A lot of girls under age eight would probably not see two hours of self-defense training as a fun way to pass the time, but seven-year-old Jaimyn Robinson disagrees. “I like learning new techniques.” she says with a toothy grin. “I also like the part where we run around the room, do pushups and sit ups.”
Jaimyn sees her sport, Taekwondo, as a lifetime sport you can start as a child and enjoy the rewards of as an adult.
Tonight, Jaimyn and her classmates are refining techniques to prepare for the upcoming belt-advancement testing. The classroom they train in is rectangular, with an occupancy load of 132. Folding chairs for spectators sat in the corner opposite punching bags and a closet of sparring equipment. Hanging on the opposite wall facing these was a row of mirrors to let the students see how they were performing their techniques.
Class would begin as soon as the students had run their necessary laps around the spacious parking lot and observed the customary courtesies: bow to the flags and bow to the instructor. No matter how anxious they might be to begin, Taekwondo students at the TKO School of Martial Arts start every class this way to remind themselves that only half of the art is physical.
The term Taekwondo (TAE) used to convey the image of two fighters in white uniforms facing one another with nothing but skill and weeks of training to back them up. Today, most people know Taekwondo as that mysterious thing advertised outside a lot of community centers. Taekwondo is the traditional form of Korean martial arts involving the hands, feet, knees and elbows as weapons. The hand-to-hand combat techniques of TAE differ from other martial arts in their special emphasis on using the feet for both technique and maneuverability.
Watching Jaimyn and her brothers Tom and Ryan sprint around the room and drop to the floor for pushups immediately highlighted the health benefits of TAE.
“It’s really helped me physically,” says Joseph Berg, a 17-year-old red belt in Jaimyn’s class who had been practicing since age 14. “When I started doing it, I could only go up to about 15 pushups. Now my number is 60.”
Few people recognize the mental growth that can come from learning proper punching and kicking form. The only way to improve in class is to keep work at it, as the class instructor Don Hagedorn continuously reminds the students. In his class, he constantly encourages students to “fight forward,” since no one “will get anywhere in life by backing up.”
Ryan, Jaimyn, and Tom stood in their deep stances, punching in tune with Master Hagedorn’s command. When a fist was misaligned, he’d correct it. When a stance was sloppy, he’d correct it. Not a single kid protested about the instructor’s methods or his corrections, since the three of them knew that he could help them get better. After a while, Jaimyn’s punches were distinguishable from the random swinging most students her age do, and rather resembled those of the higher-ranking belts.
According to Master Hagedorn, “if you really believe in them and love them, you’ll push them into an unfamiliar place. Their body might hurt for a bit, but it will make them a better person.” By making these practices a regular habit, they’re reinforcing in their minds that if they want success in their pursuits, they must pursue it.
In the words of Christopher Berg, a green belt in the class, “it’s doing things like that, that I didn’t think I could do before, that help me break through the wall to let me do whatever I thought I couldn’t do. And I’ve broken through a lot of walls.”
Nigel Hemmings is a student at Pacific Lutheran University.
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