As the daughter of an Olympic silver medalist in judo, Mimi Hwang grew up in a martial arts studio. She remarks that she “came out of the womb doing a kick!” Now at age 30, she helps her parents run the three locations of Hwang’s Martial Arts. Growing up in Paducah and Louisville, she went away to college in California, only to return to the business and make it her career. Now, kicking, hitting and punching are all in a day’s work for today’s FACES of Louisville feature.
When did you know that you were going to make a career out of martial arts?
My father was a silver medalist in judo in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and he’s the patriarch of Hwang’s Martial Arts, so do you think I really had a choice? Ha, ha, ha! All joking aside, my parents always wanted me to choose my own career path and never pushed me into a career of martial arts. In fact, growing up in a traditional Korean family, my parents actually encouraged me to pursue a career in the medical or legal fields. However, I think I always knew that my career path was in martial arts. In college, I tried pursuing other career paths, but my heart always remained with my family’s business. After college, I realized that nothing I did made me happier than stepping onto the mats. I can’t imagine my life without taekwondo. It’s all I know, and if I didn’t love it, there is no way I could put in the 60-plus-hour work weeks that I do.
Martial arts is a lot more than just a workout; it is a lifestyle. Can you tell us what this lifestyle has meant for you and other devotees?
For those of us who are devoted, we live, breathe and eat the martial arts way every day of our lives. Living the “martial arts way” means always respecting others, learning to lead others by example and always working toward achieving your goals. We always bow as a means to greet and respect each other, and we always refer to each other as either “sir” or “ma’am,” both in and out of the school. You can always spot a Hwang’s student anywhere, as you’ll see them bowing relentlessly to each other! Also, the instructors not only help students reach their goals in martial arts, but they do their best to help students reach their ultimate life goals.
Do you do other workouts besides this?
After teaching students all day, and running around putting out fires as the director of operations at Hwang’s, there aren’t enough hours in a day to squeeze in any other workouts! Although I do love to run, and one day, I would like to train to run a marathon.
What would you like to tell adult women on why they should consider trying martial arts?
The reasons that women should train in martial arts are numerous: to learn self-defense, to exercise, to build confidence, to acquire discipline and to bond with other women who come from wide-ranging backgrounds. In addition to those reasons, I would also say that taekwondo is one of the only sports that you can do together with your children, leading to countless hours of family bonding and fun.
Who are your mentors and what advice do you treasure?
My mentors are, far and away, my parents, who have taught me that I can dominate a male-dominated industry (like martial arts). The advice I treasure the most from them is not to be bound by any barriers and to always move forward, even in the face of great adversity.
What does a typical day or week look like for you?
My day always begins with Starbucks coffee and then continues into meetings, phone calls and networking. That’s all usually before noon! A great deal of my day is occupied by overseeing daily administrative duties, marketing and operations at all three of our facilities. In addition, I am the head instructor (Master) at the Okolona branch, so every day during class time, I teach taekwondo to the students. On most Saturdays, when I am not in staff meetings, I try to make it out to the Warriors class (class dedicated to teaching kids with learning differences). Lastly, I have recently added day care director to the growing list of my daily responsibilities, as we have recently obtained our day care license. Despite the hectic schedule, I would not have my days any other way, as I know my hard work will ultimately lead to improvement of our students’ lives.
If you were not in your current job, what would you secretly love to do?
If not for our business, I would absolutely (secretly, of course!) love to have a career mirroring that of Anthony Bourdain. I would become a “foodie” traveling the world, sampling exotic native dishes, while a Food Network film crew documents my journey for a reality show.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I am a sucker for the clearance aisle. I am compelled to buy anything that is significantly marked down or on clearance, regardless of whether I need it or not. It’s a sickness, really.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my:
What’s your bucket list travel destination?
Phuket, Thailand; Bali, Indonesia; and India.
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
I love attending various fundraising luncheons and beautiful galas.
Are you a night owl or early bird? What do you do during that “quiet time”?
I am 100 percent absolutely a night owl! Although I am not quite sure that I would call it “quiet time,” but during my down time, I like to touch base with friends and catch up on work from the day. When I have the time, I love to do all of the normal girly things: hair and nails, shopping, lunch with friends and just being around people I love.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
Although it may not seem super exciting, I am actually an avid reader of Business First.
Lightning round! Give us your:
- Candy or junk food splurge: Without a doubt, candy. Jolly Ranchers Crunch and Chews is my guilty addiction.
- Guilty pleasure song: “Jealous” by Nick Jonas
- Tearjerker movie pick: Cold Mountain
- Standby nail polish color: Essie No More Film dark purple
- Favorite cocktail: The proverbial Kentucky favorite: the Mint Julep! #talkderbytome
- Cartoon alter-ego: Buttercup, a Powerpuff Girl
Check out Mimi hard at work, and please note how high she can kick that leg! She did this approximately 10 times in a row for us. To learn more about Hwang’s Martial Arts, click here.
As always, much gratitude to our FACES photographer, Adele Reding, for her fantastic work. Visit her website at adeleredingphotography.com.