Indomitable Spirit: Standing strong when times are tough
By Mathiam Mbow, owner / instructor at Silver Lining Taekwon-Do
If you have never studied Taekwon-Do or don’t know anyone who practices it, you might have some common misconceptions. It isn't about street fighting. Nor is it about being the most physically fit person in the room.
Taekwon-Do is about becoming a good person who contributes positively to humanity. In Taekwon-Do, inner strength is central to this ongoing task of self-improvement, and can be developed through the Five Tenets: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, SelfControl and Indomitable Spirit. As an instructor of this martial art for 30 years, I’ll be sharing with you about each of the Five Tenets. These ideals can be helpful for every human being to strive for—they’re not just for people who want to learn to do a flying side kick.
In my first article, I’d like to talk about the fifth Tenet, Indomitable Spirit. In these stressful times, it’s especially important to aim for this one, so we can help ourselves and help one another. You might know it as resilience—the ability to adapt to difficult situations. The father of Taekwon-Do, General Choi Hong Hi, cited as a quintessential example the 300 Spartans who defended against the massive invading forces at Thermopylae in 480 BCE.
When stress, adversity or trauma strikes, it’s only natural to feel anger, grief, sadness or pain. A healthy response to those feelings—and the ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other—that’s Indomitable Spirit. When you can adapt and work through physical and psychological stresses, you’ve reached a level of resilience that will allow you to navigate nearly any situation.
In 2018 severe floods destroyed many residences and businesses in Middleton, including our school. At the time, I was stuck in Ethiopia with food poisoning and my phone had been stolen. Through a very poor internet connection, my wife, Laura, emailed me the news that our school was completely underwater.
I felt helpless and guilty that she had to deal with it all by herself.
On my return, I couldn’t recognize the place. It felt and looked like a war zone. For a moment I thought this was the end of our business. But I quickly shook that idea out of my head, remembering the tenet of Indomitable Spirit. I had to plan our comeback.
Being resilient doesn’t mean you must deal with life alone. You don’t have to be a superhero! We are all human, after all. Fortunately, our wonderful group of neighbors— The Hood—had come to the rescue with spelunking lights, fishing waders and vehicles. They had helped Laura put everything that was salvageable into our school vans and even stored it all in one of their own garages. Another good human reached out to help with a location where we could hold classes while we went to work on the repairs. Two months and $200 thousand later—and countless sleepless nights painting and cleaning —we were back in business, and the school looked even better than before.
By early 2020, business was going well, and we were digging out of the heavy debt from the flood. Then COVID-19 hit, and we lost over one third of our business in Middleton. We had to close our East side branch, losing three years—over $200 thousand—of capital investment. And we still had over $100 thousand in business loans.
We refuse to allow these setbacks to stop us from living a life of purpose and a life of service. We’re still standing, smiling, counting our blessings and pushing forward. We’ve even paid off those business loans in full!
This is Indomitable Spirit. We’re not victims. Misfortunes happen to all of us. TaekwonDo teaches that the difference is how we choose to respond and rise to those challenges. I work to apply these lessons to developing the inner strength to face future challenges, and to help others when they need it most.