When I start a new class of students, I like to create an atmosphere of trust between everyone.
One exercise to accomplish this is for each person to share something about themselves in a couple of sentences that may not be common knowledge. I explain that I’m not requiring them to divulge some deeply held personal secret, but rather, something that the people they work with may be surprised to learn.
As always, I model the desired outcome. I tell them, “When I was in my late 20s, I took Taekwondo for several years and ended my studies half a step away from earning a brown belt.”
You, my readers, get to hear the rest of the story.
My first instructor was a former American soldier, an Army Drill Sergeant, who had fought in the Korean War. That would have put him in his early 50s for my class. He had learned Taekwondo while in Korea which is where the art originated.
Tae means to destroy with the feet. Kwon means to smash with the hand. Do means path.
My instructor was intense. When I walked into that initial class, I felt like a new recruit on the first day of basic training. He lined us up against a wall and had us slide down to sit erect against it while he towered over us.
Moving down the line he pointed to each of us in turn. We were to give our name and a brief reason for taking his class.
Most of the guys gave some type of “learn how to fight” response. The few women had the same general response of “learn to protect myself.”
“You’ll learn all that,” he said. “But the thing I want you to always remember is this: I hope you never have to use what I’ll teach you. The most successful fight is the one you don’t have. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid people and situations that are unsafe.”
He was seriously tough on us. And this wasn’t some class taught in an official dojo; it was sponsored by Parks and Rec at a community center! But it changed my life.
My self-esteem refreshed itself and I was able to remove myself from a relationship that was mentally killing me. I became more poised and confident and found the courage to speak up for myself.
Some of the fighting lessons I learned can be applied to other aspects of my life. “Don’t hit hard enough just to make contact; aim for the space BEHIND your opponent” reminds me to consider how must farther I can reach in a project instead of doing just enough.
When a man has grabbed a woman and is holding her from behind, she is not helpless. There are various responses such as throwing back her head to smash his face or kicking the side of his knee to break it. The life lesson here is even when the situation seems hopeless, there is something we can do.
You’ve seen shows where the police arrive at a house and they pound on the door and scream, “Open up!” The purpose is to unsettle or startle or intimidate the bad guys. It’s the same idea why most martial arts have the participant uttering a short yell or shout while attacking the opponent.
So my instructor’s directive, “Crying or whimpering won’t help you. Make a lot of noise!” had the same meaning behind it. That still resonates with me. I believe we each have some personal noise to make…a story to tell, a lesson to pass along.
Hmmm…maybe I should have titled this post, “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Taekwondo.”
To my readers: What specific class have you taken that has had a major impact on your life?