As parents, we are cautious of our children's activities and interactions. When they are upset we jump into action to eliminate their problems or at least attempt to help them cope with the stress. Because of the physical and emotional nature of Taekwon-do, children are confronted with many unique obstacles and challenges. As a Taekwon-do instructor for the past 26 years I have dealt with many tough situations. These are 5 ‘Hard Truths’ about learning Taekwon-do.
You WILL get kicked and punched.
Tae, literally means to jump, fly and kick with the foot. Kwon, means to smash or destroy with the hand or fist. As beginners, we first learn to kick and punch the air. As our control and balance improves, we work with a partner. No matter how cautious the students are, contact will be made. Whether accidental or intentional, contact is a jolting experience. A 'fight' or 'flight' response is triggered and a child will typically cry or react with aggression. A good instructor will stop the exchange, calm the situation and communicate safety and appropriate behaviour. Contact happens because we are still learning. Children will learn that they need to control their emotions just as much as their technique. Accidents will happen, especially in a flurry of fists and feet. Self-Control is one of five important Tenets of Taekwon-do that is constantly communicated to students, especially young children.
You WILL lose.
A game of dodgeball, a failed board break or even a grading, your child will eventually fall short. If properly cultivated, failure can be an experience that motivates a student’s inner potential. Through proper instruction and hard training, a student can learn from their mistakes and improve upon them. The same goes for harvesting a positive and winning attitude. Rather than fix the problem for them, ask them what they think went wrong and how they can fix the problem. A good instructor will guide a student to the answer. This direction will create a sense of accomplishment for everyone.
You WILL be disciplined.
Being told to be quiet, work harder or to apologize to a fellow student, your child will be disciplined. The consequence could be a verbal reprimand or physical work such as pushups. This may cause embarrassment as fellow students may be witness to the lesson, however it is important to understand that breaking rules, acting inappropriately or disrupting instruction for the rest of the class will not be tolerated. A good instructor will stop the behaviour, ask them why they are being disciplined and then explain why there is a consequence for their action. It is also important to let children be children. Let them know that there is a time for play and a time for learning. If student's see their instructor having fun, smiling and enjoying time with them, the dojang is now a fun place to learn.
You WILL want to quit.
Children will want to quit an activity for different reasons. The most common is boredom. A good instructor will always try to engage students in fun activities to make learning enjoyable. However, there will be times when the fundamental techniques of Taekwon-do become repetitive. As with any rank-based activity, repetition is a key to learning. These repetitive lessons may lead to boredom. Parents are advised to encourage their children to continue their training and alert the instructor about the issue. The instructor may then take alternative steps to help re-engage student's. Taekwon-do training is important in child development as it cultivates strong moral character. The parents and instructors should work closely together to create a successful path for their child rather than succumbing to a child's demands solely because they are bored.
You will not get along with everyone.
Whether at school or in Taekwon-do class, children will always cross paths with someone whom they are conflicted. An observant instructor will recognize this. Rather than avoiding the situation, children are encouraged to work with everyone. Supervision and communication by a competent instructor can lead to common ground, understanding personalities and ultimately building a strong foundation for long lasting friendships. Especially with the physical nature of Taekwon-do, a new student may see kicks and punches as aggressive and associate them with a student's personality. This close relationship between the physical and emotional pushes boundaries, forcing students to engage in uncomfortable situations, albeit under the guidance of a competent instructor.
“Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” – Vince Lombardi
There are many benefits to competition. We create new friends, learn new techniques and put our skills to the test. But with any competition there is a risk of losing. For this reason, many students avoid competition. A good instructor will encourage students to compete and explain why they shouldn’t be afraid to lose. In fact, there can be more benefits to losing than winning.
1. Facing Fear
The noise in the gymnasium is unbearable. All eyes are on you. Unfamiliar black belts are ordering you around while your opponent stares you down. Your heart is about to burst and you want to vomit. As quickly as the match starts, it ends. You lose. Congratulations! You’ve just won a major victory by stepping onto the mat only to accomplish something amazing that most people are too terrified to attempt. Rejoice because you have accumulated valuable experience points needed to achieve success in life.
I’ve seen sparring gear thrown, chairs kicked, name calling and even a brawl. You’d think that this behaviour would come from novice coloured belts, but surprisingly this disgusting behaviour comes from instructors, coaches, black belts and even parents. I teach my student’s that if you lost, it’s because your opponent was better than you today. Sore losers blame others for their loss, become bully’s and substitute intimidation for talent. Own your loss, learn from it, train harder and come back stronger. If you blame everyone else for your loss, you’re no better than the brawler or angry parent.
