Thursday, March 8, 2012

How Taekwondo Improved My Physical Fitness

by Mary Sudul, Chosun Black Belt Instructor
appears in TaeKwonDo Times Magazine

When I first walked into the Chosun Taekwondo Academy dojang in February of 2009, I was a typical middle-aged, overweight, sedentary woman with a standard American diet. I had been athletic as a teenager and young adult, but work, children, and home had come to take up all of my time. For a long time I used the usual excuse of “I don’t have TIME to exercise.” I also really didn’t like exercising, it’s such a sweaty thing to do! So I found myself at age 45 living in an unhealthy, unfit body, about 15 pounds overweight. Walking into the dojang turned out to be the best thing I could do for my physical health.

I began slowly, as all white belts do, though I threw myself whole-heartedly into my training. My 6th Dan Master, Doug Cook, offers classes nearly throughout the day and I am able to take advantage of numerous daytime classes while my children are at school. I try to train a minimum of 4 classes per week and frequently train more often than that. Taekwondo became a pursuit that I happily MAKE the time for even though I sweat.
I didn’t want to over-tax myself in the beginning and end up burning out and quitting. So while I did push myself, I tried to be aware of my limitations at all times to avoid too much muscle soreness and injury. One of my main challenges is a lack of flexibility. Though my upper body can be fairly loose, my leg muscles and tendons always seem to be tight. Master Cook begins every class with a comprehensive stretching regime that takes about 20 minutes. I notice a big difference in my flexibility because of this. I will never be able to do a split, but my side kicks are getting higher and higher.
Despite my care, I did suffer a few minor injuries in my early months of training. I clearly remember one Saturday morning class when I was a green belt, I landed awkwardly after a jumping round kick and my knee twisted and buckled under me. I was carried off the floor that day. Luckily, no serious damage was done, but it took more than six months before I felt comfortable trying that kick again.
I feel that the most effective way to improve your fitness in the martial arts is to put 100% into your technique. The tighter you make your fist, the stronger and faster you attempt to perform your strikes and your kicks, the stronger and fitter your muscles become. The more intensity you put into your forms and your sparring, the more aerobically fit your body becomes. The more careful you are to perform your techniques correctly, the more coordinated you become. It is a slow transformation, but one day I noticed that I looked, felt, and performed better than I had since my 20’s. Sometimes I just look at my hand making a fist and notice the definition of the muscles in my hand and lower arm.
As for weight loss, well, I did lose about 10 pounds at the very beginning of my training, but little by little over the next year and a half most of that weight came back. Starting in March of 2011, I cut all grains, dairy, legumes, and sugar from my diet. It’s actually easier than it sounds, and the cravings for these items disappeared after a couple of weeks. I lost 20 more pounds in two months and have kept it off so far, putting me well into the normal weight range for my height. Taekwondo gives me the life discipline to maintain this diet, and I love being able to perform the skills with less stress on my body. This diet and the accompanying weight loss have improved my muscular composition and definition.
There is plenty of room for improvement still, but as I prepare for my black belt test in October 2011 at age 48, I feel like a new woman, a much fitter woman.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Retaining Black Belts

By Master Doug Cook

I am on a mission, responding to a request from Grandmaster Richard Chun, my teacher and mentor, directing me to author a column focusing on the retention of black belt holders within my school. Without being presumptuous, this editorial contribution will likely appeal to school owners in particular. Often, on special occasions when in attendance, Grandmaster Chun has expressed surprise and delight at the number of advanced belts actively training at our institute. He routinely congratulates us on our ability to retain black belt students for many years of all degrees and ages.

