Identity in Sports

A Black-belt Taekwondo fighter. Credits to Wikimedia Commons.

Identity was always an issue that I struggled with while living in America. As a Korean-American, I was born in South Korea and came to the United States when I was one year old. I remember growing up in predominantly African-American and Caucasian communities. My unique upbringing allowed me to be immersed in a tossed salad of various cultures at an early age. Although I was blessed with the opportunity to learn and appreciate diversity, I always felt a subtle yearning to want to learn more about my own heritage. Luckily, my parents had always been supportive of giving me opportunities to learn about Korean culture. Around the age of 12, when I had just gotten into middle school, I was given the chance to take Taekwondo classes. Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and sport that teaches self-discipline and self-defense over other things. You must learn how to garner a mentality of respect for yourself and those around you. However, it also teaches you to be direct and straightforward with your intentions. Such principles are seen in the martial art where every kick or punch is firmly pronounced; there must be no hesitation whether or not you strike. Taekwondo is a dynamic Korean sport primarily known for its power kicks (more impact than sweeping momentum) and leg swings.

The reason that I bring up this personal topic of identity and Taekwondo is because I learned that sports can teach you a lot about the embedded values of a culture. There is compelling evidence that cultural reflection applies to other nations and their sports as well. For example, Anthony Ed Trollope’s book, “British Sports and Pastimes”, suggests that revered British sports have a profound impact on Great Britain’s culture. Trollope says, “~ the present condition of those sports which are essentially dear to the English nature, and which are at the present day so strongly in vogue in England as to have a manifest effect on the lives and characters of Englishmen.” One of the popular sports covered in the book was hunting. Hunting affects Great Britain’s culture because it allows people to convene, regardless of wealth or status. Although it is absolutely clear that there is a prominent hierarchy system in Great Britain, Trollope argues that hunting was one way to transcend such negative societal norm. Sports can represent the ideals that a country and its people strive for. Taekwondo does this by emphasizing all-around respect and a strong sense of dignity. When I visited South Korea a few times, I noticed that bowing to your elders and greeting them in a respectful manner is incredibly important. These values are fully integrated into the country’s businesses, families, and school systems. From these examples, we can see how a national sport(s) can teach us a lot more about a country than we may initially think.

Photograph of Anthony Trollope. Credits to Wikimedia Commons.

One thought on “Identity in Sports

  1. While I am a white male who has lived in America my whole life, I have taken karate training similar to yours. I have been in Koei-Kan for eight years and it has taught much more than just how to fight. I have learned great amounts of discipline and confidence, as well as respect and leadership. I have learned a lot about Japanese traditions through my training and how one must bow lower than his or her elder or senior. Everyone at my dojo comes from different backgrounds, but we are all brought together into one community through our training. While many of us are were born in America, we have been immersed in Japanese cultural values and learned to respect the heritage and expectations that come with the experience itself. It is perhaps the greatest thing to ever happen to me and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


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