Winning Strategy: Raina Vallandingham knows how to say no on her terms

Rena Vallandingham I started her Journey into martial arts at the age of two. At the age of six, she earned her first black belt. And two years later, she won her first world championship – her first of 13 world taekwondo titles.

Now at twenty, the American Indian taekwondo master has continued to mature in and out of the dojo. Unfortunately, often the rest of the world has not developed so quickly. “[Growing up,] You always had these “brave” boys who would tease and say you kick like a girl,” she says. “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 martial arts and self defense. So I would like to stand there. But it’s sad that people feel the need to do that.”

Vallandingham spends about two hours a day practicing martial arts; In addition, she records several strength training sessions. She’s also parlayed her success into multiple careers: a martial arts trainer, fight choreographer, and content creator with more than 1 million fans on TikTok. (If you haven’t seen her sporting a pair of nunchucks or jumping back in a swimsuit or evening gown, you’re missing out.)

Like anyone who ventures online, trolls and ire come with fans, particularly from old-school martial arts traditionalists who disapprove of Gen’s approach. its own Z.

Unsurprisingly, she is unapologetic about the way she expresses her art and uses her podcast, Threat Leagueto vent frustration and talk to the co-host and Choreographer Samantha Long.

“I’m doing something that hasn’t been done before, in the sense of taking martial arts and adapting content creation,” says Vallandingham. “That’s where some of the hate comes from. And I just decided to commit to that and bring it into that and be true to myself and who I want to be. Hopefully that inspires a lot of people to be true to themselves as well and not care what other people say.”

However, there is a fine line in Vallangham’s prowess with the spoken word, particularly as an ambassador to Eternal martial arts icon: Bruce Lee Himself. She says she had the opportunity to work with the family of the global icon after they caught a glimpse of some of her martial arts social media exhibitions. Now representing her childhood idol, she knows the responsibility of being a female artist to be honored through this partnership.

“It was a huge blessing, and just to grow everything I dreamed of, because I’ve always seen it myself — to make a similar impact he’s had on the world since his career blossomed, even if only for a short amount of time,” she says. “His impact will inspire generations and generations to come, and it has inspired me, so I would like to do this for all the young girls who have been told they are not strong enough to master a sport like martial arts.”

She says her mission statement is to be the female Bruce Lee. Her successful strategy for achieving this involves staying true to that mission—even if it means saying no to the opportunity, while still spreading her skill set, learning losses, and enjoying the “newbie.”

Rayna Vallandingham trains with boxing gloves and a heavy bag
Courtesy of Nathan Texon

1. Find your purpose, then stay true to it

My advice to someone who is given a chance that they don’t really know how to navigate is to sit down and write down exactly what you think your purposes and goals are. Take the opportunity you’ve been given and think, “Does this fit with this and this and get me where I’m going?” If it doesn’t, I am a firm believer that everything is meant for you and it will never pass you by. It will always resonate with you.

So if you get a chance, and you have a bad feeling in your gut or feel something negative brewing inside of you, I will try to stay away from it, even if it promises you fame and money and anything like that. In the end, it’s not worth it – believe me, everything will work out for the better. And soon you’ll see that you’ll start to attract things that really align with who you are and what you want.

Once I was offered to do a voiceover for a character on a show, and it just didn’t align with my values. To me, it sounded like a kind of racist take on martial arts. I was like, I could rewrite the story of what it takes to be a martial artist, but the origin just doesn’t align with who I am and who I want to represent. So even though it was potentially huge, I had to turn it down.

I was also offered a contract to be with WWE, and while it didn’t mean I would never do it, it just didn’t align with who I was at the time. I will build my career.

First, I want to be an action movie. I will continue to do what I do with content creation and pave that path and then come back and maybe write my own story there. There have been many times where I have had to re-evaluate what is important to me and what I want to represent in this industry before going forward with these opportunities that are obviously going to catapult me.

