Announcement

Hello everyone,

I have an announcement to make. And I’ve never written this many drafts before, only to discard them all. So here it is, flat out: I am stepping down from competitive taekwondo.

Unsurprisingly, this has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. It feels like the end of an era. Like I’m moving on from something that has given my entire youth shape. That’s what taekwondo has done for me: it has shaped me as a person. Only because I went after my childhood dream to be a taekwondo champion, have I become the anything-is-possible kind of guy that I now am. I really do owe any later achievements to those formative years I dedicated to taekwondo and to the mentality that came with it.

The thing is, I am also the first to admit when a dream stops being a dream. And if I’m honest, as far as taekwondo is concerned, that is now the case. Not because I have lost my sense of determination. Not because I’ve discovered that the dream is unattainable — even if it were, and it probably always was, in my view a ‘crazy’ dream is all the more worth fighting for. No, simply because I no longer get up in the morning with the thought: ‘I want to be the world champion in taekwondo’.

A somewhat unsettling realisation? Yes, at first. A reason for despair? No, not at all. I do wake up with the same level of energy and enthusiasm, only accompanied by a different thought: ‘I want to be a literary translator’. Having tried my hand at full-time taekwondo — a sport which, my former coaches will happily concede, I never really had a particular talent for — I decided to study something that I am actually good at: language.

For a few years, I combined my taekwondo career with an academic/professional career (a BA Classics at King’s College and an MA Translation at SOAS). With everything that London student life has to offer, it took some discipline — no one likes to always say no to their friends. But, that very period will go down in history as my taekwondo heyday: representing the Netherlands twice at the Universiade (Gwangju ’15; Taipei ’17) and placing 16th in the world, that I will never forget. And yet the thought has grown on me to once again commit 100% of my time and energy to only one thing, just like I previously did with taekwondo. Literary translation is a career path that suits me, that I enjoy, that has a future. And I have found it through taekwondo. It now deserves my full attention.

As I turn this page, it feels appropriate to stress that I have a very deep respect for all the masters and fellow athletes who I’ve met along the way, some of whom I would like to explicitly mention here. Not as some kind of farewell note, but to acknowledge their importance in my reaching this ‘pivotal’ point, if you like.

  • First and foremost, Master Bob and American Fitness, where it all began, age 7: more than taekwondo per se, you have taught me the fundamentals of self-motivation, without which I would have gotten nowhere at all.
  • Grandmaster Kang and Namchang Dojang, where my relationship with taekwondo went from ‘sport’ to ‘way of life’, you have shown me what it is to really live for something, both as an individual and as a team (or family, I should say).
  • The Dutch national poomsae team, of which it was a dream come true to be a part in the first place, you are going from strength to strength and I am confident you will keep surprising the world (also, Joël, how you are taking the male U30’s by storm, chapeau mate).
  • Master Gemma and the UK national poomsae coaches, whose efforts to reinvigorate the UK poomsae programme one can only applaud: you are the reason I have continued to grow after moving to London (and who knows, things might have turned out differently, if only I had had a UK passport).
  • King’s Sport, LTA and UCL Taekwondo, who have proven to be the most welcoming (student) taekwondo communities around London: the vibes, the spirit, the support (looking at you too, Mehdi) — simply extraordinary.

I will keep following and admiring all of your efforts, and cheer you on. It has been an honour to work together. Here’s to you.

Now is also a moment where I am mindful of the enormous support I have received from people outside the world of taekwondo. Those who, way back, contributed to my crowdfunding campaigns to cover my training expenses in Korea. Those who believed I had a story to tell, to the extent of making a documentary about it[1] (Stephane, you rock) and inviting me to deliver a TED-talk[2]. And above all, friends and family. One of the reasons it took ages for me to be at peace with this decision, was the unbearable feeling that I would somehow ‘betray’ that support by ‘bowing out’. It was my wise parents and ever-inspiring sister who made me realise: if I feel so strongly about translation, I’m only betraying myself by not throwing myself at it.

Finally, this inner struggle is also why I have been off the radar for a while. I definitively shifted my focus as early as March and have actually had a few small triumphs in the field of translation already: I accepted an offer for an MSt Korean Studies at Oxford next year and I won a major translation competition (spoiler: it’s getting published very soon). But I couldn’t get myself to share such news, because it wasn’t part of my taekwondo ‘storyline’, which was still ‘running’. Silly as it may sound, just by writing these words down I have found some form of closure; frankly, it has been quite liberating. It is amazing how one adventure leads to the next, how two seemingly divergent paths are actually a continuation of one another: I am so very proud of where taekwondo has taken me.[3]

[1] Stephane Kaas’s documentary, Oriental Odyssey, was broadcast on Dutch national television, then screened at the Moscow International Film Festival — and is now up on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/215397074.

