by Master Doug Cook
September ushers in the cooling days of autumn and, along with it, the first few days of school for many youngsters across America. Subsequently, parents eager for their offspring to resume a structured routine following the dog days of summer frequently look to the martial arts for a solution. Of all the disciplines currently available to the public, taekwondo, the national Korean martial art and Olympic sport defined as “the way of defending with feet and hands”, is considered by many to be the most prevalent. What is it about the art of taekwondo with schools found in strip malls and on street corners all over the nation that elevates it above other martial disciplines in offering a program genuinely capable of nurturing a child’s mind, body and spirit?
|The Ultimate Demonstration of Respect|
Could it be that taekwondo contains empty-hand and foot techniques with proven effectiveness as an authentic means of self-defense? Or is it the philosophical aspects of the art that attract those seeking more than just a simple, physical workout for their children? Or, perhaps it is the fact that in a constellation of many martial disciplines, taekwondo shares the spotlight, along with judo, as being the only two recognized by the International Olympic Committee thus having the exclusive privilege of participating in the Olympic Games. Either way, it is clear that taekwondo has taken its place as the fastest growing, most popular martial art in the world today.
Certainly gymnastics, dance, wrestling and other sports played out on the gaming fields, coupled with a nutritious diet, will satisfy the aerobic and physiological requirements intended to build strong bodies in adolescents. Likewise, series like Odyssey of the Mind and academic clubs, along with similar programs, will clearly stimulate intellectual awareness and mental acuity. Moreover, leadership and life skills involving courtesy and compassion bolstered by self-esteem and confidence can be sparked by membership in various religious and secular groups such as the Boy and Girl Scouts. Yet can any of these worthy pursuits taken in isolation, or in tandem for that matter, truly be expected to instill essential qualities that benefit all aspects of a meaningful life and promising future? For many, the traditional form of taekwondo, if taught sincerely with integrity, will satisfy many of these desirable goals. Yet, how is it possible for a pursuit that superficially resonates with potential physical violence to meet these lofty expectations? And, if they so desire, how does one become involved?
There are many martial arts schools in existence today; most very good, some outstanding and others, as with many ventures aggressively seeking commercial success, of questionable repute. So it is important for a parent to diligently examine the many possible options readily available. This is especially true with something as polemic as the martial arts where tactics clearly brutal in nature must be offset by honorable principles governing their use. Most martial ways or disciplines followed by the suffix “do” – taekwondo, tangsoodo, karate-do, aikido - adhere to this doctrine through the use of a moral code supported by an ethical philosophical foundation. If this model is to prove effective, however, then it is the responsibility of the instructor to present a balanced version of taekwondo when transmitting its virtues on to eager youngsters. Instructors then should be fairly scrutinized by concerned parents before any commitment is made. Similarly, it is wise to determine early on if competition or life enrichment and self-defense skill is a priority. Oddly, for various reasons, martial arts schools in general do not necessarily meet both criteria. If the parent is hoping to have their child develop a greater sense of discipline, self-control, compassion, perseverance and integrity for instance, then a school featuring a traditional taekwondo curriculum would be desirable. Conversely, if sport and physical fitness as a worthwhile pastime is the ultimate objective unhindered by academics, possibly as a replacement for baseball or football, then a martial arts school cultivating athletes rather than authentic martial artists should be considered. These establishments will focus on competitive, tournament preparation, forfeiting many defensive techniques forbidden in the ring due regulatory restrictions. Even though traditional taekwondo and sport taekwondo are considered two sides of the same coin so to speak, it is rare to find a school that treats both components simultaneously with the concentration they deserve.
As indicators of a worthy curriculum, any taekwondo class should commence with a brief period of meditation, allowing youngsters ample time to wind down the mental chatter after a challenging day at school. The practice of meditation fosters a tranquil mind capable of increased awareness and can be applied in all aspects of the student’s life where supreme focus is required. It is a time to express what is referred to as the horse mind, the serious, disciplined state of mind as opposed to the playful, carefree monkey mind. Meditative practice is frequently followed by flexibility exercises and calisthenics in preparation for the rigorous kicking, blocking and striking routines that are unique to taekwondo. These individual techniques represent the vital tools of self-defense and are ultimately strung together into patterns known as poomsae – a series of formalized movements intended to repel imaginary opponents attacking from various directions. Poomsae practice lies at the core of the traditional taekwondo syllabus permitting the student to practice coherent defensive strategies in a safe yet dynamic manner. Training is rounded out with drills aimed at deflecting offending strikes and diffusing an assortment of grabs coupled with light or no-contact sparring where students express free-style proficiency within the confines of traditional technique.
As described, the traditional taekwondo curriculum instills respect, discipline and self-control in adolescents through an appreciation for the implied danger associated with martial arts technique and a pronounced deference towards senior belts, instructors and, by extension, parents and elders. It imbues practical self-defense skill urging students of whatever age to walk life’s path with confidence, heedful of but unhindered by its daily perils. Moreover, from meditation, children learn to cultivate a spiritually tranquil mind in stressful situations. Finally, a familiarity with Asian philosophy and culture in conjunction with a working knowledge with the vocabulary of taekwondo technique in Korean, its native tongue, adds a crucial academic element to physical training.
In short, the practice of traditional taekwondo promotes excellence and a healthy balance between mind, body and spirit – the holistic triad of human experience – in adolescents willing to strive for nobility. For parents with insight seeking to develop courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable will in their children, there is no better vehicle. But the thoughtful parent must be patient and seek wisely; choose a school that is certain to meet your expectations since, once involved, traditional taekwondo is a extraordinary discipline that can last a lifetime.
Master Doug Cook, a 6th dan black belt, is head instructor of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy located in Warwick, New York, a senior student of Grandmaster Richard Chun, and author of four best-selling books entitled: Taekwondo…Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior, Traditional Taekwondo - Core Techniques, History and Philosophy, Taekwondo–A Path to Excellence, and Taekwondo Black Belt Poomsae - Original Koryo and Koryo co-authored with Grandmaster Richard Chun, all published by YMAA Publication Center, Inc. He can be reached for lectures, seminars or questions at www.chosuntkd.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.