Why Shy People Should Do Martial Arts

Valerie Long

July 28, 2016

People tend to be known as being either introverted or extroverted.  Extroverts are often described as being the “life of the party,” as they are seemingly unafraid to voice their opinions and usually surrounded by people.  Introverts, however, are often seen as the shy ones or the wallflowers; they are the ones who renew their energy in quiet places and do not always feel the need to talk to everyone they see nor be with a friend at all times.  However, shyness is not limited to introverts alone.  Shyness stems from fear.  Introverts can easily be mistaken for shy because introverts usually pick and choose when they speak, but that does not determine whether they are afraid to speak to another, particularly a stranger.  Extroverts tend to conceal their shyness from others with small talk, though, so it is harder to distinguish.  Despite the fact that extroverts can be shy as well, the world tends to overlook this, and, instead focuses on the fact that they do not refrain from speaking their minds and typically carry conversations better.  It seems that the world believes all should live this lifestyle; however, this lifestyle is not simple for every person to achieve, especially for those who are introverted.  I wish to share with you all how my Taekwondo journey has helped me, a shy and introverted person, broaden my horizons by gaining confidence in myself in an extrovert-oriented world.

I have never been the child who jumps at any opportunity to try a new activity.  I never begged my parents to let me play on a recreational basketball team, and during the summer, I had no desire to do every summer camp available.  Not to say that I did not experience my fair share of recreational league teeball and local art and drama camps, but, looking back, I do not remember ever having a strong desire to do more than a few camps within a year.  Summer camps and summer sports require the participants to interact with each other and with older adults, which I sometimes found stressful.  Conversation did not flow naturally with me; in fact, I enjoyed listening and observing my surroundings more than I enjoyed actively contributing.  So, considering my reserved nature, it came as a surprise to my parents when I told them that I wanted to try Taekwondo.  Walking into the studio for my first lesson was a daunting task.  There were other black belts and soon-to-be black belts on the floor yelling loudly and doing their kicks up and down the floor.  As a quiet nine year old, this was not an ideal scenario for my first lesson.  I was immediately drawn in by the considerate instructor who conducted the lesson.  She was trying to get me to yell while I practiced so that I could experience Taekwondo to the fullest. I was struggling, but instead of showing frustration towards me, she offered to yell with me.  That one small action spoke volumes to me.  Although I may not have received the “full-effect” during that first class, something about the art appealed to me, and within the week, I was enrolled.  From then on, I was at every class possible, pushing myself to earn belt after belt.  Not only did I aim to just get my next belt, I also aimed to perfect every move that I had to perform.  My desire for perfection opened up a new door for me; this door led me to the poomsae team.  In addition to attending regular classes five days a week, I also joined the competition team which attended national tournaments every year.

The first time I participated in a tournament was a nerve wracking experience. Putting myself out in front of instructors was one thing, but putting myself out there in front of large crowds of strangers was another.  For anyone who has ever been to a tournament, you know that there will be an inevitable amount of waiting.  As I waited, I took a look around me and saw waves upon waves of people in white uniforms, practicing any sort of Taekwondo move imaginable.  It made me even more nervous to see people walking around with their heads held high while chatting noisily with their teammates.  However, during that whole time of waiting, my mom and dad stood by my side. They remained calm; they put aside their own nerves and spoke with me in reassuring tones, and the support that my parents have provided me from the minute I first stepped into the Taekwondo school has meant everything to me.  Their care for my well-being was incredibly obvious at that first tournament, as they walked through it holding my hand.  Although that tournament in 2010 was my first, it certainly was not my last. Over the past six years, I have represented Ko Martial Arts at numerous tournaments.  The first several tournaments I competed in were quite taxing for someone shy, like me, as I tend to overthink everything. And I mean everything.  Naturally, this makes me doubt myself.  My fear of making a fool of myself had a tight grasp on me, but, tournament by tournament, things became easier.  I still over think everything, but the ability to go out on the mat and give more and more of my best became easier.  Competitions helped me gain a considerable amount of confidence in myself.  Putting myself out there time and time again, never giving up when the going got tough, forced me to have faith in my abilities.

The leadership team played an impactful role in improving my confidence as well.  All the instructors at the school were my role models; in fact, my dream as a young girl was to lead a class on my own.  But how could a shy, insecure girl ever be able to lead a class by herself?  I decided to join the  leadership team and I gradually learned how to complete different tasks that the instructors had to do.  I started with smaller tasks; learning how to set up games and drills, the importance of presenting myself in a respectable way, and the demeanor that is necessary for all teachers to have in order to be successful.  For some classes, I would have to stand up in front of the class with other leadership team members and demonstrate the punches so that the young students could mimic me.  This task was not so difficult, until I was instructed to walk around and encourage the children when I felt they needed it.  I was nervous because I was afraid that the observing parents would be looking down at me and judging the words that I chose to use.  Thankfully, the instructor of those classes never allowed me to quit, even when I had the thought that it may be better for the students if I did.  Day by day, my confidence continued to grow and after only a few weeks of helping classes, I was given the opportunity to lead the warm up part of the class.  To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I so badly wanted to do this and do it well  but I also worried that I would mess up and make an absolute fool of myself.  I remember getting up to lead and from the very start, I was stuttering over my words.  When I finally returned to my place as a class helper, I was discouraged because all that I could think about was the fact that I had messed up.  I thought that after that episode there would be no way that I could become a full instructor. No one would want me to lead their classes. Looking back, however, I realize just how much I had already grown.  I found the strength to raise my voice and teach class which in itself could be considered a victory. Each time I assisted a class my heart would pound relentlessly. My greatest fear was to mess up. However, I continued assisting classes, helping students, and the consistent experience eventually gave me the confidence to teach classes with less anxiety.  Much to my delight, I have had the privilege to be an official assistant instructor for the past three years.

Joining Taekwondo was the best decision that I have ever made. The greatest virtue that has become valuable in my life is perseverance. My confidence did not expand within one night, nor even in a full year; it took day after day, week after week, of voluntary effort to see real improvement. However, every hour that I spent at the studio was worth it. Every sacrifice that I made to for the art has resulted in true happiness and long term rewards.  The lessons that have been taught to me are invaluable. They not only continue to help me become a better instructor and student at the studio but these lessons also have impacted other parts of my life. Throughout my whole high school career, I have been in my school’s student council, and this upcoming school year, I will be serving as the president of the whole student body. During my freshman year, when I was still figuring things out, a fellow student inquired about whether I would ever consider running for president in the future. I told him there was no way I would be the president. Three years later, I am standing in front of the whole school giving a speech about why I would be honored to serve as president.  I am forever grateful for not only the art of Taekwondo but for the people who supported me to continue my training over the past eight years. Without that support, who knows if I would have succumbed to the many moments of fear and anxiety. If you are a "shy" person like I was and have been looking for an activity to help you find your confidence, try Taekwondo now!