Discipline is an important part of the spiritual life. It's equally important for any fitness regimen.
Leo Rhee, a youth pastor at Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City, approaches both with the necessary discipline, a trait honed during his years of involvement with tae kwon do.
Tae kwon do is to Korea what baseball is to America; it's even part of the school curriculum there. Although raised in America, Rhee, 28, was fascinated with tae kwon do early on. But it was in high school, when he failed to make the baseball team, that he really focused on the national sport of Korea. He achieved his black belt and competed in national competitions.
After college, he set his sights on the 1992 Olympics and trained with experts of international caliber, but didn't make it. "I wanted to go to the international level, but I guess I wasn't good enough."
Or perhaps he wasn't totally focused: When he started Olympic-level training, he also had enrolled in Westminster Seminary to study to be a Presbyterian minister.
"I guess I felt it wasn't what God was calling me to do," he says of international competition.
Now Rhee uses tae kwon do to reach out to troubled teens. It is an outlet for aggression as well as a way to teach self-control, he explains.
He works with 200 kids at church. "I'll take some of the quote-unquote problem kids who have problems with aggression, and we just work out," he says. "It's a good bridge for getting to know them. Some of them think they're so tough, and you say, 'OK, put on your gear,' and you beat the heck out of them for a little bit, and then they say, 'OK, sir.' "
Then Rhee begins to talk to them about where they're going and their faith and their relationship with God.
Rhee competes in tae kwon do locally, training from January to June. In addition, he works with light weights for his upper body and runs four to five miles four times a week. The weights are strictly for the upper body. "I started using weights because my legs were getting huge and my upper body wasn't," he says.
Because martial-arts athletes compete, like wrestlers, at certain weight levels, he uses only light weights during the season to avoid adding bulk. During the off-season he trains with heavier weights to increase his strength.
He gets up around 5 a.m., attends church at 6 a.m. - "I go there and get my spiritual workout" - then runs or lifts. He finishes every run with wind sprints "just until my whole body feels like it's going to die and I'm about to throw up."
Anyone can begin tae kwon do, including senior citizens, Rhee says, adding: "It's practical in that it involves self-defense - not that I can stop a bullet or be like Jackie Chan, but it gives you a sense of security."
Pub Date: 11/08/98