Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Dear Tae Kwon Do

Dear Tae Kwon Do,

You are a form of martial arts that I knew very little about prior to April of this year.  But in the last three months, you've worked your way into our family, especially to into the heart of my Dear Son.


"Ki-hap!" shouts DS as he throws a punch into the air in front of him, his eyes steady, focused, and as serious as a six-year-old can possibly be.  

DS was invited to a birthday party at a Tae Kwon Do school back in April.  Like most boys who like to imitate martial arts moves and hi-ya his way around the house, he was happy and eager to attend.  At the party, I knew within ten minutes that DS was going to really enjoy this activity and would be interested in taking lessons himself.  We then met with one of the masters of the school and learned about its mission and philosophy.

I came away from the meeting really surprised at how Tae Kwon Do is more than a hobby--it is truly a way of life.  It does not just take place in the dojang (Tae Kwon Do training hall) with one's peers and instructors, but also in the home, at school, and within oneself.  Upon joining the school, students take home a list of Home Rules to abide by, ones that include being respectful to one's parents and siblings, teachers and peers.  One must keep oneself and one's surroundings hygienic and clutter-free.  One must work hard and demonstrate one's integrity.  Students also keep a Reading Log (a minimum of 15 minutes of reading a day) and a Self Discipline Log (for helping out around the house without being asked) and are given a black stripe on their belt each time the log(s) reach(es) ten occurrences.  Furthermore, students, their peers, and their masters/instructors treat each other with the utmost respect: bowing to greet and say goodbye, using two hands to give something to someone, and using "yes, sir" or "yes, ma'am" in all communications.  The master told us that their goal is to help students improve, to be better than before.

"One, sir, two, sir, three, sir, four, sir, five, sir, thank you, sir!" shouts DS as he does his jumping jacks and ends with a super-springy 90-degree bow and back to upright position.

So we signed DS up for six months of lessons to start in May, as a beginner white belt.  Sure, the Reading and Self Discipline Logs are helpful, although it is my personal opinion that children need not be rewarded for things they should be doing anyway, but we dutifully recorded down his accomplishments and watched his belt grow black stripes.  But what really started to grow was DS's intense desire to follow directions and do the right things at lessons.  Let's just say that he had to cross all his Ts and dot all his Is--a beneficial compulsion in this instance.  Inside and outside the dojang, he was two different persons.

"Tae, Kwon, Do" shouts DS as he throws three punches in a row with alternating fists.  

If you knew DS, you'd know that he is quiet, reserved, and observes more than he speaks.  He is often found straggling behind my pantleg so he can hide part of his body or face as I try to get him to say hello to someone.  And when he does say hello, you can barely hear him.  His passive nature has always been a worry of mine, because I can so easily imagine, having seen it with my very own eyes, how his peers could take advantage of his timid personality.  And he won't fight back.  He just carries on, but I don't know what he's feeling inside.

"Courtesy, Tae Kwon, sir!" shouts DS as he moves his fisted arms in uniform positions with the rest of the students to the master or instructor as prompted.  

But in that dojang, DS is loud.  He shouts with a confident, little-manly deep voice you've never heard, ever before, anywhere.  DS is precise.  He throws his punches and kicks as hard and as accurately as he can.  DS is quick.  He runs and dashes and sits and stands as fast as he can when the masters instruct students.  DS is focused.  He is unfazed by the eyes of the spectators on the sidelines all on him--the loudest little voice--somewhat amused by his matter-of-fact movement and speech.  There is no doubt in anyone's mind that this little guy is enjoying his time in the dojang, shouting his responses to the given commands.

"Five, six, seven, eight!" shouts DS as he finishes counting after the instructor's "one, two, three, four" while doing warm-up stretches.  

After three months of lessons, DS had his first testing to be promoted to the next belt.  It was a ceremonious affair.  Children performed their form steps and self-defense steps as a group, and testing ended with a very special event: breaking a board.  On the board, we were to write a bad habit our child would like to "break."  A parent was to hold the board for the child to break.  And break did my DS.  It was quite a proud moment.  The children were all awarded their next belt ranks, and DS got his spankin' new yellow belt.

"Yes, I can! Ki-hap!" shouts DS at the end of each lesson, as cued by a master's "One, two, three."

We are happy with this school's philosophy of improvement, respect, and encouragement.  It is not about the fighting or competition or points.  It is about a clear sense of self.  The self that does without minding what other people think.  The self that reacts quickly and knows how to protect his body.  The self that is as confident as he is self-aware.

I am amazed by DS's accomplishments in this discipline.  I hope that one day that he will be able to use what he learned in that dojang in real life, should he need to, to stand up for himself and not allow someone else to trample over his meekness.  There's a good chance that something will click in his mind and he'll know when to use what he has internalized for self-defense to take care of himself.  I know that because his determination in that dojang is something fierce.


So, Dear Tae Kwon Do, you have been one surprising element in my life this year, and one that will be more and more appreciated as time goes by.  I am comforted by DS's wholehearted embrace of a new practice, and hope that he will benefit from you physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually.  And in the meantime, colorfully, as in yellow.



  1. I loved this post - there is something for everyone. And if tae kwon do helps your relatively quiet son realize his self worth and provides him with an activity he enjoys, then it seems like it must be declared a winner!

    1. Thanks, Nilsa! It has been quite amazing to see DS's two different sides off and on the TKD mats. He has gotten lots of encouraging words from his masters and instructors, which makes him want to work even harder. A bit of self-defense knowledge is always a good thing, too! I wonder if Gavin would ever get into something like this, too, in a few years? :)

  2. This is a great post! I'm happy your son has connected with Tae Kwon Do - I've heard that it really helps some kids. Congrats on his belt advancement!

    My sons have been wanting to do martial arts but I haven't checked into it, mainly because they already have other activities right now.

    1. Thank you, Janna! Martial arts was never on my radar as an activity for DS, probably reason being I don't know much about them, but this was a good find. But to your point, this makes us very busy after school together with other extracurricular activities! And I hear it gets worse! :) Happy back-to-school to your boys!

  3. So interesting that its a way of life and philosophy and not just martial arts. Can they teach my 3 year old to follow directions? Haha. Love that the graduation involved braking a bad habit, literally!!!

    1. I think this is very appealing for parents because the kids really want to do better and improve in all areas of their lives! I thought breaking the board/bad habit was a nice touch--they even told us to choose on that they will very likely succeed at, since this is a first promotion. Thank you, Lisa, for reading and commenting even when you are busy as a mama to a newborn! I hope you are all well, and I appreciate your visits!!

  4. Congratulations to your son and to you.

    I am a new Tae Kwon Do Mama and I enjoy watching not just my children but the others as well. How graceful the kids are.

    I like that program in your Tae Kwon Do. What a way to encourage the children to do well in every aspect of their life.

    1. I enjoy watching the other kids as well--on testing day, some of the blackbelts demonstrated some incredible routines! I am just so glad that we found something that brings out DS's confidence, and self-defense is always a good thing, too. Best wishes with your boys as they master the art of TDK, Imelda!