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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Less is More, I Hope

The taekwondo instructor at the Academy is on a mission.

Only last year, he seemed a quite traditional-minded martial arts instructor, mixing elements of kali and tai chi into his taekwondo classes, solemnly preaching the tenets all taekwondoists know by heart: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit. Not that he no longer does these things, mind you, but he seems to have undergone some kind of transformation. He is no longer a mere instructor.

Now he is a coach. A fully qualified USA Taekwondo coach.

He and another one of our staff members are on a full-time crusade to turn the school into one of the top centers of competitive youth taekwondo in the Midwest, if not the country. Oh sure, he's taken our students to tournaments before, as far north as Green Bay and as far south as the northernmost suburbs of Chicago, but he's got a core of students now for whom there are much bigger plans. There have been conversations recently about Oregon and Oklahoma.

It's an admirable mission. Besides bringing more attention and possibly more funding to the school, he's providing an opportunity for serious competitive sport to a school that has offered almost none to its student body to this point. It's particularly great for his more serious and talented taekwondo students, who might now get a shot at exposure to world-class taekwondo on a pretty regular basis. All good news, right?

Good news for everyone except me. I'm a 28-year-old yellow belt with very little interest in trophies and even less talent for competitive athletics. There is no longer room for me in after school classes, and Saturday mornings, which used to be devoted entirely to the hour-and-a-half-long adult class, now play host to a one-hour adult class (even that partially populated by teenage students) and a one-hour kids' class. My opportunities for training in taekwondo are becoming much slimmer, and I must confess to a little bit of self-pity and jealousy.

But Matt, you ask, isn't your instructor's primary duty to the students? Isn't his instruction for adult staff members a free goodwill service that you have no right to take for granted? Hasn't your attendance at the adult taekwondo classes been sporadic even at the best of times? Haven't you even suggested on this very blog that aikido is your first choice as a martial art and your future in taekwondo is limited? Shouldn't you just be happy for your students and proud of your instructor's efforts on behalf of the school?

Well, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Touché. So I'm being petty, irrational, and childish. Thanks for reminding me.

I suppose next you're going to tell me that the solution to all this is to just shut up and train whenever I can. Well, I have news for you, you condescending, judgmental reader. You can't tell me what to do. I make my own decisions, and I decide... to shut up and train whenever I can.

It's true: I don't really have any business harboring indignation about playing second fiddle to a group of younger, more talented, more devoted students whom my instructor actually gets paid to instruct. I guess that doesn't make it all better, but it does make my course of action pretty clear, especially in light of the tenets of taekwondo.

The second tenet of taekwondo is usually known in English as "integrity", but it carries an additional connotation in Korean. I've read some older books that translate it as "humility". If humility, then, is an essential element of taekwondo, then swallowing my pride, taking my one-hour class, and accepting that I'm not anywhere near the top of the priority list makes me a better taekwondoist, right?

I said, right?


  1. Hi Matt,

    I found your blog link while I was lurking today. I'm from the Milwaukee area as well so I had to check it out. It's been a great read so far.

    I've been in a similar situation as far as the dynamic of the academy changing to suit a specific target group of students.

    While you're entirely right that the instructor's primary responsibility is to the students, I think you may have overlooked that the student's primary responsibility is to learn, and it seems as though the situation you're describing is making it difficult - if not impossible - for you to do so successfully. Every academy, just like every student, has different ideals and goals in mind, and if they don't match up, ultimately neither student nor instructor gets maximum benefit.

    "If humility, then, is an essential element of taekwondo, then swallowing my pride, taking my one-hour class, and accepting that I'm not anywhere near the top of the priority list makes me a better taekwondoist, right?"
    It makes you a more tolerant and patient one, certainly, but only more dedicated practice will actually make you a better taekwondoist, though it seems you already know this.

    Best of luck and good training!

  2. Chris,

    Thanks so much for your comment. You're right that the situation is not ideal, but the only way to create a better situation for taekwondo right now would be at the expense of my aikido time, and I'm definitely not prepared to make that sacrifice. This is the essence of the fence riding problem I describe in the "Lucy and Sally" entry.

    Thanks again,