As a professional instructor for over 35 years, I’ve had the opportunity to examine my personal approach to Taekwon-Do and see how it fits into my life. It has always been my philosophy not to simply discuss and teach the principles of Taekwon-Do, but apply them to my life on a daily basis. In short, I accepted the responsibility of being a role model to my students. I felt I needed to demonstrate the thoughts and behaviors of Taekwon-Do as well as I demonstrated the kicks and punches.
Martial arts training has always been difficult, strenuous, and challenging to the body and mind. It’s supposed to be that way in order to make it special to the participants. The challenging nature of this type of training fuels self-discovery, which leads to self-knowledge and self-confidence. These are essential elements to consistent high performance. Although Taekwon-Do is viewed as a sport by some, to my way of thinking it falls into the category of art. Its main attraction is not the competition but the emphasis on the development of personal character traits such as courtesy, integrity, perseverance, and self-control. Students, particularly children, gravitate toward the growing feeling of personal power that can’t be seen; but comes from within and affects all areas of their lives, especially social interactions. The physical techniques become a form of personal expression that helps participants see themselves as physically strong, graceful, and capable. The punches, kicks, yells, throws, falls, and jumps also serve to relieve stress in a safe, healthy fashion.
Even though there are probably more adults beginning their training in the martial arts now than at any other time in American martial arts history, the great majority of students are teens and pre-teens. I certainly don’t discourage adults from applying for admission; however, there are some very distinct reasons for the smaller number of adults in the traditional martial arts programs. It seems that some adults are no longer goal oriented and have little interest in earning belts. There may also be an element of fear of failure here because belt promotional testing is a very personal challenge. Teens and certainly pre-teens are inspired by this challenge and look forward to promotional testings. Adults sometimes resist wearing the traditional uniforms subjecting themselves to the subordinations inherent in the martial arts. Again, teens and pre-teens look forward to learning how to tie belts and wear the uniform. They soon learn that by displaying respect for the instructors and their rank, they also learn self-respect. They look forward to gaining the rank, performing the high techniques, and being respected by the junior students for their accomplishments.
The youngest students I accept are 9 years of age. I rarely consider younger children because of the physical and mental demands. I feel that starting very young children (4-7 years old) can contribute to burnout at an early age and sometimes a resistance to continued training. I’ve seen very young students quit and vow never to train again. Even with 8 to 12 year olds, it may be necessary to give them a break from time to time or at the very least, moderate their training requirements so that they remain eager to train and also avoid injuries related to over-training.
Parents can expect to see their children improve their grades at school because martial art students usually develop the ability to focus or concentrate on a task until it’s finished and this translates directly into improved performance at school. Problems related to personality clashes with other students begin to diminish as the student gains self-confidence and no longer feels the need to either bully younger, smaller kids or allow himself or herself to become victims of such actions. It’s a gradual change, nothing happens overnight, even though it appears to happen that way when we look back and see positive growth and change in children.