[2] A recording of the talk I wrote in Dutch for TEDxYouth@Delft is on Youtube (here). Unfortunately the footage of my English one for TEDx@KCLSalon was lost.

[3] As a memento of how I found my way, I will decidedly preserve the letters ‘tkd’ in @matthotkd.

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Mededeling

Lieve iedereen,

Ik heb een mededeling. En ik heb nog nooit zoveel kladjes geschreven en weer weggegooid. Dus, dan maar recht voor zijn raap: ik stop met wedstrijdtaekwondo.

Het is een van de moeilijkste beslissingen die ik ooit heb gemaakt. Het voelt als het afsluiten van een hoofdstuk. En wel een cruciaal, vormgevend hoofdstuk. Want dat is wat taekwondo voor me heeft betekend: het heeft me gevormd. Puur en alleen omdat ik ooit mijn jongensdroom achterna durfde te gaan, om een taekwondowereldkampioen te worden, ben ik een blije doorzetter geworden. Alles wat ik sindsdien voor elkaar heb gebokst, heb ik aan die houding te danken. Aan de mentaliteit die taekwondo teweeg heeft gebracht.

Evengoed, ik zal altijd toegeven wanneer een droom uitgedroomd is. De eerlijkheid gebiedt te zeggen: wat taekwondo betreft is dat nu zo. Niet omdat ik mijn doorzettingsvermogen kwijt ben. Ook niet omdat ik erachter ben gekomen dat de droom niet te verwezenlijken is — zelfs al was dat zo, en waarschijnlijk is het zo — hoe ‘gekker’ de droom, hoe beter. Nee, simpelweg omdat ik niet meer wakker word met de gedachte: ‘Ik wil wereldkampioen taekwondo worden.’

Een ietwat vervelende gewaarwording? Ja, eerst wel. Een reden om bij de pakken neer te gaan zitten? Nee, zeker niet. Ik word namelijk nog altijd wakker vol energie en enthousiasme, alleen met een andere gedachte: ‘Ik wil literair vertaler worden’. Na me eerst volledig te hebben gestort op een sport waarvoor ik eigenlijk geen echte aanleg had, zoals mijn trainers zullen beamen, besloot ik iets te gaan studeren waarvoor ik wel een knobbel heb: taal.

Een paar jaar lang is het gelukt om top-taekwondo en studie te combineren (BA Klassieke Talen aan King’s College en MA Vertaalwetenschappen aan SOAS). Met al het moois dat Londen en haar bruisende studentenleven te bieden heeft, vergde dat een ijzeren wil — het is geen pretje altijd nee te moeten zeggen. Maar, als sporter vierde ik hoogtij: om Nederland twee keer te mogen vertegenwoordigen op de Universiade (Gwangju ’15; Taipei ’17) en daar een 16e plek te behalen (van de wereld!), ik zal het nooit vergeten. Desalniettemin, ik ben er langzaam wat voor gaan voelen om de tweestrijd op te heven en opnieuw 100% van mijn tijd en aandacht in één richting te sturen. Literair vertalen is een carrière die me ligt, die me bevalt, die me roept. En ik ben er bezeten van geraakt dankzij taekwondo. Het is tijd om er volledig voor te gaan.

Nu ik deze stap heb gezet, wil ik benadrukken dat ik het diepste respect heb voor alle meesters en mede-atleten die ik heb leren kennen en van wie ik sommigen hier bij naam zou willen noemen. Niet om vaarwel te zeggen, maar om te erkennen hoezeer ze het mogelijk hebben gemaakt dat ik dit keerpunt überhaupt heb bereikt:

