both of these contributed to perhaps the biggest challenge
of all - the mental challenge. Being a perfectionist, I was wanting to
immediately be back at my original fitness and abilities which I had prior to
becoming ill. When this obviously didn't occur it caused much frustration and
despondency, heightened by the fact that I could see more junior grades
'over-taking' me in their training.
However, towards the end of the year (2002), my health began to even out. I was
making regular sessions, my fitness was slowly improving, and my general morale
But, unfortunately, life never runs smoothly, and shortly into 2003 it was
discovered that the autoimmune disease had returned. This prompted a
significant increase in my medication and further, rather unpleasant,
investigations. One of these was a kidney biopsy, which not only prevented me
from going on an eagerly awaited skiing holiday, but also meant a further 6
weeks absence from training.
Following this break, I once again began the uphill struggle of retuning to
taekwondo and improving my fitness, only to be dealt a further blow in June,
when I developed appendicitis. The abdominal surgery resulted in another
prolonged period away from training.
The last five months have, so far, been relatively event free, and hopefully
life will continue in the same way. The autoimmune disease is now in remission
and I am physically very well. I have just started a further degree this
September, and am now regularly attending training.
However, the mental struggle remains as challenging. There are sessions where I
feel really good, and come away exhilarated. Yet there are other times when I
feel that I will not improve, and my frustration increases. In spite of this
though, I shall continue to train as often as I can and to my best abilities.
And hopefully I will eventually regain and build upon my former performance,
and look towards going for my 2nd Dan.
So that really is my story. But I think I need to emphasise two points which
really stick out for me.
Firstly, I believe I can safely say that had I not been as fit, both physically
and mentally, as a direct result of taekwondo training, I would not have
survived the initial illnesses. This may sound rather far-fetched, but my body
was pushed to it's limits during those few weeks. Limits which I would not have
had, had I not been so fit. I also feel it is impossible to underestimate the
importance of having a positive mental attitude in overcoming any illness, and
the determination to persevere and to never give up.
I think my story also demonstrates how difficult it is to give up taekwondo. It
can be very easy to stop training, but to actually give up the 'taekwondo
spirit' is immensely hard, and this is what I have come to realise over the
past two years. In spite of everything, I have always returned to the Dojang,
and I hope I will continue to do so in years to come.