Rayna Vallandingham began his martial arts journey when he was 2 years old. At age 6, she earned her first black belt. And two years later, she won her first world championship – her first of 13 taekwondo world titles.
Now 20, the Indian-American taekwondo master has continued to mature inside and outside the dojo. Unfortunately, often the rest of the world has not yet moved so quickly. “[Growing up,] you always had these ‘brave’ boys teasing and saying you hit like a girl,” she said. “And now that I’m 20, nothing has really changed. As a black belt, you are always taught that you are only supposed to use your martial arts and self-defense. So I would just stay there. But it’s sad that people feel the need to do this.
Vallandingham spends about two hours a day practicing martial arts; in addition, she records several bodybuilding sessions. She’s also turned her success into multiple jobs: a martial arts instructor, fight choreographer, and content creator with more than a million fans on TikTok. (If you haven’t seen her whip out a pair of nunchakus or do a backflip in a bathing suit or party dress, you’ve missed it.)
Like anyone who ventures onto the internet, fans come with trolls and anger, especially from old school martial arts traditionalists who disapprove of his Gen approach. Z.
“I’m doing something that hasn’t really been done before, in the sense of taking martial arts and adapting to content creation,” says Vallandingham. “That’s where the hate comes from. And I just decided to commit to it and feed on it and be true to myself and who I want to be. Hopefully this can inspire many people to be authentic with themselves and not care what other people say.
However, there is a fine line to Vallangham’s finesse with the spoken word, particularly as an ambassador for the immortal martial arts icon: Bruce Lee himself. She says she had the opportunity to work with the family representing the global icon after getting a glimpse of some of his viral displays on martial arts social media. Now representing her childhood idol, she knows the responsibility of being female artists to be honored with this partnership.
“It was such a great blessing, and just a culture of everything I ever dreamed of, because I’ve always seen it for myself – to have a similar impact as it has had on the world since. that his career flourished, even if it was only for a short time,” she says. “His impact is going to inspire generations and generations to come and, and he inspired me and I would love so do it for all those little girls who are told they’re not strong enough to dominate a sport like martial arts. .”
Her mission statement, she says, is to be the Bruce Lee woman. His winning strategy to achieve this is to stay true to this mission, even if it means saying no to the opportunity, while continuing to expand his skills, learning from the losses, and still having fun as a “newbie”.
1. FIND YOUR GOAL, THEN STAY TRUE TO IT
My advice to someone who is presented with an opportunity that they don’t really know how to handle is to sit down and write down exactly what you think your goals and objectives are. Take this opportunity given to you and think, “Does this fit this and this and will it get me where I’m going?” If not, then I firmly believe that everything is for you and will never escape you. It will always resonate with you.
So, if an opportunity is presented to you and you have a bad feeling or you feel something negative brewing inside you, I will try to stay away from it, even if it promises you the fame, money, something like that. In the end, it’s not worth it, believe me, everything will be fine. And soon you will see that you will begin to attract things that truly match who you are and what you desire.
Once, I was offered to do a voiceover for a character in a show, it did not correspond to my values. To me, it felt like some sort of racist take on a martial arts spinoff. I was like, I could rewrite the story of what it takes to be a female martial artist, but the original is not aligned with who I am and who I want to represent. So even though it had the potential to be huge, I had to turn it down.
I was also offered a contract to be with WWE, and while that doesn’t mean I never would, it just didn’t fit who I was at the time. I will build my career.
First, I want to be an action movie. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing with content creation and blaze that trail and then go back and maybe write my own story there. So there have been so many times where I have had to re-evaluate what is important to me and what I want to represent in this industry before moving forward with these opportunities which obviously would propel me.
2. RAYNA VALLANDINGHAM CAN FIND VICTORY IN DEFEAT
I was conditioned to win for a very long time, because as a 7 year old black belt no one was really on my level. But growing up, I took time out of martial arts to focus on school and figure out what I wanted.
When I came back [to taekwondo], I was no longer at the top. It was really hard to be in that environment because it was new to me and something I had never experienced. You don’t remember having to work from the bottom. So that was one of the most defining moments of my life, because I could have said, you know what, time has passed, it’s not for me anymore and leave it there.
