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Some time ago I regularly took part in Tae Kwon Do, but that was ~4 years ago and I'm out of shape.

What should I do to prepare to return to the martial art, and should I start from the beginning relearning my Patterns or should I jump back in at my belt level?

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A more generic form of this question, "How to return to martial arts?" might make for a great community wiki question. –  stslavik Feb 1 '12 at 23:12

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

How you re-enter the school will depend on the school and instructor. Ask their advice, and be up-front about how much you've forgotten and your current level of fitness. Don't pretend you can walk into a school with a preconceived idea of what belt you'll be wearing and what level you should be training at: that is ultimately your instructor's decision. It's a good idea to think through the options, though, as they may ask you what your thoughts are.

I've been through this experience myself. There are a few things to keep in mind personally as you re-enter your art:

One of the guiding principles of tae kwon do is indomitable spirit. Do not be discouraged when the other students at your level are doing push-ups in sets of 30 and you can hardly manage 10. Do not stop at your comfort level, but push yourself hard to recover your strength and fitness. That said...

You won't be as strong or flexible as when you left, and if you're not careful, injury will slow you down or stop you. There are three things you need to worry about:

  1. You're probably not as flexible as when you left. Warm up properly, and don't be tempted to rush your flexibility training. Especially when doing things like high-heel/axe kicks, be aware that your brain remembers kicking higher than you can now, so build up to it gradually.
  2. You're also probably not as strong as you were. This can result in a different kind of injury. Be careful with your kick pull-backs, especially. Work on strengthening your hamstrings. Trying to throw a kick with more force than you can handle will result in injury.
  3. Particularly if you haven't been doing other exercise, your general level of fitness may not be as good as when you left. Train hard, but don't over-do it and don't let yourself get run down. You may need to improve your diet (more healthy food, less junk).

Also keep in mind that a tae kwon do class is (usually) not a complete personal training regime. Your instructor can probably offer advice, but schools often expect students to do their own strengthening, stretching, and cardio work outside class. You may have extra catch-up work to do!

As always, if you're older, have heart or other medical conditions, or have a history of recurring injuries, it's worth talking to your doctor as well - not because he might say no, but because he might have suggestions specific to your medical history for getting back into things.

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First I'd talk to your instructor and see what his/her philosophy is for returning students. They will be the best guide for what fits in their class.

In my (Hapkido) class we tend to throw you back in at your belt level for everything, partly because a big part of being at that belt level is teaching, and teaching is a way of learning and getting back into shape. When doing things your own belt level after coming back it is expected that you will take it more slowly on areas where you are rusty or more prone to injuring yourself or others (e.g., throws).

Beyond that: I would start on your own with your basic forms and climb your way back up in your own time, exercising and working out on your own to try and improve outside of class. If you can't remember your forms, try going through them anyways: Sometimes you can remember them once you put on your dobak and actually start to move. In class, of course, it is whatever the instructor points you toward.

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I just returned to TKD after a seven year hiatus and here's what I wish I would've done before walking back into the dojang:

  1. Relearn the Korean terms for each of the major stances
  2. Relearn at least the first 2-3 poomse so that, when my instructor asks, I can teach lower belts.
  3. Get into at least a modicum of decent shape -- it's embarassing to wear a black belt and be huffing and puffing in front of the lower belts!

If you're going back to a dojang different from your previous dojang, you might also want to collect as much information on their curriculum as you can via their website so you know where they are similar/different from your previous school.

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I am going through the exact same situation now. Today was my fourth day of training after 7 years. I was a red belt, but I had a muscle tear injury plus financial issues so I had to quit Taekwondo and work extra hours, but the most important part is you still have the spirit and love for Taekwondo you can make it.

  1. Make your research and studies through out internet to remind your self the poomsae and all the kicks and blocks and any thing else that a Taekwondo player should know.

  2. Don't be in a rush. Take your time and take it easy.

  3. Make sure to warm up and stretch and train properly to prevent injury. Start with lower intensity kicks and work your way up.

  4. Sleep on time, wake up on time, and eat proper meals. If you think you're overweight try to eat less foods high in cholesterol like meat and sweets. Try more fruit and veggies.

  5. Take one day off to let your body recover. Spend an hour or so meditating instead.

Believe in yourself. I was one of the best players in our school. The reason I was a red eblt was because I concentrated on techniques of my kicks rather than poomsaes. After I quit, I started smoking and drinking had sex 3 or 4 times a day. I didn't gain any weight, and I'm still 145 lbs and 5'9" in height. I quit drinking and smoking, and I will make a better schedule for my sex life (lol). I cant kick the way I used to, and I get tired very often, but it's all a matter of time. I won't quit, and I will become much better even than I was before.

Hope you do the same. Good luck.

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I've recently come back to a Korean punch-kick system similar to my first formal martia art after ~7 years in other punch kick systems, ~3 years of doing an akido derivative and ~3 years of not having a regular workout.

Not quite the same situation because I'm re-entered that world in a new school, which means that I at least get to wear my white belt (which is beginning to get as worn as a 3rd dan's black belt...sheesh!).

  • Talk to the instructor before beginning. Let him know your previous experience, that you're returning from a break, and about what level of fitness you have now.
  • Don't be afraid to take breathing breaks when needed until you regain your wind. But do persist while you are only a little winded: as long as you can do the technique correctly the stress will facilitate learning.
  • Even with the techniques you used to be best at, start slowly. You want to protect both yourself and your classmates.
  • Basics, basics, basics! Your gross muscle memory will return much faster than learning it the first time, but you will need to pay attention to the details which may have gotten lost and need to be re-instilled from the beginning.
  • Have fun.
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