By Mitchell J. Randall
Taekwondo is a challenging but valuable Korean martial art that can help those who learn it in a variety of ways.
Those who study taekwondo do not only learn how to fight. They also build confidence through acquiring skills. The art helps with discipline, focus, and respect toward others.
Taekwondo skill levels are ranked by colors. Beginners start with a white belt, and then can earn yellow stripe and yellow belt. This is followed by green stripe and green belt. Those who progress earn blue stripe and blue belt, and then red stripe and red belt.
The black ranks are the hardest to obtain, with black stripe, double black stripe, triple black stripe, and black belt, the final one being the ultimate skill level.
My mentor, Grandmaster Kong, is the highest-ranked master at Young Brothers Taekwondo. He is a 1974 World Champion and a 2007 Taekwondo Hall of Fame inductee. He is also one of the most disciplined guys I have ever met. After 2 years in his program, I have progressed to the triple black stripe.
Grandmaster Kong’s skills are very impressive. He can kick through eight wooden boards at once. He treats his students very kindly if they exhibit focus, respect, and confidence. Without confidence, a participant will not succeed in taekwondo. You need confidence to perform correctly, especially when kicking.
Master Yi is another instructor at Young Brothers. He is also excellently skilled and is a great teacher, largely because of his great personality.
Sadly, the Young Brothers family recently lost its 3rd highest ranking instructor, Master Cohen. He was a very skilled guy with a unique sense of humor. He was really good with some of the younger kids and was the person to give me my first stripe. The entire organization misses him daily.
These instructors work hard to help students obtain higher ranks. All are working toward a black belt, but that is not the finish line for taekwondo. In fact, some consider it to be the start point in training. Those who receive a black belt must know all of the patters of the Chonji through choong-moo. They need to be able to break boards and be excellent at sparring. Earning a black belt is rare, so testing only occurs every six months.
Students take tests for every rank. To earn a higher rank, you need to know something called a “form” or “pattern.” These are combinations of fighting techniques and moves that get harder with every belt. Each belt requires learning at least one pattern and patters are harder as you earn higher ranks. Most patterns repeat moves in different directions.
I’ve learned three patterns: Toi-gye, Hwa-Rang, and Choong-Moo. Each comes with a certificate, signifying the accomplishment. During testing, students have to do board kicking, which is one of the more challenging skills. It gets harder as you move up the ranks.
The best part of taekwondo is sparring, which allows students to test their skills against other students. Enjoying sparring does not mean that one enjoys fighting. Fighting in real life is a last resort, but it is very fun to use skills on a person who can fight back with equal respect.
Respect is shown at the beginning of every class or test. Students bow to the flags and to Grandmaster Kong’s office, if he is present. Then we say the student oath. When practicing, students always say “yes sir” or “yes ma’am.” It is another way of showing respect. We also never cross our arms in front of a master and always stand with good posture.
When we bow, we bend the whole way down with our arms on the sides of our legs and say “Tae-kwon”! As Grandmaster Kong once said, “You don’t bow because someone is better than you, you bow because you are being humble.”
Taekwondo isn’t about taking down your enemy, It isn’t about being able to punch someone in the face. It is about preparing yourself for the hard world out there, and about being respectful to your family, friends, teachers, and peers.