Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Taekwondo Student Oath

I've noticed in the past that several Taekwondo Dojangs operate under the tenets of Taekwondo, as I referenced in a previous post.  In addition to these tenets, I've found that our school also obeys a student oath.  While there appears to be a relatively similar oath among different schools, our particular dojang works under the following five guidelines:

1: I shall observe the tents of Tae Kwon Do.
2: I shall respect the instructor and fellow students.
3: I shall never misuse Tae Kwon Do.
4: I shall be a worthy representative of Tae Kwon Do.
5: I shall strive for self-improvement and will always be eager to learn.

Of these, I find that our child students appear to have the most difficulty with number 5.  There are times where it appears as though they are simply going through the motions.  This appears to happen most often around the 5th kub (Blue Belt in our school), or about half-way to the Black Belt examination.  I personally refer to this as the doldrum stage of Taekwondo.  While it's imperative for the instructors to attempt to keep the students interested, it can be difficult to make children want to learn when it's clear they aren't.  Often times, this is where you can see which students are in class because their parents want them there (they already spent this much time, effort and money, the student must finish, *or* "my kid is going to do *x*"), as opposed to the ones who are their because they want to finish what they started, or truly enjoy what they are doing.

For my part, I usually try to really get the kids interested by showing them the utility of what they learn, as well as increasing the bag work and especially the kicking - the parts that are "fun," while still trying to direct them in the proper form/technique.

Good times.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tenets of Taekwondo

When I first enrolled in Taekwondo back in 2001 when I arrived in San Angelo, I took classes from an instructor who may have been skilled in Taekwondo.  However, as many people no doubt have picked up over the years, skill at an activity does not equate to the ability to teach said activity (see, e.g. Thomas, Isaiah). 

When I started up with Taekwondo again back in 2012, it came as some surprise to me that the was more to the art than just learning patterns and how to defend one's self.  I learned that there were principles, a dogma, to Taekwondo - which are referred to as the "tenets" of Taekwondo.

Perhaps these tenets are not universal to all schools or forms of Taekwondo, but I've since come to find the same tenets referenced by other schools, both in ITF and WTF styles. 

The Tenets of Taekwondo, as our school teaches them, are as follows (please forgive any misspellings on the hangul, it's been over a decade since I used it with any semblance of regularity):

Ye Ui (예의) = Courtesy
Yom Chi (렴치) = Integrity
In Nae (인내) = Perseverance
Guk Gi (극기) = Self-Control
Baekjul Boolkool (백절 불 굴) = Indomitable Spirit

While our school expounds on these tenets, I will not repost what the school wrote, however, in the event there are questions as to what is meant by any particular tenet, I will be willing to share my personal take on any one or more.

Friday, April 11, 2014

On Progression of Minors in Taekwondo

Back in March, my youngest son and I both tested and achieved our first Dan (1st Degree Black Belt) at our Taekwondo school.  This was a pretty significant occasion for both of us.  My daughter will be testing for her black belt in the fall.

I will note a couple things - first, my son is 9, and he's been taking classes for about 2.5 years.  I understand that typically this is below the average time frame for promotion to a first Dan, however, it is not outside the minimum parameters found at Taekwondo-network.com.  By comparison, I started in Martial Arts in the mid-90s, and all the time I trained combined, I'd say I probably took closer to the 3 year average, though by strict calendar counting, it took me about 18.

I've read on various websites opinions by various practitioners as to whether a minor (particularly someone below the mid-teens) can accurately reach a black belt rank.  After mulling over what I've read on the matter in opposition to children attaining black belts, I think I would have to disagree with that opinion. 

The general premise from what I can gather is that minors should not be able to achieve a black belt because they cannot physically hold their own against an adult.  I believe this to be an unfair comparison.  By this measure, then one could argue that unless you can match the talents of every black belt of your Dan in a particular style, then you should not be entitled to hold said black belt. 

In one tournament I attended, one of the individuals I sparred against was in his mid-60s and had a pacemaker.  At the time, I was an 8th gup, and I believe he was 5th.  I was able to beat him pretty handily, as I was more physically capable than he was.  By extending the argument that a minor could not hold his own against an adult, one would putatively have to hold the position that my opponent that day would not be entitled to achieve his Dan, as he was not able to keep up with an (at the time) overweight, out of shape middle aged guy, so there's no way he'd have been able to keep up with a 1st degree, fit 20 year old.  I disagree with this notion.

The black belt is, as much as anything, a symbol of accomplishment - a sign that you have mastered the patterns presented and that you have an understanding of the practical application of the motions contained therein.  If we were to take a peer-based approach to the examination of this, as opposed to a mass-based approach, then it would seem to me that a minor who has mastered these concepts has indeed earned their ranking.  Withholding a Dan certificate, or arguing in favor of withholding, simply because of one's age seems more a matter of pride as opposed to any rational position, if one takes this approach. 

Another argument I've read is that children lack the mental acuity to appreciate the value/importance of a black belt.  This, again, in my opinion, is a very subjective argument.  I've seen 30-40 year olds who have less mental wherewithal than my 9 year old.  I've seen some 12-13 year olds who, if you were to tell me they ran their households, I'd have absolutely no problems believing you.  Conversely, I know multiple 20-somethings who still don't know how to write a check properly.  Age does not, simply by passing, bring wisdom or understanding.  Using mental maturity as a lodestar does not provide, to me, much of an argument against promoting minors.  If a child can show mastery of skills and a sense of respect for the benchmark he or she has achieved, it is my opinion that it would be petty to withhold said recognition based solely on one's prejudice as to mental maturity. 

Again, these are simply my opinions.  I do not profess to be "right," nor do I believe that because someone holds an opinion contrary to mine that they are "wrong."  I am merely unconvinced that theirs is the correct position. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A little bit on Taekwondo

So, as I think I've mentioned before, I got my introduction to martial arts back in the mid 1990s at a school in the Monterey/Seaside California area, which taught Tang Soo Do.  I didn't mind the school, but had to leave after a few months owing to a PCS.

Fast forward about 4 years and I find myself in San Angelo, Texas, where I decide to resume my training at a taekwondo school in town.  Several warning flags pop up as I sign up - first, he wants a 6 month contract, second, he doesn't seem to be focusing too much on patterns, and third, in the time I went there, I don't remember ever sparring at all, though we did do several 1-step run throughs with what he referred to as "the hapkido."

I can't say with any real certainty that the instructor was a bad instructor, or that he was giving substandard training - I just know that the training he offered wasn't a match for what I sought.

Approximately 2 1/2 years ago, in an effort to get my youngest son active in something, we decide to check out the Taekwondo program at the local YMCA (my daughter was already taking Gymnastics there, and so the location was chosen out of convenience as much as anything else).  The program is a supplemented ITF program (i.e. the school studies the tul patterns as opposed to the poomse, however, the primary instructor has added several patterns that are referred to as "free spar" patterns to complement the tuls).  My son took to this like a duck to water - he appears to be a natural, at least as far as the patterns goes.  He's impatient with his sparring, though he does enjoy the sparring. 

The school does a pretty good job of combining the patterns with the sparring, though I do wish that we were able to integrate the 1-step sparring a little more, just to help with the spacing and timing training. 

Some of this is due to the scheduling difficulties inherent in training at a YMCA, as there is only room to have 3 consecutive one-hour classes twice a week. 

At any rate, I do enjoy the classes, and the kids appear to enjoy them, as well.

More on TKD later.