From a very early age, three years old to be exact, exercise became my sanctuary–a place I went for comfort and stability. Intense and focused training became my refuge, my escape from the broken family I grew up in. Exercise had rules and easy-to-follow steps. As a young child, these rules provided the structure all young people need to feel safe. Thus began my fitness journey. I trained very hard in competitive sports most of my life, from swimming to tennis to crew to distance running. Each sport offered a path into the psychology of my mind, and into the challenge of understanding the critical mind/body connection.
Fast forward to my twenties. I am in a car in San Francisco. The car is in an accident that could have killed me. I live. With gratitude–and a concussion–in hand, I fully re-entered the two disciplines at which I was already quite good: mathematics and athletic training. In 1992 I began my journey in the Korean Martial Art called Kuk Sool Won. This discipline of movement and competition became my life focus for the next decade, requiring me to train five to six hours a day, before and after work. At the time, I taught mathematics and science in the public school system. This transitioned into working for Applied Biosystems, now called Life Technologies, the mastermind behind sequencing DNA and developing the products that identified the human genome. During the early mornings I trained my body in the depths of eastern martial arts. During the day I trained my brain in molecular biology. In the evenings I trained my body in Kuk Sool Won.
In fact, when I realized early on that 15 minutes of ‘form’ practice provided the equivalent of a one-hour cardio or endurance running workout, and was also much easier on the joints, I gave up distance running, lost three pant sizes, developed a natural six-pack, and ate whatever I wanted. I was the most fit I had ever been in my life: my skin appeared youthful, I had an overwhelming amount of natural energy, and I had a passion for life!
I decided to have a baby before I became a 3rd degree black belt as I knew the journey from 3rd degree onwards would take all of my attention. The pregnancy was quite normal and I was planning for a natural birth, because it sounded like a good idea. In September of 2011, a month prior to my delivery date, 9/11 happened. It seemed like the world stopped. I knew that the brain was capable of taking in information (oh, that’s not good!), and transferring it to the body, (we need to fight or flee), and vice versa. But what I did not understand in detail at the time is that the body will do anything to stay alive. Survival is its main purpose. No matter how we treat it, as the borrowed owner, the body will do what it has to do to stay alive. For me, this meant my entire system went into shock, my core locked down, and my body determined the world was not safe for a new baby. Nevertheless, the baby had to be born, or one of us would die.
56 hours later, with my spinal column punctured, and the umbilical cord wrapped twice around my baby’s neck, my son was born. My martial arts instructor, Master Sun Jin Su, called the hospital and gave my son his middle name. Jungshin has two significant meanings. First, the closest translation is ‘focused mind.’ Jung = Straight and Shin = Spirit. It was given to my son because it was believed his spirit was focused enough to come into the world even when my own body had locked down. In other words, he was determined. The second meaning has to do with family lineage. All of my master’s children have the name ‘Jung’ woven into their Korean names: Jungna, Junghee and Jungkuk. My son was given the name Jungshin. Since my son is not of Asian descent, it is an ancient honor to be included in this family tradition.
At first, I simply picked up the sword to help strengthen the muscles that support my spinal column. Not being able to walk well, and having excruciating pain when I sat up due to a spinal fluid leak, the sword became an ally in building my physical and mental strength. It was light enough to handle, and the simple repetitive cuts became a nice calming meditation for my mind.
This moving meditation, coupled with a desire to regain health and strength, is the genesis of Jungshin–an exercise system with the goal of achieving maximum physical and mental health.