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Gastroenterologist Richard Bloomfeld explains how he finds inner peace by kicking, punching, and screaming.
“Arhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” I finished a blood curdling scream.
But it wasn’t directed at the woman with 20 years of abdominal pain who was upset that I couldn’t cure her today in clinic, nor at the scheduler who triple-booked my 8 a.m. clinic slot last Tuesday.
I could feel the sweat dripping down my forehead as I held perfectly still. The scream wasn’t directed at my teenage daughter, whom I just found out called the principal a dirty name on her Facebook page, nor at my son, who stuffed a sock in the toilet, nor at the dog, who ate part of the couch today. The sweat splashed onto some splintered wood that lay near my right foot.
The scream was at my dojong - my Taekwondo school. We all need to find a way to release our pent-up energy. You can’t let it out on your patients, or your staff. You can’t let it out on your colleagues, though sometimes it is tempting. And it is usually counter-productive to let it out on your family.
About five years ago, I stopped by a new Taekwondo school that opened along the road on my way home from the hospital. Many gym memberships had expired because I never had time. Work consumed the daylight hours and the rest of the hours were spent with family. But this school was right on the way home. It would be great to be active again, maybe get back in shape. At the time, I didn’t anticipate the benefit of a blood curdling scream as I shattered a wooden board with my fist.
Taekwondo is the world’s most popular martial art form; the word, pronounced “tie-kwon-doe,” is Korean for “the way of the foot and fist.” The kyop is a loud scream that focuses the participant’s mind and body. The kyop lets you kick your hardest and punch like you mean it. The kyop can be hard on the larynx of a soft-spoken person like me, and for the first few weeks, my throat felt sore when I left class. Yet the kyop also helps to clear my mind. As time went on, the usual stressors at the hospital bothered me less.
Over three years, my endurance improved. I learned all my forms. I learned a few words of Korean. I did my best to work more efficiently at the hospital so I could escape to attend class on my way home.
I started coming home from class with the pleasant fatigue of muscles worked hard, a clear mind, and without the stress of a clinic that ran an hour late or of a night on call when someone showed up with a hunk of pork stuck in their esophagus. The tension caused by an insurance company declining the therapy that I prescribed would melt away at my dojong.
I earned my black belt. I shattered wooden boards with my fist, with my foot, with my forearm. And each was accompanied by a glorious, blood curdling, stress-relieving scream.
My first introduction to Taekwondo was during my gastroenterology fellowship. We finished consult rounds early one day and the attending was teaching us about interpreting liver function tests in a conference room. For a diversion, he asked me to grab the collar of his crisp white coat. In front of the medical student and two medical residents, he bent my arm behind my back and tossed me almost to the floor. I was impressed, but at the time I hadn’t considered taking Taekwondo classes myself - I was swamped with training and a young family. I didn’t yet realize the importance of balancing all the things tugging at my life.
As I write this, I haven’t gotten to class in a while. There is always something vying for my time. But those things don’t clear the mind and the body, so I’m heading back to the dojong. If there isn’t a dojong near you, try going on your back deck - punch the air and scream with abandon. Repeat as needed.
Richard Bloomfeld, MD, graduated from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at Duke University Medical Center and is currently an associate professor in the gastroenterology section at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he specializes in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. He is a first degree black belt at Tiger Kim’s Tae Kwon Do in Winston-Salem.
This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Physicians Practice.