3. Try, Don't Compete
If you remove the pressures of competition, all that remains is perseverance. In other words, don’t fight for a medal, your coach or even a parent. Fight for you. Exhaling the pressure to impress tightens your ability to focus on your fight. Some of my best fights have been for 3rd place. The pressure of gold was off my shoulders and all that remained was the desire to fight my fight. To try hard because I had trained hard. To give the hits and take them. Win or lose, all that mattered was knowing that I had fought my best.
4. Losing to Learn
Losing opens the door to learning but only if you take responsibility for your loss. Review the footage of your match, pinpoint your faults, re-evaluate your strategies and devise a plan of action. A good instructor will empathize, help focus the emotional loss into a new training strategy and continue to push you with hard training. Losing exposes your weaknesses. Accepting them helps you understand them. When you understand them, they can be dissected and ultimately improved.
5. Lose your Ego
Unless you’re getting paid millions of dollars for a pay-per-view fight where it’s all part of the show, taunting and intimidation has no place in a Taekwon-do ring. Beating your chest, laughing at your opponent, sticking your chin out and taunting are all signs of insecurity. You are obviously so scared of losing that you resort to intimidation tactics. This is not only disgusting behaviour that is being imitated by impressionable coloured belts, but it’s a blatant disrespect to your opponent, the sport and your instructor. If this is you, it’s not entertaining, it’s embarrassing, so stop! The only thing good to come out of this sort of behaviour is watching you lose. Losing tames your ego, keeps you humble, promotes hard work and keeps you evolving.
Think about it. Besides the deflating feeling defeat, there is nothing wrong with losing. Accept defeat graciously, be accountable, analyze your shortcomings, seek help, train hard and make improvements. Maintain a good attitude, be humble, hold hands with fear and separate the pressures of competition from personal growth. Remember, like winning, losing is a habit that has many hidden rewards.
Don't be fooled, Taekwon-do is a contact sport. Although we may safely practice no contact sparring in the dojang, eventually we will all get kicked and punched...hard! I mean think about it, we put on protective gear and throw our hands and feet at faces. Contact will happen, and when it does it's normal to get angry. Whether you are a 5 year old white belt just starting your journey toward black belt, or a wise Grand Master with unwavering self control, we all get angry. So what exactly is anger and how can we control it?
Anger is a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure or hostility. This best describes getting punched in the face. But what's the root cause of anger? In the brain, the amygdala releases catecholamines preparing you for physical action. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are also released, increasing your blood pressure and accelerating your heart rate pushing blood to your extremities. This chemical reaction prepares the body for what is known as the 'fight or flight' response. When we get angry our judgment can become cloudy, causing us to be more reactionary than rational.
To tame anger we use our prefrontal cortex which is responsible for controlling our judgment. In stressful situations, studies show more brain activity in the prefrontal cortex in rational people than aggressive ones. This is not to say that if you react with an angry kick to your opponents gut you have an antisocial personality disorder, rather it means you may need to practice more mental focus. So how can we practice mental focus to keep us calm in times of anger?
Tips to Control Anger
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You're in it for the belts
Setting out to attain your black belt in any martial art is a monumental task and indeed a legitimate reason. If you maintain focus on advancing to the next level through hard work, dedication, blood, sweat and tears, then eventually you will succeed. However, if you have joined purely for the power of belt promotions, then you will find out quickly that you won't have what it takes to be a genuine black belt. If you have this mentality and find yourself still being promoted, then the problem is not only with you but is also rooted within your instructor. If this is you, then quit before you hurt yourself or others.
You're being abused
It's not uncommon for student's to get injured in class through sparring and self defence drills. In Taekwon-do we kick and punch at people, eventually you will get hit. Accidents do happen as we are still learning. However, if an instructor or fellow student purposely causes you pain, discomfort and/or humiliation after you have repeatedly asked them to stop, then this would be an appropriate time to remove yourself from the environment. Remember, it's OK to tell the instructor or a fellow student to stop. Quitting your instructor may be a good idea if you are given the following excuses:
A good instructor will acknowledge your discomfort, apologize, take accountability for their actions and take proper precautions in the future to ensure your physical safety.
Taekwon-do is also a business. I understand that instructors need to be paid as this may be their livelihood. They are providing a service and understandably need to be compensated for their expertise. Fortunately, Taekwon-do schools are a popular business and prices can be compared. A legitimate school will be upfront and honest with all of their business practices. But buyer beware!
Suspiciously Over Qualified Instructor
Beware of the 'over qualified' instructor. It takes a lifetime to master ONE martial art, so why would you want to invest your time and money in an instructor who claims to be a master of all of them? Taekwon-do schools are a dime a dozen and business owners will try to stand out above the rest. Beware of the instructor who boasts about all of their certificates and the many federations they belong to. If they brag about being a provincial, western, national or even a world champion odds are they may very well be, be aren't we all? A good instructor will be humble and prove their character by how they treat you in class. Rank, certificates and titles are sales tactics. Don't fall for them.
