Han Traning: An intersection of queerness, fitness, community


Emily Soto

During a strength class, Minky Kim helps member Ana Mitchell improve their form.

‘Han,’ is a Korean word for “an internalized feeling of deep sorrow, resentment, grief, regret and anger, which is felt by all Koreans.”

But you won’t find any of that at Han Training. Although “Han” is distinct for the Korean identity, it applies to those Han Training looks to serve.

Han Training opened January 2022 and is a gym for queer people of color in Chicago. Located in upper North Halsted at 743 W. Irving Park Rd., Han Training values accessibility, intention, liberation and affirmation.

Owner and founder Minky Kim felt a queer gym and communal fitness space was lacking in Chicago.

“I was looking for a place where I could bring my friends because most queer people don’t want to go to a gym, which is totally fair,” Kim said. “Once I realized that there weren’t too many spaces that folks felt comfortable in, I decided to kind of make my own way.”

Kim started their platform as “LiftyBoi” on Instagram and became a certified personal trainer. Han Training eventually became their full-time job.

“[I] thought it was just going to be a side hustle, a little passion project that turned out to be something that folks needed more than I realized,” they said. “That kind of just grew over time, and the need was so great that I ended up opening up a space.”

There are over a thousand gyms in Illinois, but Kim wanted to differentiate Han Training based on their radical beliefs about movement.

“A lot of my practices also kind of focused on rejecting this idea of what fitness is supposed to be like,” Kim said. “My movement philosophy, I think movement is for everybody and every body. What we do for ourselves is within our own rights. Our bodies are our birthright.”

Typical fitness philosophies tend to focus on structure; Kim tries to focus on flexibility as well.

“Recognize that goals are always going to fluctuate and the things that you learn to enjoy are always going to fluctuate,” they said. “So being open to that, and having structure where it needs to be held, but also being flexible with ourselves.”

Kim wants to highlight gender non-comforming, plus-sized and disabled bodies. Although commercial gyms may promote accessibility, Kim wants to bring it front and center.

“I have clients who are wheelchair users, have mobile devices or have disabilities where they can’t use steps,” Kim said. “A lot of big box gyms don’t consider accessibility the same way. There’s no active push to make sure that safety is considered.”

Sam Kochanek, client and operations manager for Han Training, helped Kim build ramps to get inside the gym.

“We are on the ground floor of the building — it’s not inherently physically accessible, there are steps to get down in,” Kochanek said. “We have one portable ramp, and then two ramps that we actually built to make sure that the space is physically accessible.”

All around the outside of the space, there are flags such as “Stop Asian Hate” and queer pride.

“I wanted to make it very obvious where I stand on a lot of things,” Kim said. “I feel like it’s easier to be honest about it and be open and be like, we’re just here. We have so much community, we have so many people in the community that folks will come together. I feel good about that.”

Kim also considered financial accessibility for their clients. They have a strict “no one turned away for lack of funds” policy.

“I’m on a back end level of financial access I think is really huge for marginalized communities,” Kim said. “I think that having these resources for mental health and physical health should be for everyone.”

Kim and Kochanek want to provide not only a fitness space, but a communal space for the queer and transgender people of color community in Chicago.

Noopur Shahfeels the difference of coming into Han Training compared to other gyms he has attended before.

“This is one of a kind in Chicago,” Shah said. “It feels like you’re getting a big hug in here as you’re becoming more confident in your own bodies, which is really rad.”

Kim holds an open gym every day and allows about two people per hour, while classes have a maximum capacity of three people — unlike other commercial gyms, where there may not be a capacity limit.

“Usually, I feel subconscious or too aware [in big box gyms],” Shah said. “Bigger bodies are underestimated, but not here.”

The lack of judgment and working with Kim is what motivates Shah to keep coming back.

“Unlike a lot of gyms where it feels competitive or people are watching, here it feels supportive and there’s not a focus on weight or numbers, it’s just what feels good to you,” Shah said.

Having a communal aspect was essential for Kochanek because they did not want members to feel isolated or judged.

“In those big box gyms it’s not welcoming, it’s not always friendly,” Kochanek said. “We want to build a space where folks can come and get their workouts in, but the community aspect is really important because you can come and not feel worried about judging me either for the way that I look, the way that my body moves or maybe doesn’t move.”

Han Training will be hosting the Chicago “Pull for Pride” on June 4 as another way to get involved with the queer fitness community.

In March, the gym held a training event for Narcan, a prominent opioid overdose treatment, in collaboration with Lurie Children’s Hospital. This was an effort on Kim’s part to show folks in the community that they did not judge.

“I think that shows other folks in the community that we don’t discriminate or judge anybody for their life choices,” Kim said. “What we want to do is protect and serve and provide resources. Reduce harm as best as possible.”

No matter what your background is, ‘Han’ aims to connect people from all marginalized communities through world wide experiences of imperialism and white supremacy.

“It is a part of what unites us and allows us to better empathize and understand each other, so that we may forge unbreakable and fierce bonds that can overcome the systemic injustices of our world,” Kim said on their website.

Han Training has only been open for four months. Kim envisions the future of Han Training to include more employment of queer trans people.

“I would love to open up a bigger space and allow for more like queer and trans folk to work in this space as well,” Kim said. “My dream would be to get big enough that I can just hire everybody in the community and then we just all live in one building forever.”