The student stepped up to the board holder, took his measure, drew a breath and threw his kick. It was too high, the board didn’t break.
He looked at the Master, the Master nodded to him to have a second attempt. He shifted his feet and measured again, slowly, taking his time with his foot on the target. He rotated back around to his starting position and eyed the board on the stand, a look of deep concentration on his face. He took a few breaths, much slower this time, as he mentally prepared for the break.
You could have heard a pin drop in the room, and as I looked around at the faces of the people watching, I knew that just like me, every one of them was willing him to succeed. The tension was almost palpable. Some of the people there were his friends, his training partners, his instructors, but others were complete strangers to him, the friends and relatives of others who had come to grade, instructors from other schools and their students, but that didn’t matter, their feeling was one and the same. The room held its breath.
He threw his kick again, this time it was spot on and it broke with ease. The room exhaled, an almost imperceptible sigh. He would pass his grading.
That’s what I love about my Taekwon-do journey, my fellow travellers.
As a child we bounce from thing to thing,
guided by sudden whims
But somewhere along the way it changes,
we no longer take chances
No longer care less what people see,
No longer believe,
in our dreams.
Instead we watch others, try to fit in,
to build comfort zones like invisible walls.
Our dreams become grey.
Insidious acceptance of the status quo
because now for sure we know,
that dreams are impossible.
Meanwhile our lives tick away,
“I wish I had….” ‘Why didn’t I…” the voice calls
because in here it’s comfortable
“And anyway, it’s too late….”
so the child retreats inside,
under a cloak of adulthood, grown-up-ness, excuses.
Is it too big a step to take?
To let the child throw off the cloak, step outside,
The comfort zone is like a comfy chair,
it’ll still be there,
have its uses
when you tire, but you’ll never know what’s outside
if you don’t at least say you tried.
Grandparents can play a great part in the lives of their grandchildren, and lots of our Taekwon-do kids over the years have been hugely supported by their grandparents.
Parents are often busy working, or have other children to take to activities, so they may only have time to drop their children off at classes, whilst Grandparents, who are often retired, have more time to sit and watch.
Parents don’t always have the time to take their children to events such as competitions and seminars, so some Grandparents take that role on for them too.
Grandparents take responsibility for getting their grandchildren to Taekwon-do classes and events for many reasons. Some do it because they are their grandchild’s legal guardian, others to help out their own children and to be involved with the family, yet others do it because they love watching classes. Some grandparents have told me that they wish they’d had the opportunity to do a martial art themselves when they were younger, while others have been involved in sports coaching themselves and have seen the benefits kids get from it. Many grandparents also enjoy the social side that comes with their involvement.
There are other ways I've been told some of our TKD grandparents get involved, like asking their grandchild to show them what they’ve learned when, helping them practice, helping them learn their theory before a grading, even asking the child to teach them what they’ve learned and practising it with them! Whichever way grandparents get involved, they all do it for the benefit of their grandchildren.
Here’s to all the TKD grandparents, past, present and future. You’re doing an amazing job!
I have in the past taught at after-school classes in primary schools and other taster sessions in schools. I’m also a teacher in 6th form education and previously in secondary schools.
It’s very challenging working with a class of 6 to 8 year old beginners. You have to be constantly on the ball, using your voice, keeping a close eye on them, varying the activities, and even then, there will always be one or two kids who act up. On the whole, kids that age don’t have self-discipline, they can’t be left to get on with something without close supervision. An instructor can spend more time managing behaviour than teaching. Consequently, progress can be slow.
However, put that same 7 year old in an established class of mixed age kids, teenagers & adults and something entirely different happens.
How does a 7 year old learn respect, discipline, how to conduct themselves in the class? Not by watching or listening to the instructor, but by watching the 10 year olds. The 10 year olds are the role models for the 6 and 7 year olds. Little ones coming into a class where the 10 year olds are respectful, focused, motivated, well behaved, helpful, self-disciplined and all things positive, very quickly model themselves on the behaviour of these older kids. [See Daily Telegraph article]
But how did we get the 10 year olds to be like that? They modelled themselves on the behaviour of the teenagers, that’s who they aspire to be like, not the adults or instructors but the teens. Hence when you’ve got a class of teenagers who are superb role models you just stand back and watch the younger ones copy them.
Now here’s the tricky bit, getting teenagers to behave well… or is it? Teenagers get a bad press, who do they emulate? Older peers, the young adults and other teenagers, who have worked their way through the school and no longer need to follow the behaviour of others, they are motivated, self-disciplined, and excellent role models.
Some people may wonder if teenagers would want to be in a class of little kids, and here the balance has to be just right. One or two teenagers in amongst twenty 6 to 9 year olds wouldn’t work. Too many younger children and they start to set the culture. I believe a ‘top-heavy’ age weighting amongst the kids is preferable.
What a confidence boost for a shy 8 year old to be able to teach a new move or pattern to a 10 year old beginner or even an adult. It gives them a sense of responsibility and achievement, makes them think about what they are doing too. It gives them a different outlook on life, it’s not always adults that know everything and do all the teaching. You don’t always have to be taught by someone older.
So there it is. And that, in my opinion is why schools fail – and they do fail, nearly all of them fail to make the children’s educational experience happy and to develop their social skill of the kids who need it most.
Having adults training in a mixed age class helps teenagers see that they aren’t being treated as kids, it can help them stay motivated. However, adults need some adult only class time and space too, to work on their own skills without children around. Some adults may just stick to adult only classes but many are happy to attend the mixed classes as it means they can get the extra training time in, and adults who are parents of junior members usually want to train alongside their child anyway.
This is how life is meant to be, people socialising and learning in mixed age groups, not a completely artificial and unnatural environment provided by schools where kids are packaged by age. Schools should just stop worrying about teaching social skills to kids and do what martial arts clubs do.
It takes a village to raise a child
So, as I reflect on the past 6 months, it has been a whirlwind. In June I arrived at SFX College in Woolton to take the first class of the newly named Liverpool ITF Taekwon-do School. Five eager students were ready and waiting to get kitted out in doboks and start on the official ITF syllabus.
Darren, an ITF England veteran and member of the promotions team, had been making the 6oo mile round trip (!) from Torbay most weekends to kick start the classes with some fitness and fun kicking sessions. Unfortunately in switching from Saturdays to Wednesdays we'd lost a few of the original starters, but nonetheless, five keen 10, 11 and 12 year olds was a great start.
A month or so down the line and we started the Friday classes nearby, and it wasn't long before the original members (now down to 4) were ready to take their first grading. The standard was good, after all they'd had a lot of preparation with Darren, and plenty of one to one attention in our small classes. Over the following weeks, lots of helpful friends dropped in and helped teach at the classes, from blue belts to 4th Dans.
The highpoint of the past 6 months though, was when two of the students, now yellow belts, entered their first competition, the Scottish Open and won Gold and Silver in patterns, and Silver and Bronze in sparring.
Here's to the next 6 months!