Tae Kwon-Do: Family Kicks

by local writer and Charlottesville mom Beverly Rakes

Karate Kid or Ninja Warrior?
Six years ago, my son Jack asked a simple question. “Can I take Tae Kwon-Do?” At the time I was more than skeptical. In my mind I imagined a blur of black clad arms and legs tumbling and twirling through the air as my first born suddenly transformed into a deadly ninja child bent on tormenting his younger sister.

“I don’t think so, ” I said. He looked at me with the puppy eyes that all kids are born knowing how to make. I was seven months pregnant, cranky, and willing to say whatever was necessary to avoid a stress event. “Well, maybe we can just check it out,” I said aloud. To myself I was still saying, “I don’t think so!”

I knew many people believed martial arts to be a positive influence (I had seen the Karate Kid after all.) I knew it was supposed to be good for self-discipline and self-confidence, but Jack already had plenty of both. Why did he need to take a martial art? The word “martial” bothered me. It suggested aggression and fighting, two things I was trying hard to discourage. I thought if I let enough time pass, he’d forget he ever asked about Tae Kwon-Do.

He didn’t forget. In fact, a month later he was still begging to take Tae Kwon-Do. My husband and I talked it over and decided it couldn’t hurt just to check into it. I called a few places in the phone book, but then a friend recommended the International Black Belt Center of Virginia (IBBCV). Her son had been taking Tae Kwon-Do there for nearly two years. “Visit the school,” she told me, ”The Hamricks are very nice.” I called the school and arranged for Jack to take a trial lesson.

I watched the entire class. Jack caught on easily, and seemed to be having fun, looking over to where I sat every few minutes as if to say, “See Mom, this is not bad.” Then as the class was about to end, the instructor called all of the students into a circle. The children answered, “Yes, Kyosah-nim (‘our instructor’ in Korean).“ “What’s the first tenet of tae kwon-do?” he asked. A few hands shot up into the air. Jack glanced in my direction, hoping I think, for some telepathic answer from me. “Well?” the instructor demanded. “Courtesy!!” the kids shouted. “And what does courtesy mean? “ he continued. “Be polite” the kids answered in unison. “And how do you show courtesy?” he prompted once more. “Say thank you to mom!” the kids yelled.

I decided a few lessons wouldn’t hurt.

The Five Tenets Of Tae Kwon-Do
A few lessons turned into a few more and before I knew it a year had passed. All the while I had been watching classes and listening to the philosophy of Tae Kwon-Do. The Hamricks spoke often of the five tenets of Tae Kwon-Do: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable will. They spoke of humility, compassion, and of self-defense without physical contact. They places special emphasis on the importance of family. I learned that nonaggression is a major theme of Tae Kwon-Do and martial arts in general. As your body gets stronger and you learn to defend yourself, you gain the self-confidence that enables you to solve conflicts without physical contact. Kyosah-nim James and Virginia teach their students that the first and best self-defense is to leave the scene of the conflict, which is the same lesson that my husband and I have been teaching our kids all their lives.

Tae Kwon-Do Catches On
I was thrilled when my oldest daughter, Kelsey, asked to take Tae Kwon-Do. Like her brother she was eager to learn and to share what she had learned. When they saw a movie or television show that had martial arts in it, both children would try the moves before the show even ended. They often critiqued the actor’s techniques, “His hands weren’t tight…He’s looking down instead of at his opponent…I can kick higher than that!” Many parents ran errands while their children took class, but I found myself staying to watch. I wanted to try Tae Kwon-Do too, but I wasn’t as brave as my kids. In the end, I talked a friend into signing up with me. After the first class I was exhausted, but I knew Tae Kwon-Do was going to be an important part of my life.

Kyosah-nim James and Virginia often tell their students to go home and practice what they have learned. One night after class I decided I would go over the techniques I had been shown. I went into the living room, shoved the couch out of the way and tried to remember the lessons I had learned. The first few moves came easily, then I couldn’t remember any more. Was there a step here or was that just a punch? Was I supposed to turn to the left or to the right? I tried to start again. The more I tried, the more confused I was. I heard a few giggles behind me. I turned around to find Jack and Kelsey leaning against the wall with looks of complete amusement on their faces.

“What are you doing?” Kelsey asked. I tried to think of a snappy response. Vacuuming under the couch sounded plausible…maybe they wouldn’t notice that there was no vacuum cleaner in the room. They giggled again. “Well, don’t just stand there,” I finally said to them. “Help me.” For the next hour, they became the teachers and I became the student.

The learning continues.
My youngest daughter, Lauren, has joined the fun too. Every Friday night we all have the opportunity to train together in the ”family” class, with other families like our own, whose members have discovered the benefits of Tae Kwon-Do. We practice family forms (choreographed sequences of blocks and attacks), learn techniques that we can work into a family demonstration and sometimes even try our luck at breaking boards. It’s an hour where we can be creative, work together, learn to rely on one another, and have a lot of fun.

One of the things I have always liked about the IBBCV is that it does not emphasize competition. Of course, kids have a mind of their own. I was helping out in my youngest daughter’s word study class one morning when I overheard her talking about Tae Kwon-Do with one of her little friends.

“I take Tae Kwon-Do now,” Lauren said.
“I’ve been taking it for years,” her buddy answered.
“My mom takes it too.”
“My dad ‘s taken it since he was little,” her friend said.
“My mom has a black belt,” Lauren said a little louder. “And she teaches at the school. “
“My dad is tenth degree black belt and he’s the boss of the whole school.” Her buddy smiled, waiting for her next comment.
I could see my daughter racking her brain for some way to top him. I decided to end it before someone got upset.

“You know guys, Tae Kwon-Do is not about competition. It’s about self-improvement. Isn’t it great,” I said to them, “That so many people take Tae Kwon-Do. It’s like we all belong to one big happy family.” They looked at each other but didn’t say anything else.

Then as I walked away I heard my daughter whisper, “My mom ate a bug once by mistake.” “Cool!” her friend said. ‘What kind of bug?” (There’s no competing with that!)

The White Belt That Never Quit
When people find out you are training in a martial art, they inevitably ask about belts. As a proud parent and relatively new black belt, I tell them that my son Jack was recently promoted to blue belt and now trains in the adult classes. I add that my oldest daughter Kelsey has moved up to second green belt, and that Lauren loves being a white belt. I can honestly say, however, that belt color has never played a big part in our decision to continue training in Tae Kwon-Do. Children in our system test only once a year. (Adults usually test every six months or so.) This way training becomes more about technique than belt color. For me, Tae Kwon-Do is about gaining knowledge. Every difficult technique that is finally mastered, every rank test that is passed, every board that is broken has taught a valuable lesson. There’s a saying in our school: “A Black Belt is just a White Belt that never quit.”

As parents, we make decisions every day that affect and shape our children. Often we can’t be sure if these decisions are right or not. I watch Lauren join the circle that marks the end of her latest class. The instructor reminds the children to stand at attention to show respect for the instructor and the school. As soon as the wiggling stops, he looks around the circle. What is he first tenet of Tae Kwon-Do?” he asks. My youngest daughter grins as she shouts, “Courtesy!” with the rest of the children. “And how do you show courtesy?” he asks. “Be polite,” they all answer at once. “And who do you show courtesy to? My daughter looks my way, still grinning.” I hear her voice above the rest. “Mom,” she shouts.

Sometimes we make exactly the right decision.

Beverly Rakes is a local mom, freelance writer, and tae-kwon-do enthusiast.

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