"I shall live with perseverance in the spirit of Taekwondo, having honor for others, integrity within myself and self-control in my actions."
Those are words that growing up helped shape the woman I am. When I was ten, my dad enrolled me in the YMCA’s Taekwondo program. That first night, I remember how scared I was. This boy walks up to me and introduced himself, I was so shy I had to hide behind my father. He even had to say my name for me. Little did I know that the boy who was just some stranger would end up being one of the most important friends I would have growing up.
The first belt test was intimidating. There were a handful of us who tested all at the same time for our orange belt and we would all grow up together. Friends, family, that’s what we all became. It was with these fellow students, some young some old that the best memories would form.
I remember in sixth grade a bunch of us were in the back of the school during an adults class playing cards. We would laugh, joke and just have fun. Innocent fun. Fun that I don’t know if kids today have. You see, Taekwondo is not just an individual activity it is truly a team sport. You need everyone around you to be successful. Those kids sitting back there with me, they were my lifeline, my foundations.
One day they were teaching us how to break boards. Before you could obtain your black belt you have to show different tasks that you master. After a certain point board breaking is required for each belt test. My first board break was an elbow strike. But not just any elbow strike. The elbow strike from hell. I was already sick that day, I had been taking some medicine and feeling weak but I wanted to try. They held the board up for me and swung and bamm, nothing. Bruised ego but that board didn’t even move. Over and over I beat on that board. My friend’s older brother was in my ear pushing me, encouraging me. “You can do it Ashley, break it!”
After the first night of trying I went home, my elbow was bruised and cut. The next night we went and I tried again. Again and again and again. You see, Nemer’s don’t quit. So that board was going to break one way or another. My friend’s brother offered to break it for me. Hell No, he wasn’t going to break it. That board was mine. On the forty-fourth swing it finally cracked. I felt so proud, finally I killed that board.
Of course our first board breaks were put on a special piece of wood and displayed with pride in our bedrooms. It was fantastic. Board breaks got easier for me over the years. I remember the first time I broke two inch thick pine wood with a hammer fist. God-I felt like a hot shot. Totally neat. Then let’s not forget that random Saturday class where we were goofing off and having fun and I managed to take my side kick through 4 inches of wood. It only happened once, but hey, once is all you need right?!?
Yes, Taekwondo was my life. We did everything from forms to sparring even weapons. As a child one of my favorite cartoons was The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Michelangelo was my favorite. Then as a teen I got into Chuck Norris, and what do both of those have in common? Nunchucks. That was really my calling in Taekwondo, the way they would sing past your ears as you spun them around your head. It felt amazing and made my adrenaline soar.
When I was 17 I went to Nationals in Vegas. Of course my insecurities set in because I was in a tournament with men. I let those fears control me and ended up tying for 3rd place. Now it was up to the tie breaker, free foam was not something that I looked forward too. But I sucked it up, went out there and nailed it. I remember my instructor telling me had I done that the first time then I would have gotten 1st. But no I had to fall victim to my own weaknesses.
Growing up, Taekwondo gave me many things. Integrity, Self-Control, Honor, Respect, Loyalty. But most of all, Confidence.
I’m watching my Taekwondo school close its doors and the tears I shed contain a million memories. Memories from the first time I had a belt test, to getting punched in the nose sparring, to playing dodge ball on a Saturday, to placing a black belt around my first student’s waist. I am thankful for every moment of my youth that I had in that wonderful place. I am thankful for my instructors, my fellow black belts, and all of the students I had.
So while my heart is breaking it is also rejoicing, because I know, the Ashley today was shaped in part by the foundation they helped instill.
Blood Purple, coming out September 25th, will you be one of the first to experience a whole new Vampire?