Self motivation, a willingness to learn and perseverance are all determining factors for success. However, these attributes may not be enough. A student will look to authority both inside and outside the classroom for guidance. It's unfortunate when a student's true potential is jeopardized by no fault of their own. Taekwon-do has its challenges and not everyone is successful. But with proper guidance students can avoid these three common ways of failing Taekwon-do.
1. Lack of Encouragement
When children first start Taekwon-do, it's fun and engaging. They meet new friends, play fun games and are motivated by belts and awards. Over time, the novelty will wear off as classes become difficult and repetitive. Upon hitting this 'road block', children tell their parents 'they're bored' and wish to quit. This is a common occurrence. Some, but not all parents, bend to their child's demands, pull them out and enrol them in the next activity only to repeat the cycle. Parents who understand the benefits of Taekwon-do are less likely to remove their child simply because they are bored. Involved parents watch classes, ask questions and even join. Success in Taekwon-do is a collaborative effort between the student, parents and instructor. Consequently, there's a high probability that this lack of involvement could promote failure.
2. Chasing Belts, Badges, Stripes and Patches
Taekwon-do is extremely visual. From its aerial kicks to snappy uniforms, Taekwon-do has an attractive curb appeal. It's no wonder why people are attracted to Taekwon-do. But have the reasons become more about flash than function? Taekwon-do is a military art, thus following a standardized system of rank. Unfortunately, this system has been altered and exploited by greedy instructors. A bad instructor will bribe their students with belts, badges, stripes and patches rather than teach proper Taekwon-do technique. At a poorly ran dojang, promotions will come quickly to keep students interested. Students become accustom to the promotions and find themselves chasing the next belt. This results in a dangerous student with a large ego who may go on to open their own dojang thus repeating the cycle. If a students adopts this attitude regardless if they have achieved a black belt or not, then they have set themselves up for failure.
1. A Bad Instructor
An entire post in and of itself, bad instructors are more common than not. It should be noted that there is a difference between quitting and failing. So for this post I'll focus on how a bad instructor will help you fail at Taekwon-do. In short, an instructor is responsible for a student's knowledge, attitude and technique. If an instructor is teaching incorrect technique, handing out early promotions and instilling false confidence as an incentive to keep students in the dojang, then this type of environment is a breeding ground for future 'watered down' instructors. Although a student may be promoted to black belt from this environment, there will come a time when their knowledge and abilities will be put to the test. Eventually, a bad instructor will leave you wondering what exactly is wrapped around your waist.
We can all agree that these are crucial years for child development. You are a loving parent and want what's best for your child. Nowadays, parents are inundated with countless activities that are marketed toward them and their children on several platforms (like this one). So how is it that parents can decide what activity is best suited for their child? The answer is to research the activity, its leaders and their core values. But how do you find the time?
Surprisingly, parents rarely ask me questions about Taekwon-do, my background, or the long term benefits for their child. The most common questions are about class times, prices and if they can try a class before they join. This leads me to believe that most parents have a vague or stereotypical understanding of what Taekwon-do is. I understand that parents are busy and they may not have sufficient time to do in-depth research into the art, school and instructor, so this article is a starting point for the busy yet involved parent. Although there are many advantages to practicing Taekwon-do, here are FIVE important benefits that may be appealing to parents.
From the moment they step into the Dojang (training hall) children are taught to bow as a physical sign of respect for the education they are about to receive. Respect is encouraged by bowing to and addressing the instructor as Sir or Ma'am. A respectful instructor will always return the bow. Students also bow to one another as a sign of mutual respect. The act of bowing teaches children respect in and outside the dojang.
2. Physical Fitness
Taekwon-do in known for its aerobic, acrobatic and aerial kicking techniques. Children love to jump, spin and kick things. The dynamic kicking and punching techniques of Taekwon-do will help children with balance and coordination, strength and conditioning while providing an outlet for stress.
3. Self Defence
Students of Taekwon-do are encouraged to talk their way out of a confrontation first. Unfortunately, we can't predict that this will always work. Taekwon-do provides children with the confidence to not only speak up for themselves and/or others, but to also have the skills necessary to defend themselves against a would-be attacker.
4. Winning & Losing
'Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing'. - Vince Lombardi.
Through Taekwon-do competitions, children will experience winning and losing. Of course we want to see our children win as it builds their self esteem and reinforces their hard work but losing is always a risk. Taekwon-do teaches that losing opens the door to self improvement. Through proper instruction, perseverance and positive encouragement from involved parents, a student will learn from their losses, be accountable and ultimately be guided to success.
Taekwon-do cultivates long lasting friendships in a fun, respectful and safe environment. The relationships and bonds don't just stop at the dojang. Tournaments encourage respectful competition with children their own age and belt rank on a provincial, national and international level. It's not uncommon for meaningful friendships to form across borders.