But it became a motivation for me to work even harder to get back to where I was winning again. But even then, I mean, after a few years of hard work and knowing that I deserved that when politics always comes into play, mistakes happen, I didn’t train hard enough.
And I went to the world championships. And the form was great. I nailed everything.
And then I went to do the last flip, I slipped and I fell. Things like that happen. I got up. I’ve always been told that, and I’ve always lost gracefully. It’s never been like a question to me, it’s like, you know what, it’s, it’s totally fine. Just the motivation to work harder. But I got up, you know, I was like, okay, it happened. Let’s just make sure it doesn’t happen again. So I come back to the dojo working even harder.
I wouldn’t be who I am today without losing because continuing to win would have been too easy for me. By now I would have slack off and become lazy. So I’m grateful for those moments, because it gave that hunger and really reignited that spark in me to keep working hard. And it’s not because I’m in competition with someone else. It’s because I’m in competition with myself. And I also know the standard I have for myself.
3. RAYNA VALLANDINGHAM DIVERSIFIES HER SKILLS…
Some martial artists focus so much on their craft that they often forget to grow outside of martial arts. I’ve always been blessed with incredible mentors who told me I had to be good in front of and behind the cameras.
You must be a value in every room you enter. Even from a very young age, I have always invested in these different aspects and I continue to do so. I love to choreograph, teach, perform, do stunts, and each one of them comes from my passion: martial arts. It’s fun to be able to access all these different outlets. It’s also essential now to expand your arsenal, especially in such competitive industries. And at the same time, just to feel fulfilled.
Before, I could just walk into a convention center where a tournament is going on and feel very confident. Now I feel like I can walk into a room with producers and directors and feel just as confident.
Meeting people I’ve admired all my life working with people I’ve admired all my life doing things that satisfy me being able to make my own schedule, calling people bringing people to me and little girls come up to me and ask me Rayna, how did you do that, or Reina you inspired me so much, it’s amazing, it’s, it’s, I don’t know how to explain it, when you have a passion for something and that other people will start to recognize that in you. It’s really special and it’s really moving. And I keep getting these little glimpses every day.
4. …BUT ALWAYS ENJOY BEING A “BEGINNER”
I thrive on the adrenaline of trying something new and becoming great at it. But it’s also the realization that you don’t have to be great at everything. You can have one thing that is your purpose, your passion, and your reason for living. But you can have other things that are just your hobbies that you have fun with. You deserve to be in touch with your inner child so you can have fun with different things.
And I’m really learning that myself. I started dancing this year to have that outlet to have fun and to be new to something again. For me, it’s actually a great skill to have to be a beginner at something and learn from there. Whether you are 30, 40 or 50, it doesn’t matter.
Enjoy not having the pressure of having to be perfect. I think if you’re an athlete, or whatever you do if you excel at something, you know what it’s like to have to be perfect all the time. So I would say it’s more important than you think to be able to go out and try something new. And be okay with whatever happens. It could end up becoming something you’re good at, or it could just become something like falling off a skateboard every 10 minutes. But it’s so much fun, it’s really important in life to be able to laugh at yourself too.
5. RAYNA VALLANDINGHAM WANTS TO BRING OUT THE BADASS IN EVERY GIRL
There’s nothing more feminine than just being badass – that sums up everything a woman is.
But I fully understand that it can be difficult to know if fitness is right for you in what is still a male-dominated industry. It’s not always easy going to a gym for the first time and having all these guys lifting heavy weights and talking about their brother. Sometimes everyone is staring and staring at you, especially if you’re the only woman there. It can be very difficult.
If you need a place to start, I would 100% recommend starting in your own home.
Put on some music and dance, try a Zumba class. Whatever you really like and enjoy, try it.
It doesn’t have to be weightlifting. There are so many different possibilities. You can practice self-defense, jiujitsu, martial arts, I recommend them! Dance, run, walk, even go to Disney and walk up to 20 different rides, it’s going to be a workout. Anything you really enjoy is important to build on for your fitness. And be creative too.
You can even buy some nunchucks and spin them. I was working with an MMA athlete, and he started playing with nunchucks, and he was like, Oh, my God, this is going to be my new workout. Just going to the gym and fighting can get so monotonous at times. There are so many different opportunities to develop yourself. You are worthy of investing in yourself and truly finding it because it is worth it.