Bowing out: How I overcome obstacles in martial arts, only to end up leaving

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A shot of someone punching the air. Punching form can vary among schools.

Anthony Aguilar, Community News Reporter

I faced many challenges as a kid in martial arts.

These obstacles included transitioning schools, relearning techniques — and the one event that ended my martial arts journey. 

New school, new challenges

As a kid growing up in East Los Angeles, I was an athlete in martial arts.

I also did BMX, or bike stunts and racing.

Taekwondo was my true passion — and I made a black belt in it.

But the school I started in was shut down after a few years when I was about 10.

That meant I had to transfer to another school.

There were many of them, and I had to choose the right one.

I went to a bigger school in East Los Angeles. It stood out because it felt more refined in discipline, and specific techniques involved different and intelligent movements.

Still, it would be a big adjustment.

My feeling of uneasiness — and having to adjust to an entirely new school, different people, and trying to earn my place — only grew worse after attending my first few sessions.

I realized the rules, techniques, and mentality were much different than what I had learned, and it would take me a lot of time and hard work to get to the level most others were at.

I had to learn techniques that I should have learned from the few years I had already trained.

The actual forms are called poomsae for each colored belt rank. This school’s forms were more defined in each kick, punch, and block. The challenge for me is that they were different forms than what I knew, and when I tried them, I didn’t define the kick or punch like the others because I didn’t know them very well.

Trying to catch up and seeing other students ranked lower than doing certain kicking techniques better than me mentally took a toll.

Ready to compete

After months of training, I could sense that sparring competitions would be my next challenge.

I made sure I didn’t get into tournaments until I felt ready. 

That took time, and after nearly one year, many said I was ready because my conditioning and kicks had improved.

But I still felt I wasn’t.

Ultimately, I took their word.

And they were right. I won my first match after so much blood, sweat, and tears — literally.

One after another, we continued winning. Over the years, our school gained recognition, even in other countries.

Then, one day in 2016, my first shot at fighting at an international level became a reality. 

I was invited to fight at the summer games in Mexico, which was a privilege because many fighters from all over the world would be there.

This represented a step closer to being recognized by either the U.S. or Mexico recruiters, which can lead an athlete to get into their national team, possible representation in the Olympics, and a chance at other international tournaments.

The accident and life after 

About one month before the tournament, I still practiced BMX. That’s short for bicycle motocross, which involves bikes and street riding tricks.

One day, about four friends and I went for a ride on our bikes to a friend’s home in Chinatown.

We were going down a hill and had to cross an intersection.

A few of my friends were ahead of me and crossed the intersection before the light turned red.

Another friend and I then slowed down. He went in one direction while I went into a gas station. But a truck pulled out of the station simultaneously, so I had to maneuver away from it at high speed, hitting a parking brick and flying off my bike.

I went face-first into a cemented bash bar made for cars if they crash.

I was rushed to the hospital.

I had fractured my face and got stitches.

That was pretty bad, but at the moment, it was hard to remember that it could have been worse.

After all, I couldn’t make it to the fight I had prepared so much for.

Making things worse, I was told by the doctors that I couldn’t fight at all anymore because any more punches and kicks to the face could lead to more complications and damage.

I was forced to retire before getting even close to reaching my goals and dreams.

The sadness, shame, and guilt took over for a long time.

But after several years in high school, I slowly got over that mentality and accepted what happened.

Once I accepted it and acknowledged my regret about it, I realized I could move on and open myself up to new passions.

Storytelling is one of them.

Community News produces stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to [email protected]