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How I Did It

A Physical Workout With Spiritual Punch

July 26, 1999|MARTHA KELLEY | Martha Kelley is a 37-year-old registered nurse and homemaker

I have always been interested in the martial arts, so three years ago, I started studying taekwondo, the Korean martial art of kicking and punching. I studied it for a year but took a break when I had my second son, who's now 17 months.

I was anxious to get back in shape afterward and resumed taekwondo classes (two or three times a week) and took up hapkido, which focuses on self-defense with punching, kicking, the use of pressure points and grabs. I've recently earned my blue belt.

The training begins with a warmup of calisthenics and stretching and, sometimes, meditation. Next, we work on specific techniques of kicking and punching and forms. Forms are a predetermined set of offensive and defensive movements that simulate a fight against an imaginary opponent. Training also includes sparring with a partner and training with weapons such as a bamboo staff.

Taekwondo and hapkido have benefited me physically, mentally and spiritually. I have more energy and stamina, which I really need with two little boys (my older boy is 4). I've always been in pretty good shape, but now I am more toned all over, my clothes fit better and my posture is much better.

Martial arts requires concentration and focus, which help center me and increase my patience and understanding. I also enjoy the larger aspects of respect and discipline, which are part of the 3,000-year-old tradition of the martial arts. Through the physical and mental demands of taekwondo and hapkido, I have gotten more in touch with my inner strength and power, or "ki." My enthusiasm for the martial arts has inspired my husband, Kevin, to start classes.

Master Chris Munoz, a sixth-degree black belt, has also taught me self-defense methods. I have increased confidence and awareness of how to avoid problems and how to protect myself if that ever becomes necessary. This is very empowering for women, since we're typically not taught how to defend ourselves. Master Munoz has taught me that technique and skill can help compensate for weight and physical force in a defensive situation.

The students and the instructors where I train are of all ages, abilities and situations. They have become part of my extended family. Looking for a workout that's not only physical but one that also engages your mind and spirit? Martial arts might just be for you.

How Did You Do It?

Do you have a story about how you lost weight and kept the pounds off? Or a story about how you learned to mountain climb or in-line skate, trained for a half-marathon or discovered a unique way of keeping fit, dealing with a nagging ailment or persevering with a fitness regimen despite some obstacles?

If so, we'd like to hear from you. Tell us your story in a 500-word essay listing what worked in terms of diet, exercise and encouragement, as well as any emotional and physical changes.

For weight-loss stories, send us full-body color photos of yourself, before and after. For other types of stories, send a color photo of yourself doing the activity you're writing about.

Send essay and photos to How I Did It, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Include daytime and evening phone numbers. Submissions cannot be returned. And, please, no phone calls.

In addition to publication, winners will receive a Los Angeles Times Health section gym bag, a Sparkletts hot-cold travel mug, T-shirt and coupons for free water products, courtesy of McKesson Water Products Co.

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