Life Lessons From Tae Kwon Do

Image of martial artist doing a flying sidekickAbout six months ago, I signed up for Tae Kwon Do. What started out as a way to spend time with my son and get some exercise at the same time, has become a bit of an obsession and a meditation.

At first, I was just interested in getting a good workout and getting in shape. Today, God and knees willing, my goal is to become a black belt before I reach a certain (ahem) important age milestone. Turns out that Tae Kwon Do is a lot like becoming a true professional in one’s chosen field. Here’s how:

Mastery Takes Time.

My Master says that mastery takes time and there’s usually pain involved. At my studio, it takes an average of 3 or 4 years to become a first degree black belt and then another 2-5 years to become a second degree black belt. What’s more, the six months leading up to taking your black belt test are brutal, involving multi-hour practice sessions, 5-6 times a week. I know that even if I become a first degree black belt, I will have reached merely the lowest rung of mastery in this martial art.

And so it goes at Matrix Group. The really experienced senior developers, designers, front-end developers and project managers don’t just have the technical skills to do the job. They have worked on a huge variety of projects: a large Sitefnity implementation, a simple WordPress blog, a complicated WordPress implementation, a website that needs to be integrated with four partners, a crazy interactive piece involving some very complicated jquery, a site that must be optimized to the nth degree for speed, a mobile app, and on and on. Even more important, they’ve been involved in getting seriously derailed projects back on track, they’ve had to work with some difficult partners, and they’ve worked on projects where the 1 st and 2 nd approaches to integration didn’t work so they had to completely rework the project plan. You see, it’s the projects that go haywire that teach us the most.

Practice Gets You Far.

When I started taking classes, I struggled to memorize the forms, I could barely get off the ground, and I was slow and lumbering. I didn’t believe I would ever manage a flying sidekick or a front kick. As with most things, you get better at things when you practice, practice, practice. After just six months, I can touch the ground with my palms, I’m on my fourth form and for the last test, I broke an inch thick board with a flying side kick. Crazy, right?

It’s no different from a front-end developer who really hits his stride after working on a Sitefinity implementation for the nth time. Or the Project Manager who develops the ability to manage larger and larger projects over time. Or how a presentation gets better the more you give it. It’s all about practice, making sure your form is good (so yes, we all need instruction) and more practice.

Flexibility is Really Important.

There’s a 2nd degree black belt and instructor at the studio who is ridiculously graceful and flexible. He can stretch one leg straight up to do a vertical, 180 split. Crazy. Johann says that although he doesn’t have amazing jumps, he’s still great at the kicks because of his flexibility. He also has the most beautiful forms I’ve even seen.

I tell my staff that flexibility and grace under fire are just as important as technical skills. When a client says, “help, I need to have a website ready for the White House in two weeks!” you re-arrange your schedule, you take a deep breath and you get it done. And when your tried and true CMS platform is no longer viable and you need to change course, you do some research, make some decisions and keep moving. In our line of work, the ability to stretch our minds and believe that we can make something happen is what makes anything possible.

I’ll keep you posted on my journey and my milestones, in life, at work and in tae kwon do.

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