  • Allereerst, Meester Bob en American Fitness, waar het allemaal is begonnen op zevenjarige leeftijd: u hebt me niet alleen de beginselen van taekwondo geleerd, maar, belangrijker nog, die van zelf-motivatie — zonder die basis was ik nergens gekomen.
  • Grootmeester Kang en Namchang Dojang, waar ik inzag dat taekwondo meer is dan een vrijetijdsbesteding, het is een ‘way of life’: u heeft me doen inzien hoe men ‘voor iets leeft’, zowel als individu als in teamverband (of als familie, moet ik eigenlijk zeggen).
  • Het Nederlands stijlteam, waarvan het sowieso al een droom was om deel uit te maken: jullie zijn waanzinnig goed bezig en ik ben er zeker van dat jullie hoge ogen zullen blijven gooien (en het moet gezegd: Joël, petje af hoe je de senioren 1 bent binnengestormd, dat doen weinig mensen je na).
  • Meester Gemma en de UK nationale coaches, die een lintje verdienen voor hun tour de force om het Britse stijlprogramma nieuw leven in te blazen, jullie gastvrijheid heeft ervoor gezorgd dat ik mezelf ook in London verder heb kunnen ontwikkelen (wie weet, misschien was het allemaal anders gelopen als ik ook een Brits paspoort had gehad).
  • King’s Sport, LTA en UCL Taekwondo, met kop en schouders de meest warmhartige (studenten)taekwondoverenigingen in Londen: de sfeer, de teamgeest, de onderlinge steun (en dan kijk ik vooral jou aan, Mehdi) — dat vind je niet zomaar ergens.

Ik zal jullie aller voortgang met grote bewondering blijven volgen, en voor jullie juichen. Het was me een eer met jullie samen te werken.

Nu is ook een moment om stil te staan bij de enorme steun die ik heb gehad van mensen buiten de taekwondowereld. De mensen die toentertijd hebben bijgedragen aan mijn crowdfundingcampagnes om in Korea te kunnen trainen. De mensen die geloofden in mijn verhaal, en er zelfs een documentaire over maakten[1] of me vroegen het in speech-vorm te gieten en me een TEDx podium gaven[2]. En bovenal, vrienden en familie. Het duurde nogal een tijdje voordat ik zelf vrede had met deze hele beslissing, vanwege het knagende gevoel dat ik al die steun op een of andere manier zou ‘schenden’. Dankzij de wijsheid van mam en pap, en van een altijd-inspirerend zusje, heb ik dat gevoel overwonnen: als ik werkelijk zo dol ben op vertalen, heb ik alleen mezelf te schenden door er niet voor te gaan.

Tenslotte, deze innerlijke strijd is ook de reden dat het misschien leek alsof ik van de aardbodem verdwenen was. In feite heb ik sinds maart mijn zinnen al definitief gezet op het vertalerschap en in de tussentijd heb ik zelfs al een aantal grote stappen in de juiste richting gezet: ik ben ingegaan op een offer van Oxford voor een Master’s in Korean Studies en heb een belangrijke vertaalwedstrijd gewonnen (en word dus heel binnenkort gepubliceerd, spoiler). Maar ik kon mezelf er niet toe zetten zulk nieuws te delen, omdat het niet paste binnen mijn ‘taekwondoverhaal’, dat nog steeds ‘lopende’ was. Het klinkt misschien gek, maar door dit allemaal op te schrijven heb ik een soort ‘closure’ kunnen vinden; sterker nog, het was behoorlijk bevrijdend. Het is fantastich hoe het ene avontuur kan leiden tot het volgende, hoe twee ogenschijnlijk uiteenlopende wegen feitelijk in elkaars verlengde liggen. Ik ben trots, apetrots, op waar taekwondo me heeft gebracht.[3]

[1] Stephane Kaas’ documentaire, Oriental Odyssey,is uitgezonden op nationale tv en vertoond bij het Moscow International Film Festival — en hij staat nu op vimeo: https://vimeo.com/215397074.

[2] Een opname van de Nederlandstalige versie, bij TEDxYouth@Delft is op Youtube te vinden (hier). Helaas is het beeldmateriaal van de Engelstalige versie, bij TEDxKCLSalon, verloren gegaan.

[3] Als aandenken laat ik de letters ‘tkd’ vrolijk in @matthotkd staan.

발표

여러분께,

발표할 것이 하나 있다. 어떤 발표를 위해 이렇게 많은 초고를 쓴 적도 없었고 이렇게 많은 초고를 던진 적도 없었다. 솔직하게 말하겠다. — 태권도 선수를 그만둔다.

당연하게도, 내가 결정한 것 중에서 이번이 제일 힘든 결정이었다. 인생의 새 장을 여는 느낌이 든다. 젊은 시절 나의 모든 생활을 태권도를 중심에 두고 있었다. 그 동안의 나를 만들어준 것은이 바로 태권도였다. 내가 지금의 나처럼 모든 것에 열심인 사람이 된 이유는 하나다: 태권도 세계 챔피언이 되고 싶다는, 어렸을 때부터 꾸었던 꿈을 실현하려고 최선을 다해 노력했기 때문이다. 그랬기에 늘 최선을 다해야 한다는 심성을 만들 수 있었고 이후에 내가 이룬 모든 성공적인 결과는 이 심성 덕분이었다.

