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Lessons from Taekwondo for Medical School

Person punching forward while practicing taekwondo

I was inches away from procuring my coveted taekwondo yellow belt. As my eyes caught sight of the thick wooden board in front of me, I scarcely concealed my incredulity as I asked, “I have to break that?”

What followed was an eternity of me squarely hitting the board with my fist and wincing as it bounced off each time with a dull “thwack.”

As I scanned the room for the nearest exit, my teacher, Master Sam, leaned towards me and whispered, “Meher, you are hitting the board correctly, but I can see in your eyes that you don’t believe you can break it. I need you to envision yourself smashing through the board.”

I felt heavy with frustration that I had not been given more practical advice. What good could my imagination do?

In desperation, I breathed in and filled my mind with the moment my fist would connect with the board and break clean through it. Sure it wouldn’t work, I steadied myself and brought my fist down on it with the same force as the last 10 times.

Yet, as I braved myself for the sickening sound of flesh bouncing off a solid surface, I was greeted by a sharp crack and the sensation of whooshing air.

Entering Unknown Territory

It has been years since this moment, and yet I feel a sense of déjà vu as I enter this daunting new phase of life, once again facing a new formidable wooden board. As myself and my classmates embark on this journey beginning medical school, we do not yet know what the coming years will hold. Although we can guess at the countless hours of studying, laughing over game nights and discovering the charm of Charm City, the future feels amorphous and malleable in our unsure hands. I am equal parts excited and terrified as the image of our future careers begins to take shape. Now, in moments of doubt I am comforted by the words of Master Sam that follow me throughout all my life’s journeys. I envision a future for myself and my classmates where we are on the other side of the seemingly insurmountable exams, spending every day trying to be better for our patients. I feel the honor and the privilege of the time we will spend advocating to leave medicine a little bit better than when we entered it.

Bringing Past Strength to the Present

I used to be too jaded to think that hope and belief in myself could carry me through my trials. Yet, my years in taekwondo formed the mindset with which I now enter medical school. Faith in yourself is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your arsenal as you get pushed out of your comfort zone. So here in a new city, at a new school, and alongside a new group of passionate people, I am arming us all with the belief that we can succeed and the courage to keep trying to break through our own wooden boards, each and every day.


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2 thoughts on “Lessons from Taekwondo for Medical School”

  1. Ingram Roberts, MD

    A few tips for Med students: 1) don’t stay up pulling all-nighters. 2) realize you won’t remember everything that is thrown at you. 3) do NOT skip meals! 4) all your mentors have been there and they know what you are anxious about 5) enjoy your free time and do NOT come back to the hospital when you are not on call!
    Finally, good luck, but I confident you will do fine!

  2. For me, I didn't have that natural talent in taekwondo which made me had to work twice as hard as those who did, which tested me in every way but I never gave up though sometimes It did make to feel like less of the martial arts since I was a lot slower in learning when I did learn I try to aim to be perfect messing up occasionally but that's a part of being human. I may suck at certain parts like doing crescent kicks while doing sparring (since I tend to freeze up and the timings off) but my stronger points are my promises. Anyway's it's amazing how far you have come even with going through a lot on your journey, keep continuing to motivate others!

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