Pilot-Tribune reporter Jeff Jones has discovered a new means by which to lose weight and feel great.
Tae Kwon Do.
"I originally wanted to join martial arts to lose weight," said Jones, 23, fresh off a second-place divisional finish in the board break at last weekend's Jung's Tae Kwon Do Academy Invitational Tournament in Cedar Rapids, his first formal competition in the Korean sport focusing on hand-and-foot, non-weapon combat techniques.
"I've noticed my strength and endurance coming back. I feel healthier and more focused. My brain's not going in 100 different directions anymore."
Jones, an orange belt, has lost roughly 30 pounds and shaved about six minutes off his mile pace since walking into Jung's Academy in Alta last February.
He initially visited the school to cover its first belt test, but instructor Jennifer Brechwald was persistent when Jones told her he was interested in the sport but too busy for it.
Seven months later, he found himself in Cedar Rapids, taking third place in forms and fourth in free sparring in addition to his silver medal.
He also got his uniform autographed by a personal idol - Grandmaster Woo Jin Jung, founder of the Tae Kwon Do school at which Jones studies.
"It was a great experience," Jones said. "For the first time, I got to meet students from different Tae Kwon Do schools throughout Iowa. We're looking forward to competing against each other again, developing a friendly rivalry."
An all-conference heavyweight wrestler in his prep days at Francis Howell Central in St. Charles, Mo., who had an injury-shortened career at Buena Vista, Jones said he was reacquainted with adrenaline as Saturday's tournament drew near.
It was his first formal competition of any sort since his sophomore year with the Beavers.
"One day I'd be mellow, the next day I'd be uptight and nervous," he said. "It was all coming back to me."
Jones said his wrestling background - especially with regards to a disciplined training regimen - has helped him succeed in Tae Kwon Do.
"I understand the importance of training," he said. "I can't expect to be out of shape and do well in a tourney. You have to know how to prepare yourself mentally."
Jones, who attends two classes a week and practices breathing and stretching techniques for about 20 minutes a day, has years to go before he achieves elite black belt status. But he can see himself as an instructor someday.
"I can definitely see myself involved in martial arts in some fashion. Even the instructors never stop studying," he said. "You can always improve your rank."