그랬던 내가 어떤 꿈이 더 이상 꿈이 되지 않는 순간이 온다는 것을 처음 느꼈다. 정직하게 말하면 태권도에 관한 한 그 순간이 온 것 같다. 선수로서의 결심을 잃은 것은 아니다. 꿈이 실현될 수 없다는 것을 깨달은 것도 아니다. 아침에 일어날 때마다 떠오르는 첫 생각이 바뀌었을 뿐이다. 이제 나는 더 이상 태권도 챔피언이 되고 싶다는 생각이 떠오르지 않는다.

그를 깨닫고 심난했었나? 처음엔 그랬다. 낙담했는가? 절대 그렇지 않다. 지금도 아침에 일어날 때면 활력과 열정이 넘친다. 다만 요즘은 ‘나는 번역가가 되고 싶다.’는 생각이 떠오른다. 그 동안 나는 태권도에 재능이 없었음에도 내 삶 전부를 훈련에 바쳤고 선수의 삶에 집중했다. 이제 나는 내게 재능이 있는 길을 선택하기로 했다: 언어다.

몇 년 동안 나는 태권도를 계속하면서 동시에 학자로서의 삶을 보냈다. (런던 킹스 칼리지에서 서양 고전문학 학사를 받았고 SOAS 대학교에서 번역학 석사를 받았다.) 런던에서의 학생 생활이 주는 즐거움을 뒤로 하고, 나는 스스로를 엄격히 절제해야 했다. 친구들의 제안을 매번 거절하는 것을 좋아하는 사람은 아마 없을 것이다. 하지만 나의 학생 시절을 떠올려보면 선수로서 절정기에 있었기도 했다. 네덜란드 국가대표로서 세계 유니버시아드 (광주 ’15; 타이페이 ’17)에 나가서 16등을 한 것은 영원히 잊지 못할 것이다. 그렇지만 여전히, 태권도에만 집중했던 것처럼 번역에만 집중하면 좋겠다는 생각이 자주 들었다. 번역이라는 직업은 나에게 잘 어울리고, 나를 즐겁게 하고 나의 앞날을 밝게 한다. 그리고 나는 이 직업을 ‘태권도’ 를 통해 찾았다. 이제 그에 온 힘을 다하고 싶다.

새로운 길을 떠나면서, 그 동안 만났던 모든 사범님들과 선수들에게 진심으로 존경가 감사를 표하고 싶다. 작별 인사는 아니다. 그저 나에게 그 분들이 정말 중요했었다는 것을 전하고 싶다. 그들이 없었다면 지금의 순간에 이르지 못했을 테니까.

  • 우선 여덟 살 때부터 내가 태권도를 배우기 시작했던 곳인 American Fitness 도장Master Bob 사범님께: 태권도의 기본뿐만 아니라 스스로에게 동기를 부여하는 법을 사범님께 배웠습니다. 그것들이 없었다면 지금의 저는 존재하지 않았을 겁니다.
  • 태권도가 스포츠를 넘어 제 삶의 의미가 될 수 있게 해준 남창 도장강신철 관장님께: 제가 (한 개인으로서, 팀으로서) 하고 싶은 것을 위해서 어떻게 살아야 하는지 남창 가족 분들이 가르쳐주셨습니다.
  • 팀원으로 함께 할 수 있었던 것이 큰 자랑이었던 네덜란드 국가대표 팀에게 : (지금도) 끊임없이 성장하고 있는 만큼, 앞으로도 세계를 놀라게 할 것이라 확신합니다. (그리고 Joël 씨, 남자부 U30을 멋지게 이끌고 있는 당신을 정말 응원합니다).
  • 최근에 영국 품새 체계를 부활시킨 Gemma 사범님다른 영국 코치님들께 : 제가 런던으로 이사한 후 계속해서 태권도 실력과 심신을 다듬을 수 있었던 건 사범님 덕분입니다. (만약 제가 영국 국적의 사람이었다면 저의 삶은 또 달라졌을지도 모르겠습니다.)
  • 런던에서 가장 따듯한 태권도 학생 공동체 King’s Sport, LTAUCL 태권도에게 : 좋은 분위기, 멋진 정신, 서로를 의지하는 모습 (Mehdi 사범님도 포함해서). 정말 최고의 공동체였습니다.