Let me first say that the Chosun Taekwondo Academy is not what would be considered by today’s standards, a large school. Yet, we presently host classes for as many as one hundred black belts from 1st to 4th dan, with 70% being adults. Many have been with us for well over a decade. Traveling as I do to various dojangs, I have come to realize that ours is a unique situation. So, how do we do it? That is what Grandmaster Chun asked that I share with the readers of Totally TaeKwonDo online magazine.
When one visits the standard business model currently employed by many schools, retention revolves around annual membership contracts administered, in most cases, by third-party providers. These financially obligatory documents require that the student commit to training anywhere from one to three, and in some cases even more, years. Once signed, the student is compelled to meet the terms of the contract based on pain of a negative credit rating; should a student decide to terminate their training, for whatever reason, and the agreed upon tuition is either not directly deducted from a checking account or charged to a credit card in recurring payments, the matter is quickly transferred to a collection agency.
Clearly, modern society responds well to money as a prime motivator for action. Consequently, the above policy serves a number of purposes. First - in the words of a venerable grandmaster who I’ve spoken with regarding this matter - not executing contracts “helps students quit.” His comment is founded on the premise that if one is forced to make payments whether they participate in the program or not, they will ultimately choose to attend class albeit half-heartedly. Secondly, based on the system of automatic funds transfers, the school owner is assured of a secure, predetermined income. And lastly, since contacts are generally administered by outside billing companies, the school is relatively free of clerical responsibility, at least where tuition payments are concerned.
All of this appears to make good business sense…at least on the surface. Yet, I would argue that many martial artists, particularly adults and parents, consider the implementation of membership contracts onerous at best. Before consciously deciding not to exploit this financial tool years ago, I asked myself: Would a doctor, lawyer, barber or, for that matter, any professional of that type, require their client to sign a long-term contract securing their patronage before rendering services? And how would I as a consumer respond to that cunning sales tactic if they did?
I consider my skills just as beneficial to society as any of those offered by the aforementioned specialists. Why then have I deviated from what appears to be a primary financial tool of the martial arts industry in regards to securing membership, active or not? Answer: Because we have chosen a different path; one grounded in tradition, trust and honor bolstered by an unyieldingly comprehensive and challenging curriculum, ascending through high ranking black belt.
Permit me to point out that I am a devout tae kwon doist. I do not tolerate outside influences that will corrupt our pure-form curriculum. Nor do I support the current trend towards mixed martial arts. When I can truthfully say that I have “mastered” every aspect of traditional tae kwon do, then, and only then, would cross-training become an option. This is not to say that I do not investigate, academically, complimentary martial disciplines and how they relate to tae kwon do. Moreover, I sincerely feel that tae kwon do, if practiced in a traditional sense, contains most everything needed for effective self-defense and spiritual enrichment. This philosophy is reflected in our curriculum and in the culture of our school. Our students, particularly the many adult black belts enrolled, share this vision. Rather than feeling compelled to attend class largely urged on by financial commitment, they enthusiastically attend rooted in a desire to dive into the deep end of tae kwon do, taking advantage of our unlimited classes when convenient, grasping the philosophical principles of the art, and engaging in a complete martial arts program unsullied by flavor-of-the-day influences.
While I understand the necessity for many schools to rely on contractual tools to secure membership, I feel the richness of our curriculum alone is reward enough for the black belt to remain and train vigorously on a consistent basis. Accordingly, our syllabus, like many, is composed of a repeating template of requirements that increase in complexity throughout the various belt and dan levels and is predicated on proficiency in an escalating series of basics, one, two and three-step sparring, self-defense, poomsae, sparring and breaking skills. Likewise, just as color belts are encouraged to test every three months, so too are black belts who earn stripes in recognition of techniques and poomsae learned within the same timeframe; this, in addition to earning dan promotion consistent with Kukkiwon tenure and regulations. Striping of black belts between dan ranks is a crucial and unique aspect of the Chosun offering that has proven eminently effective in maintaining interest and precision of technique. But, here again, a meaningful, authentic curriculum must be in place geared towards the advanced student. Chosun members are also expected to familiarize themselves with Korean terminology and the philosophy associated with their required poomsae, hyung or tul. There is nothing haphazard about our program; every student knows exactly what is expected of them with the path to advancement clearly provided. Requirements are written out to avoid confusion and preserved as password-protected downloads on our web site to be included in a training journal each student is required to maintain throughout their membership.
Furthermore, my instructors and I highlight the self-defense, physical fitness, and self-enrichment components of the art; this is in keeping with tae kwon do as a martial way or a path to enlightenment. In addition, we amplify our practice with meditation and ki (internal energy) development exercises. As an added attraction for the mature black belt, while our school attends several tournaments a year, we do not view the classical martial arts simply as sport and, subsequently, do not focus merely on competition. Instead, we offer technical seminars and defensive courses to students, associated dojangs and civic groups at little or no charge as a community service.
And then there is the intriguing and effective assortment of poomsae or formal exercises we have at our disposal as a central pillar of our practice. As a United States Taekwondo Association affiliate school, we perform the eight Taegeuk and Palgwe set at color belt, supported by the traditional Moo Duk Kwan and required Kukkiwon Yudanja exclusive to black belts. We also practice the Kibon, Pyung-Ahn and Kuk Mu hyung in conjunction with several ITF tuls, although these are not required for promotion.
Retaining black belts, particularly adults, for the long term, without the anchor of burdensome membership contracts as a fundamental retention tool weighing them down, is a balancing act between commitment, motivation and commercial solvency. Yet, if the black belt is presented with an authentic, comprehensive and traditional tae kwon do curriculum free of confusing foreign influences, the task of retention becomes a rewarding challenge that results in a self-imposed desire to make tae kwon do an intrinsic and enduring part of life.

