Girls Can Train Too

“You know, girls can practice martial arts too.” One little sentence and I was hooked.

Let’s go back to 1995, you could find me playing with pogs and listening to Ace of Bass on my walkman cassettes player. This is also the year I, inadvertently, started my martial arts journey.

You see, my parents decided to sign my brother up for a trial class at a local Soo Bahk Do school. I, just so happened, to be along for the ride that day and planned on sitting on the sidelines, just to watch. When we arrived at the school, the instructor for the trial turned out to be a woman. As I settled into a metal folding chair along the wall and started to organize my Lisa Frank stickers for a coloring book sesh, the instructor turned to me and said the magic words, “you know, girls can practice martial arts too.” Really? Huh. I never even thought that was an option. I mean, it was a free class, so why not? I jumped up, joined my brother in line and the rest is history.

Colleen Saltarelli
Colleen Saltarelli

Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan is a Korean Martial Art derived from Military style training with Chinese Tai Chi like influences. It really is the best of both worlds. We practice forms, or hyung, that are a choreographed sequence of moves almost like dance. This is the softer, lighter more fluid side. As well as the harder, tougher more fiery side of sparring and breaking. I have always been more drawn to forms, perfecting the lines, breathing and timing. But sparring challenges me, takes me out of my comfort zone and makes me push harder. I look forward to each and every training, it is an opportunity to grow, find focus and work my mind and body.

I trained for 8 years as a child, eventually achieving the rank of E Dan, or 2nd degree black belt, or midnight blue in our case. When I went to college I stopped training and it took me 15 years to find my way back. If I could go back in time and tell myself one thing, it would be “DON’T QUIT”. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, to start back training in a 30-year-olds body and make it do what a 16-year-old once did. Imagine if I had never stopped, how my body could move, the things I could have accomplished! Just image.

But, I did quit and I cannot go back in time, so now I have to work with what I got. I am constantly fighting with my own mind. My brain tells me to jump, spin, kick, and land with both feet at the same time. My body, on the other hand, just laughs, then falls. It’s a whole different ball game in an older body. At first, I could not keep up with the teenagers in class. Heck, I couldn’t even keep up with the other adults in class! I was tired, slow and out of shape. If I really wanted to give this my all and pass my Sam Dan, or 3rd degree, test, I needed to get in shape.

I signed up with a local gym, got a personal trainer and went on a meal plan. I trained and taught five days a week at the Soo Bahk Do school, workout in the gym six days a week and met with my trainer one-on-one. After 8 months, all the hard work paid off. I completed my 6 hour test with no water, bathroom or food breaks and PASSED!

Colleen Saltarelli
Colleen Saltarelli

My next goal is to reach Sa Dan, 4th degree, Master level. I continue to strength train, work with my trainer and practice Soo Bahk Do daily. I would recommend martial arts, Soo Bahk Do in particular, to anyone looking to improve their health, fitness or overall wellbeing, at any age. The benefits martial arts gives me are too many to name, but If I had to pick, my top three would be:

  • 1. Coordination and mobility - honestly, I fall going up stairs and trip over air! Clumsy does not even begin to describe me and as my body and mind are aging, it’s only getting worse. Martial arts helps tremendously with improving my hand eye coordination, overall body movements and sharpens my reflexes. Traits that I am only going to value more as I get older.
  • 2. Stress Relief - meditation and breath work are at the core of every martial arts training. I love being able to first, take some time for myself and clear my mind and second to work on filling my body with clean fresh air to fuel my blood for each workout.
  • 3. Self Defense - having been a victim of a mugging, I know first hand how important it is for every single person to be able to protect themselves. Now even more that I have a son and have to protect him as well. It is not only just the actual techniques, martial arts gives you the confidence to stand up for yourself and fight back.

A martial artist's journey is never complete. This is a hard concept for me, I love checking those little boxes off of my to-do list, check done! But, I will continue to grow both physically and mentally and come to honor the path that I am on. I am also loving being able to share my passion with my son and watch him train and grow beside me.

Is it all sunshine and rainbows? No, nothing ever is. I have broken down and felt defeated in class, balled my eyes out after getting punched in the face at a tournament, injured myself too many times to count, came in dead last at a competition, accidentally bled thru my uniform in a class full of only men (try having to explain that one!) and got knocked down over and over and over again. But I always get back up and that’s what it is all about. “Don’t quit”.

If anyone has any questions about starting this journey yourself, about Soo Bahk Do or just fitness as you age, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I would love to be a resource for you.

Colleen Saltarelli

Colleen is an ISSA Certified Nutrition Coach, Culinary Institute of America Graduate and Your Gluten-Free Celiac Sidekick.

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