앞으로 모든 분들의 앞날을 늘 응원하겠습니다. 함께 해 영광이었습니다. 수고 많이 하셨습니다. 고맙습니다.

태권도 외의 분야에서 저에게 아주 큰 도움을 주신 분들에게도 감사의 말을 전한다. 한국에 가서 훈련을 받기 위해 진행한 크라우드 펀딩에 모금해주신 분들. 일찍이 저의 이야기를 믿어주신 분들 (나에 대한 TV 다큐멘터리를[1] 만들어주신 분과 TED-talk[2]에 나를 초대해주신 분들까지) 그리고 누구보다도 친구들과 가족에게 감사한다. 이 결정을 내리기까지 오래 고민할 수 밖에 없었던 이유는 그들의 기대를 저버린다는 생각이 들었기 때문이다. 하지만 지혜로운 부모님과 여동생 덕분에 알게 됐다. 번역에 대해 이렇게 깊은 열정이 있는 데도 그 길을 떠나지 않는다면 내가 나에 대한 기대를 저버리는 것이라는 것을.

마지막으로, 그 동안 내가 눈에 띄지 않았던 이유는 이런 고민 때문이었다. 사실 3월에 이에 대해 이미 결정을 내리고 번역가로서 좋은 성과를 몇 개 이루었다. (내년에 옥스포드 대학교에 한국어학과 석사생으로 입학하기로 하고 어떤 큰 번역 대회에서 우승하여 출판을 앞두고 있다) 그럼에도 이것들이 (물론 지금도 이어지고 있는) 태권도 이야기와 잘 맞닿지 않아서 이런 이야기들을 공유하지 못했다. 어리석은 생각이었지만 이 글을 쓰면서 그런 생각에서 자유로워진 것 같다. 나는 다시 태어나지 않았다. 여전히 나는 이전과 똑같은 나다. 태권도가 지금의 나를 만들었다는 사실은 여전히 변함 없다. 태권도가 내 삶에 큰 의미로 남아있다는 것이 언제나 자랑스러울 것이다.[3]

[1]Vimeo에 볼 수 있는 ‘Oriental Odyssey’: https://vimeo.com/215397074.

[2] Youtube에 볼 수 있는 TEDxYouth@Delft.

[3]앞으로도 tkd라는 글자들은 전과 같이 @matthotkd에 꼭 들어 있을 것이다.

Superduperupdate

About the previous post: I just felt the urge to use a whole post to express my amazement. My amazement with my own nonperformance that is. A full month and a half without posting my whereabouts on the webz. And yet I had loads of stuff to write about!

Let’s make it as concise a recap can be. During the time I was ‘away’ from blogging, I have:

  • done two roof-tile-breaking demos, one for the opening of EWEC (East-West Education Center), one for the NRC Insightlive Event. At the latter it was the grand finale of my performance, which also included telling my story and energizing the audience. It has been covered by a professional photography and video team.
  • co-created a 3-minute film with Stephane Kaas, for the video contest by the Korean Ministry of Culture. It’s my little ode to Korea: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4-2i_zG50Y
  • gone out for a 10-day visit to Korea, in preparation for the Austrian Open Poomsae Championships. Training training training.
  • made it to the finale of the Austrian Open! Out of 45 international maniacs (seriously, the strongest competition I’ve had so far) I scored the 8th place. A huge improvement compared to the 18th out of 32 from last year. Both the preparation in Korea and the great support by the National Team and head coach Rob Janssen have contributed to this success.
  • won the Golden Thumb for my first attempt at delivering a 60-second ‘breakfast pitch’ in front of the experts at BNI. I am preaching the importance to include energizers in every congress and event. More about this soon on my website!
  • started my adventure as a ‘Zomergast’ for ABCyourself.nl, a blog that hosts young and ambitious writers, created by Edward van de Vendel. Every 2-3 days I try to put both fragments of my time in Korea as well as current thoughts into words. Which means there’s already 4 short stories to be discovered here!

And in the meantime, training never stops! Although it feels like ‘summer break’, I remain eager to train every day. I have to take it easy on a couple of minor injuries, but there’s always someway to work it around. Tomorrow will be the first time since the Austrian Open that the whole Dutch Selection will train together, so I hope our football players will be able to do without extra time against Brazil, allowing me to sleep early!