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United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.

Images Courtesy of Sang Mee Ko

Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot lightSang Mee Ko.

Affiliation(s) (past and present):

York High School IB Class of 2010

University of Virginia Class of 2014 College of William & Mary Part-Time MBA Program

World Martial Arts head instructor and manager

How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?

I started Taekwondo when I was three years old and have always practiced it in some way or another, whether it be at my family’s dojang (Taekwondo school) or at the Taekwondo Club at UVA. I’ve always been immersed in martial arts. Watching my parents work hard to take care of our students has always inspired me.

However, I didn’t originally intend to continue the family business! I wanted to go to medical school and later changed my focus to Environmental Sciences, since climate change is such a prevalent concern. However, I truly began to realize what a huge impact I made as a high-ranking female martial artist at UVA. Many of the women in the club told me I inspired them to become stronger and more confident. I began thinking about how my parents did that through our dojang and decided that was the real path for me where I could make a big difference.

How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?

I grew up in Yorktown and have always helped at the family dojang since I was young, minus when I went to UVA for undergrad. However, I officially began working full-time after graduating from UVA in 2014.

What advice would you give young women going into your field?

Lead by example, authentically. I cannot motivate my students to train hard if I am not also training to get to the next level. You are also a community leader and people are always watching – live with discipline, integrity, and kindness. In addition, martial arts are a way of life and involves taking care of your mind, body, and spirit. Make sure you get enough fuel through sleep, food, and meaningful connections to other people.

Does your gender influence your relationship to your work? In what way?

I used to lower my voice and avoid the color pink because I thought it would lower people’s opinions of me. This is no longer the case and I feel it is important to show my students that strength is not a trait exclusive to masculinity. Occasionally, there will moments where people might not take me seriously because of my gender. However, for the most part, people are incredibly supportive.

Have you faced challenges in your field because of your gender or have you found your gender to be an asset? What kinds of challenges or advantages, and how have they affected your life?

Martial arts have a large physical component, so sometimes it can be difficult to accept biological limitations. However, more important than how fast you can kick or how hard you can punch is the strength of your spirit, the discipline in your mind, and the kindness in your heart. These qualities are not designated by gender and I strive to show them to my students every day.

My gender fuels my passion for what I do. Representation matters, and many parents have told me it is important for both their daughters and their sons to see a woman in a position of power and respect. I take that very seriously. For example, too often, media tells us to focus on what our body looks like rather than what it can do. So, when I compliment my girls, I make a conscious effort to ensure I give more feedback on behavior than their outfits.

Has parenthood impacted your career or shaped your perspective as a professional? In what ways?

I’m not a parent yet, although I joke that I have 200 children! I have truly learned at in my profession that it takes a village to raise a child. It is a great honor to be a part of my students’ lives and help them grow, no matter if it’s for a few months or many years. I hope wisdom gained over the years will guide me when I raise my own children, just as my parents raised me with strong values at the dojang.

Any closing thoughts?

Many of my students, especially other women, have told me I motivate and inspire them. It took me a long while to believe that because of imposter syndrome. What made me embrace my accomplishments was the realization that inspiration is not a one-way street. My students energize me and teach me just as much as I teach them.

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