Kevin L. Ryburn
At nine years old, as a typical kid growing up in suburban Denver, I was exposed to martial arts like most kids, via movies and television. This primarily consisted of Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee movies: “Good Guys Wear Black”, “Lone Wolf McQuade”, “Enter the Dragon” and many others. My friends and I would have our parents drop us off at the local mall to eat fast food and watch one of these movies, as we fantasized about how great it would be do be able to do even a small portion of the things that our venerable heroes were able to do. Romantic notions and urban legends were spoken as fact about our hallowed gods.
However, unfortunately, I became sidetracked and didn’t pursue a martial arts career because we had other costumed heroes as well: the Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Denver Nuggets and numerous others consumed our every waking thought. We went to school – which was considered a minor interruption in our athletic careers – to emulate these mythical figures on the playground. We played organized soccer, baseball, basketball and football with our friends. Tuesday and Thursday evenings were spent on the diamond, gridiron, and courts of the local schools improving our running, agility and shooting skills with the never-ending thought that one day soon, our inevitable path would lead us to athletic glory in the NBA, NHL, NFL or MLB. Actually, it was more than a dream; it was a foregone conclusion that we would one day play next to our heroes in professional sports; in other words, school was merely a distraction from our preparation for greatness.
Playing on recreational teams when you haven’t yet reached adolescence is quite a different matter from the ultra-cutthroat world associated with competitive sports teams in leagues and high school. What do you mean I have to “try-out” for the team? I was always the star of my team! This is about the time that reality hits you like a punch in the face. Hey! These other guys are good! Where did they come from? It is about this time that reality entered my life and I grasped the concept that I might not ever be a professional athlete (I now know that less than 1% of all student-athletes play professionally).
In high school, I played sports (soccer and football), but I was no longer the star of the team. I had officially been relegated to the unexceptional group of players that will never play beyond this threshold.
Anyway, I truly regret not pursuing martial arts as I know it would have helped me through some difficult situations in life. For example:
High school for me – as it likely is for most people – was a mixed bag of learning and preparing for college, meeting people, dating (or trying to), and being picked on. As a freshman, I was relatively small and there was one particular junior that seemed to take an unnatural interest in making my life miserable. His name was Jimmy and he was huge (and quite scary, to tell the truth). He would torment me in gym class, tackle me between classes in the hallways and drag me into the bathroom with the imminent threat of beating me up and countless other methods of menacing and intimidation. I spent my freshman and sophomore years terrified to walk down the halls and constantly checking to see if anyone was behind me. On one occasion, while playing in the gym during lunch, he actually showed up with a pair of handcuffs (yes, real police handcuffs), placed them on me and walked me out behind the gym. When he opened the door to the outside, there were at least seven (large, to me, at least), boys standing there. I stared in horror at these terrifying individuals unable to move as I was frozen in fear. “We’re going to kick your —!” I was unable to move; literally paralyzed with fright. They continued to stare at me, expecting to me do something (what exactly, I still don’t know to this day). I just stood there, unable to move, terrified beyond description.
After what seemed like hours (although it was probably more like a few minutes), these behemoths must have become bored with the whole situation, and they suddenly turned and left, calling me names as they did. Suddenly, it was just me and Jimmy, standing there staring at each other. Horrified at what might happen next, Jimmy suddenly turned and said, “You’re lucky, you little —–!” And with that, the entire episode was over, although it still haunts me to this day.
After attending college to study Civil Engineering, I started working as a Construction Engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation in Denver. Being that construction is a testosterone-laden, masculine business as much as any other, there was quite a few instances of men attempting to physically intimidate me as a young (somewhat naïve) engineer of 23 years old. There were occasional slap-fights in construction offices, and I had more than one guy get right up in my face and stare me down – not only contractors, but coworkers as well – in an attempt to… Actually, I’m not quite sure to this day what they were trying to accomplish. Alpha-male psychology, I guess.
After participating in martial arts for the past three-plus years, I have really grown to love it. It combines everything I have been searching for my entire life: discipline and order, respect for elders (both age and rank), athletic ability, confidence and self-defense, all of which I could have used earlier in my life. So, my only regret is that I didn’t start doing this when I was nine when I was watching all of those Chuck Norris movies. I think I could have been a really great martial artist.
Now in my forties, with three kids and trying to keep them involved and allowing them to try new things, my daughter (Natalie) has tried baseball, swimming, dance, ballet, soccer, and several other activities, but she just couldn’t find the one that fit her personality. So, a few years ago, after she dropped-out of yet another activity, we were looking through the City of Lakewood activities book and my wife said to her, “Hey Natalie! Do you want to try Tae-Kwon-Do?” That was how it all began. Natalie went to a few months of classes (and so did I since I had to drive her) and then her questions started. “Dad? When are you going to do this with me?” I kept putting her off, thinking I’m too old, too out of shape, and any other excuse I could think of. The tipping point came when I finally realized that I have to sit through these classes (again, since I have to drive her), so I might as well do it to, since I’m going to be here anyway.
Since then, tae-kwon-do has, to put it simply, become part of our lives. We constantly talk about it. We are always discussing what happens in class, what might happen during the next class, our instructors, etc. Natalie and I both hate when we have to miss class for any reason. It has become woven into the fabric of our lives. It also has allowed me to do a tremendously fun activity with my daughter that we will share for the rest of our lives and to achieve the discipline, respect, and confidence that I have been searching for my entire life.
While I can’t say how long I will continue in tae kwon do, it is easy for me to say that I truly enjoy it and have no immediate plans to stop.