A mother recently asked me what I am teaching her son. Well, in the simplest terms, I am teaching him how to kick, punch, block, free spar, and practice traditional movements. I am teaching him how to fight (the martial) and how to respect his body, tradition, and Tae Kwon Do (the art). Our school of Tae Kwon Do is a true martial art in that the fighting that is inherently a part of our contact sport is not the sole focus of our practice. We pursue improvement and self-awareness. We strive to learn how to be better than ourselves. There is no scoreboard or referee pressuring us. We practice an art with the hope that as we uncover its many secrets and layers, we gain insight into our own complex secrets and layers. As we get to know our bodies - our most immediate interaction with the physical world - we develop an understanding and relationship with our bodies, and our selves. Black belt, or any belt, is not a goal, but a step in the process of realizing our potential and becoming the better person that we aspire to be. Does her eight-year old son learn all this? I hope so. Can he articulate it like this? I doubt it. Does he play basketball a little better since he first put on his uniform? His parents think so. Has he learned to face his own adversity with more courage and confidence? We all see that that is so. Does he know how to defend himself? Yes. Does he know how to gain perspective and how to protect his heart? Definitely more than he used to.
I think most importantly, I have seen this young man internalize the desire to improve and be better. His belts are not merely trophies to collect, but personal victories to work for and to use to gauge and self-reflect on his progress.
I hope that I am teaching my students what my teacher has taught me - I must love myself, but only hard work, respect, and focus will help me love myself humbly and deservedly. Thus is the art of Tae Kwon Do.