Raina Vallandingham doing a taekwondo stance in the desert
Courtesy of Alex Miller


I was conditioned to win for a really long time, because as a 7-year-old black belt, no one was really on my level. But as I got older, I took some time off from martial arts to focus on school and figure out what I wanted.

when i came back [to taekwondo]I’m not at the top anymore. It was really hard being in that environment because it was new to me and something I had never experienced before. Don’t remember that you have to work from below. So that was one of the most defining moments in my life, because I could say, you know what, time passed, it wasn’t just me anymore and just leaving 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 I deserve that when politics still plays a role, mistakes happen, and I haven’t trained enough.

And I went to the World Championships. And the shape was great. I was browning everything.

Then I went to do the last flip, I slipped and fell. Things like that happen. I got you. I was always being told, and I was always losing with grace. It wasn’t like it was a question to me like, you know, this, that’s totally fine. Just the motivation to work harder. But I woke up and, you know, I was like, OK, this happened. Let’s just make sure it doesn’t happen again. So just going back to the dojo to work harder.

I wouldn’t be who I am today without losing because by continuing to win it would have been very easy for me. Now I would have been sluggish and become lazy. So I’m grateful for those moments, because they gave away that hunger and really reignited the spark in me to keep working hard. And it’s not because I’m competing with anyone else. This is because I am competing with myself. And I know the standard I have for myself too.


Some martial artists are so focused on their craft that they often forget to expand themselves beyond martial arts. I’ve always been fortunate to have great mentors who told me I needed to be good in front of and behind the cameras.

You should be valuable in every room you enter. Even starting from a young age, I have always been invested in those different aspects and continue to do so. I love choreographing, teaching, acting, and doing stunts, and every single one of those falls under the umbrella of my passion – martial arts. It’s fun being able to go to all of those different outlets. It is also necessary now to expand your arsenal, especially in such competitive industries. And at the same time, just to feel good about yourself.

Before that, I could walk into the conference center where the tournament is taking place and feel very confident. Now I feel as if I could walk into a room with the producers and directors and feel just as confident.

Meeting people that I’ve looked up to my whole life Working with people that I’ve looked up to my whole life Doing things that are fulfilling for me to be able to set my own agenda Inviting people that come up to me and little girls come to me and ask me Rina, how did you do this, or Rina inspired me so much, did It’s unbelievable, it is, it is, I don’t know how to explain it, when you have a passion for something and other people will you start to recognize that within you. It’s really special and it’s really touching. And I still get those little glimpses every day.

4. …but it’s still fun to be a ‘newbie’

I thrive on the adrenaline of trying something new and getting great at it. But it’s also the realization that you don’t have to be great at everything. You can only 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 enjoy. You deserve to be in touch with your inner child so that you can enjoy different things.

And I’m really learning that myself. I started dancing this year to get that outlet from just having fun and also to be a noob again at something. For me, it’s a great skill to be a beginner at something and learn from it. Whether you’re 30, 40, 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 might do if you’re good at something, you know what it feels like when you have to be perfect all the time. So I would say it’s more important than you think to be able to get out there and try something new. And be okay with whatever is going on. You might end up becoming a great thing at it, or you might end up like you fall 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.

Raina Vallandingham, Modeling in the Desert
Courtesy of Alex Miller


There’s nothing more feminine than being a badass — and that sums up everything about a woman.

But I completely understand that it can be difficult to feel whether fitness is right for you in what’s still really a male-dominated industry. It’s not always easy to go to the gym for the first time and get all these guys to lift heavy weights and get their talking. Sometimes everyone looks at you and stares at you, especially if you’re the only woman there. It can be really hard.

If you need a place to start, I 100% recommend starting in your own home.

Turn on some music and dance, try a Zumba class. Anything you really like and enjoy, give it a try.

It doesn’t have to be weightlifting. There are many different ways. You can take Martial Arts, Jiu-Jitsu, and Martial Arts – I recommend that! Dance, jog, walk, even go to Disney and walk to 20 different rides, this will be a workout. Anything you really enjoy doing, it is important to make use of it in your fitness. And get creative too.

You can even buy some nunchucks And swing them. I was working with a mixed martial arts athlete, and he started playing with nunchucks, and he was like, Oh my God, this is going to be my new training. Just getting into the gym and fighting can get pretty monotonous sometimes. There are many different opportunities to expand yourself. You deserve to invest in yourself and really find it because it’s worth it.

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