Book Reviews Martial Arts Meditation Instruction

Black Belt Fitness: Never think you’re at a disadvantage because you start late

Ah, all those book reports from elementary and middle school… while sometimes a dreary assignment, for many of us it also conjures memories of earning free pizzas from Pizza Hut (Book It!)


I’m including a book review because in my quest as a middle age, squishy around the middle, non-athlete learning taekwondo, it answered questions and made me feel better about my path. To quote Black Belt Fitness, “Never think you’re at a disadvantage just because you start late.  The majority of my adult students start in their forties and for a lot of them, it’s their first time exercising seriously.” To see black belts fly through the air to break board, spin and jump in ways I’ve never other people move…  to think of being “as fit as a black belt” is indeed a superior level of fitness.


That made me feel less alone; the dojong where I take classes is more focused on kids and teens, so adult classes are smaller.  This quote showed me I actually have a ‘community’ of those who also struggle in a school full of youthful, athletically- conditioned, I’ve-been-doing- this-since-I-was-seven Mr. Ninjas who aren’t anywhere close to knowing what happens to your body after a baby or your metabolism after forty.


The author is an xyz to the stars from New York City.  There’s a foreword and testimonial  pieces throughout the book by Michael Imperioli (Christopher from The Sopranos, and I totally hear his voice as I read those parts!)


I’ll start with the good stuff — how this book can help and what’s great about it. Overall, he’s not here to shovel a lot of BS and tell you in three weeks you’re gonna look GREAT and SO different.  He advises that nothing will or should happen fast, and encourages small changes each week–drinking more water, lessening soda consumption.  His nutrition advice isn’t claiming to be some new secret revolutionary approach, but it is solid and presented with a heavy helping of common sense. And, in my almost seven months in taekwondo, I’ll agree that nothing happens fast, but it does continue to happen.


The book is divided by ‘belt color’ into 7 weekly increments where you learn some Taekwondo style strength, cardio and stretching. Each week, like earning a higher belt, the workout gets incrementally more challenging by adding on to the strength, cardio and/or flexibility sections.


He doesn’t assume you’ll be joining a TKD class.  To me, this program is a great way to help you if you’re starting out in a class and feeling overwhelmed, or if you want to start but are feeling afraid that you won’t make it through a class.  My first class I’d only watched a few kid classes and went in not really knowing lay ahead.


This winter, snow days have meant some weeks there’s only been one class.  I know from 15 years of yoga that practicing once or twice a week doesn’t do much in terms of huge gains in flexibility and strength.  Increase that to four to six days a week, and you’re on a different trajectory. A die-hard Ashtanga practitioner for a while, I knew a fellow Ashtangi who, through 90 minutes a day over multiple YEARS, reversed her scoliosis by over 75%.  Consistent practice of anything can move mountains.  This book can be used as a structure for practicing at home when you’re not in class.


Now on to what I like less about the book.


He speaks of poomse as the meditative aspect of taekwondo.  Well, maybe, but I don’t think so.  Having done sitting meditation and tai chi, I don’t find poomse THAT meditative.  Is it more yin than other parts of taekwondo, like breaking and self-defense? Yes.  But poomse still has intensity, quick movements, punches and kicks that are performed quickly.  So I disagree that poomse is meditative.  To truly match the yang of taekwondo, you need tai chi or seated meditation to be the yin.  As part of his case for poomse (hey, I’m all for poomse!) He says children can’t do seated meditation. (Insert annoying game show buzzer sound here.) Ask Eline Snell of Sitting Still Like a Frog: kids can sit and be still.  It may be a different flavor than adult seated meditation–like Thich Nhat Hanh’s pebble meditation, but they can do it. I think he seriously underestimates what kids can do in a mindfulness practice.


The last section is self-defense. Doing self-defense in class, it takes me at least 12-15 repetitions AFTER the teacher shows me to really ‘get’ the self-defense move and how to use it.  And we practice with partners in class. I am doubtful that merely reading the self-defense section will help much–I think practice with a partner is needed to truly understand pressure, force and coordination.  It’s good to show people what you can learn in class, but I wouldn’t really be able to learn fully from this section without a teacher.


In the end, I do use Black Belt Fitness as part of my at-home workouts and I appreciated the author’s insight into fitness and learning Taekwondo.


photo: free photo from

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