How martial arts helped shape the life of a Georgia State student

Seungju Andrew Kim, Georgia State student, training at ATT for his upcoming MMA fight. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

The sound of gloves hitting leather, mixed with rock music on full blast, sets the tone for Seungju Andrew Kim’s morning workout. Kim is training at American Top Team Atlanta, an elite mixed martial arts gym, credited for producing top professional fighters, including Jorge Masvidal and Dustin Poirier. 

Kim will take his first step into the sport on Nov. 1, as he takes part in an amatuer MMA fight for the National Fighting Championship, an amateur fighting organization.

Kim studies actuarial science at the Dunwoody campus, a mathematical and statistical program for risk management in the Robinson College of Business. Kim knows the importance of a good education, especially when chasing his dream to become a professional fighter.

“I’m working hard at school, trying to keep my education going and trying to keep my grades up,” Kim said.

Prior to his life in the U.S., Kim was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Life wasn’t always the easiest for Kim, who spoke little to no English throughout much of his early childhood. His early struggles made it difficult to interact with other kids his age. 

“I was the odd one out [in elementary school] because I couldn’t speak English that well … I couldn’t speak to anyone,” Kim said. “I couldn’t even communicate with the teacher.”

But in life, it is often the toughest situations that bring about the biggest positives. It is because of these hardships that Kim discovered MMA. Because of his inability to speak english, Kim found himself watching a lot of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan kung fu movies to pass the time.

“The reason why I liked a lot of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies was because they looked like me, and I thought it was fascinating the way they fight people,” Kim said.

This was Kim’s first exposure to martial arts. Around the same time, a family friend approached his father and asked if Kim would be interested in joining his martial arts gym. At just 6 years old, Kim embarked on what would become a life-changing journey. 

“It was traditional Korean martial arts … [You] learned the basics: how to punch and kick, with some parkour and acrobatics,” Kim said.

Kim would train at his childhood gym for nine years until the age of 15, when his family decided to trade in the cold Canadian winters for the warm Georgia summers. 

“[My parents] thought I could have a better education in America, so we moved down to Atlanta because my older sister went to college at Emory [University],” Kim said

Kim immediately began attending Johns Creek High School in Alpharetta. The move was not easy at first. 

“At the time, I literally had nothing; everything was taken away from me, [and] I couldn’t do martial arts,” Kim said.

Through keeping contact with his old gym master, Kim was encouraged to try out wrestling to further his martial arts skill set. He followed his master’s words of wisdom and joined his high school’s wrestling team during his sophomore year. 

“I was a little nervous, obviously, but I didn’t expect that there would be a huge gap between my strength compared to everyone else’s … when I first went to practice and wrestled a bunch of juniors and seniors, even some of the freshmen were kicking my ass,” Kim said.

For Kim, the adversity he initially faced not only helped him grow as a person but also developed in him a strong sense of discipline. He attended every single practice, worked as hard as he possibly could and was invited to the state wrestling championships.

Sometimes as people, no matter how hard we work, we simply fall short. Kim saw an early exit at the state championships.

“The reason why I set my goals unreasonably high is because I feel like I’ll always fall short,” Kim said. “In high school wrestling, I made it to the state tournament, but I didn’t make it far in that tournament. To this day, I regret not making it far because of my weak mentality.”

During his time wrestling at Johns Creek, one of his coaches, who is currently a pro fighter, exposed Kim to the idea of joining an elite martial arts gym, American Top Team. 

The decision to join was an easy one. Inspired by the professional level talent the gym produces, Kim was ready to open up a new chapter in his life.

“There are so many pro fighters there that inspire me,” Kim said. “If I work just as hard as they do, maybe I’ll make it to the level they are on right now.”

For a year and half, Kim has stuck to his mantra of hard work whilst training at ATT.  His work ethic has not gone unnoticed. 

Kim’s coach, a professional fighter and champion himself, thought it was time for Kim to take his first fight. Kim accepted and soon after was putting pen to paper on a fight contract.

Since accepting the bout, Kim’s physical and mental strength has been challenged like never before.

“The training has become much harder and more rigorous,” Kim said. “As of now, my coach, after every class, he asks me if I have more time to work.”

Apart from the tough physical aspect, Kim has seen some doubt from friends and family for taking this fight. This doesn’t bother him, though, as he knows this is just something you face when following your dreams.

“To me, people who protect their dreams and go for it just shows me that they’re a strong person,” Kim said. “I won’t have any regrets in the end because I gave it my all. It’s better than regretting the whole time and listening to people who say I can’t do it.”

Kim is scheduled to fight Nov. 1 in the first MMA fight of his career right here in Atlanta.

“I’m really glad I have an opportunity to fight soon because it’s a place where I put my strength, will and confidence to the test and see if my hard work paid off in the end,” Kim said.