In conclusion, extra curricular activities should not just be something that fills your child's calendar. Whatever activity you choose, assess the benefits and be sure they meet the expectations for both you and your child.
Do you suspect your child is being bullied? It's a fact! We've all been bullied! I think we can all agree that being bullied isn't fun, nor is it good for our child's self esteem. How can you spot the warning signs of bullying? How can you talk about it with your child? What plan of action can be developed to defend against a bully? Although the subject of bullying is far more in-depth than this article, the following plan of action will help provide you with some helpful tools to combat bullying in what seems to be an epidemic in our schools.
Signs of Bullying
It's important to note that not all children will show signs of bullying. But please be observant of your child and notice any changes in their behaviour. One of the best ways to stay informed is to keep the lines of communication open and positive. Check in regularly and let them know you are always there to help them no matter what the problem. Always be prepared to listen.
How to Talk about Bullying
What to do when Confronted by a Bully
Unfortunately, the odds are high that at some point in our lives we will need to physically defend ourselves, especially when we are children. Children are still developing coping mechanisms to deal with conflict. As such, when children can't communicate verbally, it is natural for them to act out physically. It is likely that if a bully is verbally abusive then he/she will eventually become physically abusive. Now that you've taught your children what to do if confronted verbally by a bully, wouldn't it then make sense for children to also be prepared physically if reasoning with a bully fails?
Taekwon-do for Self Defense
Taekwon-do is much more than kicking and punching. Taekwon-do is a discipline developed to cultivate the mind and body on the foundation of moral culture. Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control and Indomitable Spirit, are the tenets of Taekwon-do. Students are taught respect, physical fitness, body awareness and camaraderie in a fun and safe atmosphere. Developing the mind and body together utilizing the benefits of Taekwon-do are imperative when combating the verbal and physical assaults of a bully.
Benefits of Taekwon-do against Bullying
So you want a black belt? That's awesome! I know, it's scary to be physically awkward in front of a group of strangers, but whatever your reasons may be, self-defence, flexibility, physical fitness, competition or family fun, I can assure you that the road will be difficult yet extremely rewarding.
So why start? The answers can be quite personal. Like most of us, selecting any martial art can be challenging because our knowledge base is what we see in movies, TV and social media. Some people see the intense physical fitness as a way to lose weight and become faster, stronger and more flexible. Others see a black belt as a personal achievement while families see it as an activity they can do together. These are all great reasons to join a martial art.
So which one is the best? When people ask me that question, I simply reply "...all of them". This is true. Whether it be Karate, Ju-jitsu, Boxing, Kung-fu or Taekwon-do, I would suggest that ALL martial arts are extremely beneficial for personal growth and wellbeing. But I would suggest that choosing a martial art school boils down to THREE factors:
1. Personal and physical goals.
2. Instructors Legitimacy.
3. Student/Instructor relationship.
So now that you have determined what it is you are looking to achieve within a martial art, the important question now is which instructor/school? You see how I put instructor in front of school? The instructor is a clear representation of how the school will run therefore a deciding factor.
As an instructor of 24 years, I all too often see wannabe instructors who lack experience, technique and maturity as the caregivers of students. They are more concerned with rank and making money than spreading true knowledge that is helpful to their students. White belts don't truly know what a black belt is or should be, they only have a vague understanding based on various media. It's a shame that anyone (and I mean ANYONE, trust me I've seen it) can purchase a black belt, falsify a black belt instructor certificate, tailor a fancy uniform, secure a community centre and be responsible for the growth and safety of children. Unfortunately this happens more so than not. So how can you find out if an instructor is legitimate or not? Here are a few simple questions to ask:
1. Do you have liability insurance? If yes, can I get proof please. If no, leave.
2. What federation/organization are you affiliated with and how can I verify your rank?
3. Who is your instructor and/or mentors and how can I contact them?
4. Would you be against a criminal background check? If yes, run.
If the instructor takes offence to any of the above questions then perhaps this is where the 'red flags' will start to flutter. A good instructor will be more than happy to accommodate appropriate information to prospective students.
If you have selected Taekwon-do as your martial art then you will start as a white belt. The definition of white belt is 'Innocence, as that of someone who has no previous knowledge of Taekwon-do'. So as a beginner you are putting 100% trust in your instructors ability to educate you safely and truthfully. Within our Taekwon-do Federation (I.T.F. International Taekwon-do Federation) we believe that the instructor will adhere to a strict code of conduct. It is just as important, if not more so, that the instructor be held accountable for his/her actions for the wellbeing of the students. I would suggest that success in any martial art will be imminent only if a mutual respect is practiced between student and instructor in a fun and safe environment. Instructors should be approachable, empathetic, unbiased, polite, sincere and above all respectful as he/she is setting the example for others.
Thanks for reading!
Mr. Robert Scott, VI Dan