pprehensive and skeptical, Young-Mi enters the gym for the Thursday
evening "energy class." The high-ceiling room hums with serene music.
50 students conduct warm-up exercises, cartwheeling their arms and twisting
their torsos. Young-Mi shuffles to the rear and waits for Grandmaster
Tae Yun Kim to appear.
Young-Mi, in early-20s, relocated from Corea a year
ago, but has accomplished little. She had planned to find a job to finance
her college expenses, and graduate with a teaching credential. So far,
she's gotten a job that only finances her food and rent.
She heard that Kim led self-improvement classes and
was impressed by her credentials: Kim's the first Korean female taekwondo
grandmaster in over 5,000 years; she has trained numerous olympic athletes;
and has authored two self-help books.
Kim's also a successful entrepreneur, who owns a computer company with $5 million in annual sales.
As she waits, Young-Mi wonders if Kim can redirect her meandering life. Then as the music fades, Kim bounds into the room.
Clad in a white taekwondo gown, Kim at 4-11 and with
shoulder-length curls looks a decade younger than her 49 years. She
greets the class with smiles and upbeat exclamations, then leads them
through two hours of song, laughter, stories and exercises.
At the end, Kim announces, "We have a new student
with us tonight. Young-Mi come on up here." Reluctantly, Young-Mi ambles
forward. Kim hands her a thick wooden plank and a felt-tip pen, then
asks her to write something she wants to achieve or overcome on the
Two assistants then take the board, and Kim commands
Young-Mi to break it in two with her fist.
Coiling her fingers, eyes focused, Young-Mi hits
it with what seems like all her energy. Nothing happens. Young-Mi sighs
and begins to retreat.
Kim will have none of that, however. She exclaims
to Young-Mi in Korean: "You came here from Korea. You had a dream. Your
parents said stay and be a good girl. Your friends said stay with us.
But you had a dream. So do it."
The class cheers. Young-Mi gathers strength and strikes again. Nothing happens. The gym falls silent. Young-Mi
slumps with defeat.
But Kim is getting riled up. She shouts, "He can do, she can do, why not me!" The class echoes, shouting as the gym resounds with the riotous chant.
Kim grabs Young-Mi's shoulders and looks into her eyes. "Right now," she says, "I want you to go inside yourself where you are one with the life-force, where you are pure energy. This is your energy to use however you desire. You are this energy. Break this board."