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