The Heart of Man: Taekwondo and Respecting the Art
Last night, I couldn’t sleep. My taekwondo instructor had asked earlier in the day if I could help him teach at a secondary school he had recently opened. A colleague whom he had also met last year — I will call him DD — had unfortunately not worked out, and my instructor needed me and his other black belts to assist with teaching duties until he had worked matters out. Today was to be the first day that my instructor was assessing the situation in person and speaking to the students as they arrived.
For the last three weeks since being told of these changes, a strange, nagging sensation had filled my chest and left me on edge in my daily life. I was irritable and crying on a near-daily basis, and it was also throwing off my full-time job performance. Something was wrong. I didn’t want to be a part of this situation. Something bad was going to happen; I just didn’t know what.
Nevertheless, my instructor had prepared us, his black belts. He had held an instructor seminar and informed us of basic business protocol. He did his best to prepare us for the worst — though none of us knew just what the “worst” was yet.
After three fitful hours of sleep, I arrived at my job this morning and let my instructor know via text that I would do my best to help him this afternoon, but the short notice might not be wise for my job. He texted that he understood. The day passed, and I managed to let my emotions settle while I plowed through my tasklist.
At 4:00 pm, I glanced at the computer’s clock. Classes would have started. my instructor was probably explaining the situation now.
At about 6:30, my phone buzzed. I knew it was my instructor, and I tapped out the password on my text app and waited for his message to load. What I read made the world fade into momentary silence.
I knew he was planning to sabotage something. Not a single student showed up. We’re going to have to restart from scratch.
All the nervousness, the irritation, the fear from the last three weeks all burst and dropped ice cold into the pit of my stomach. The sad thing was, I knew DD had had something planned. I even knew that he had that planned. It still didn’t soften the blow.
I left work and, for some reason, drove straight to the main school, though I did not have my dobok (martial arts uniform), and my instructor was still at the secondary location.
During my drive, I ran the mortification of the day through my mind. I was numb, yet also sick with shock on how a martial artist, let alone another human being, could be so underhanded. I can’t pretend to know all of the details of their business relationship, but what I did know was that I had trained and screamed and cried and laughed and danced at my instructor Martial Arts for seven years. And I certainly never felt like I hadn’t received my money’s worth.
Had he made mistakes? Absolutely. He is human, just like everyone else in the flippin world. There may at times have been cultural differences (he is originally from Nigeria), but the one thing he has never done is not seen the potential of a martial artist in everyone who has come through this school.
The longer I drove, the more my sadness morphed into soft rage. Rage at a man who might have sat down with innocent parents and fed them potential lies and empty promises, enough to make them up and abandon their school without a single thought. The saddest part of it all is that only one, maybe two of the entire school set will achieve their black belts. Statistics towards achieving and keeping this honor is so low — and now, this instability has either led parents to follow a man who willingly skipped his own classes to film a “big-time movie” (his words just before I arrived to teach his classes about a month ago), or has kept them from wanting to continue training at all.
I wished more than anything this could have been avoided. If only my instructor and DD had been able to talk things out; maybe there had just been some misunderstanding. But the time for “if only” was far gone — much too far gone to salvage at this time.
At the main location, the adult class was soon to start, and I met briefly with a fresh black belt who was also acting as the instructor for the night. Gently, I filled him in on my instructor’s text. Like me, he was hardly surprised at the results, but he was definitely disappointed.
When class began, I sat on the sidelines and smiled at the adults as they warmed up and sparred lightly with each other. A tall, impressive orange belt swung kicks at one of the senior students, while a red-and-white belt cheered him on. I scanned for the openings in kicks, defense, combos and countermoves, soothed in that silly competitive way that, though I physically probably couldn’t match them, I could certain surprise them.
Soon, enough, I had to leave, and the black belt called the class to stop fighting and bow me out. “Thank you, ma’am,” they called; embarrassed, I waved goofily with both hands and ran out to my car.
When I arrived home, I ended up not working, though I know that will set me behind at my job tomorrow. I was too mad, too hurt, too sick by what happened today. I realized that I wanted to tell someone, everyone as much as I could about this situation, as soon as possible.
Then, I remembered my blog. And I realized I had a chance to share.
Through taekwondo — in particular, my instructor’s school — I have learned life lessons that no one else had cared enough to provide me. I learned how far I could push myself — and I also found my limits. I learned how not to sell myself short, that I was worth more than the faith I or, I’m sad to say, even my loved ones ever put in me.
As silly as it sounds, taekwondo gave me the voice to pursue little things that — as a hypersensitive, depressed introvert with some mild social troubles — the strength to start this blog, start my own business, and buy a house.
As for the man who did this to my instructor, I’m sad to say I did not know him very well. I cannot imagine what ultimately soured the relationship between them; I can only speculate. I hope that the students — wherever DD has taken them — will continue to receive a quality martial arts education. Still, I have to wonder how many more schools will they be shuffled to. From my own research online, DD has crossed through at least three different schools in the last five years. His secretary, who was also a sub-instructor and called meeting DD “a gift from God,” vanished about five months after the school opened.
I’m not out to write slander or to bully. But I want to bring more awareness to martial arts, what it should be, and unfortunately, what it’s becoming when you forget about the philosophy at its core. my instructor has always state that taekwondo saved his life. It gave him the chance to rise out of poverty, to travel the world, to become an American citizen, and to share his love and testament internationally.
In a place where martial arts is seen not as a livelihood, but as a luxury, it can be so easy in America to train for four years, pay the required amount of money for the black belt, and then quit. The belt is placed like a diploma on the wall. It becomes an excellent conversation piece for a dinner party or that client you’re trying to impress.
However, if someone finds the right teacher and the right school, you will gain a peace and a knowledge that you have never felt, a confidence in your abilities, and an exciting flutter in your chest. And you will want to maintain that feeling for as long as possible.
As a plea to all current and future martial artists out there, please: know your instructor and the quality that he/she provides for you and your family. Know their skills and their character and their goals and their hearts. They won’t have to tell you with words. You will see it and feel it deep within your soul soon enough.