TaeKwonDo Times Magazine Traditions Column by Master Doug Cook March, 2012

Devaluing the Black Belt

Very often I receive inquiries from parents seeking membership for their children who have trained elsewhere in the martial arts. Many come wearing black belts naturally leading me to believe that they have achieved a certain level of proficiency. Some have. Many, however, have not. Moreover, this confounding dilemma is not confined to youngsters. Teens and adults alike frequently request advanced recognition but are sadly and fundamentally lacking in technique. These and other related circumstances yield questions difficult to resolve: should youngsters be awarded the black belt in the first place? If not, then what age is appropriate? Furthermore, are the criteria for promotion to black belt equivalent from one tae kwon do dojang to the next? Are some curricula unfairly demanding? Is the black belt transferable from one martial art to another? And lastly, does the black belt hold the same meaning today as it did in the past?

Let me start out by saying that I am as guilty as any master instructor in giving my students the benefit of the doubt, technically, when testing for black belt. I allow for a certain margin of error in performance which rarely becomes an issue given the mandatory six-month waiting period between bodan or candidate, and 1st dan. Yet, preparation for this supreme accomplishment does not begin at bodan. Strict attention is relentlessly paid to basic technique from white belt on, resulting in a stunningly accurate performance when the moment for the black belt examination arrives. Consequently, whether the practitioner is ten years old or sixty, at a dojang such as ours that demands precision and unquestionable skill, the black belt is earned and not simply given.

Friday, March 2, 2012

TaeKwonDo Times Magazine Traditions Column by Master Doug Cook March 2012

Chosun e-newsletter archive volumn 3 #3 March, 2012

Chosun Taekwondo Academy Celebrating 15 Years!
Chosun Student Essay
March is Women's History Month
Women's Education 
Women's Empowerment

Olga Pico
First Dan Black Belt

As a young girl, I was taught that there were certain things young ladies should not do; among them, martial arts. Although, I was unable to train as a child, I was able to realize my dream through my daughter. As a mother, I believe it is my responsibility to teach my daughters that they can, and should, do anything that is within their ability to reach their potential. I do my utmost to teach them by example and hope that I inspire them to live their dreams. I am heartened to watch the women in our school excell and hope that I too, can be an inspiration for others; not only by my technique, but with the reverence that I approach Taekwondo.
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