I have been teaching a class in Virginia Beach for the past two weeks, and not surprisingly one of my students has a son in Tae Kwon Do. He had a class last Friday, and although with my injured foot I would not be able to participate, I asked if I could visit to watch. During the same conversation another student, Mr. Jones, told us that he was looking for a good Martial Arts school to enroll his daughter in. We all decided to meet at Master Lee’s Tae Kwon Do that evening.
I was truly honoured by the treatment I got when I arrived. As I walked into Master Lee’s Joonbi Tae Kwon Do I did as I would do at my ‘home’ dojang; I walked in, faced the Grand Master, and bowed deeply with respect. When I stood up, he came and introduced himself to me. When I told him who I was, he invited me in, and asked his entire class to shake my hand and introduce themselves to me.
I watched the end of the first class and all of the next. I was extremely impressed by how Master Lee conducted his class; how he guided his students on the right path, and included the parents in the lessons. Of course he did not ask them to come join the class, but when there was a ‘life lesson’ he addressed everyone. When the Junior Belts class was done, he lined the entire class up in front of me and had them ask me questions. With a little bit of prompting from the Master, they asked me a lot of great questions; where I‘m from, what style of Tae Kwon Do I study and what my studies entail. They asked me about the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) and the Kookiwon. They asked me what I needed to do to earn my Black Belt, and how long it took. All of this because, as I would learn from my visits, Master Lee does not only teach Tae Kwon Do… he teaches his students the importance of thinking, and of asking good questions.
At the end of the Senior Belts class Master Lee spoke to my students and I, and reinforced my initial impression that he was truly worthy of the title ‘Grand Master.’ He invited me to come back and visit anytime.
As it happens, that anytime would happen sooner than I’d expected. Tuesday Mr. Jones told us he would be bringing his daughter to audit the class that evening. I have the greatest respect for Mr. Jones not only from the feeling I get from him, but from the stories of his life that he has told us. I respect all of my students, but there is just something about Mr. Jones that impressed me on a different level. I was glad to support him and his daughter… and was looking forward to meeting her.
One of the things that occasionally happens with small Martial Arts schools is that you throw a class and (almost) nobody comes. This was the case for the seven o’clock Adult Class Tuesday evening. Master Lee took the opportunity to speak to the parents about helping our children to learn, to think, and to grow. It was a very interesting discourse! After a few minutes he excused the previous class, and told Ms. Jones that she would have her own personal introductory class. I asked if I could suit up and join in, and Master Lee welcomed me in.
Ms. Jones only came to watch, but got a full hour of Master Lee’s attention. She did not learn poomsaes, she did not learn sparring. For an hour Master Lee, Ms. Jones, and I sat on the mat and she got an introduction to Tae Kwon Do lessons… not with physicality, but with the mind. The first lesson that Master Lee instills in his students (I had seen this in both previous classes that I had watched) is that you honour the Master by answering questions promptly and accurately. You answer with respect, and you answer clearly. As I listened to the conversation between the Master and his new student, I couldn’t help but think how the lessons he was offering were not lessons in Taekwondo… they were lessons in life. After Master Kim explained that it is important to answer him quickly and with respect, he explained that it was equally important to answer her parents in the same way. Mr. Jones was only too happy to help test the reaction.
The main lesson that I heard being instilled by the Master is that Tae Kwon Do is life, and life is Tae Kwon Do. It is not simply a sport, rather it is a way of life. The lessons we learn in the Dojang are not forgotten when we leave class; most schools have mantras or oaths that we recite at the beginning or end of class. At Master Kim’s Oriental Martial Arts College, my home Dojang, we recite the following mantra at the end of every class:
- I shall be Faithful
- I shall be Persistent
- I shall be Cooperative
- I shall be Appreciative
- I shall be Insightful
Additionally, there are the Children’s Five Commandments, which are about respecting parents, siblings, completing homework, and always finishing what we started. All of these oaths are hugely important. It means that we teach the importance of taking the tenets of our art and applying them in our daily lives.
Master Lee’s Joonbi Tae Kwon Do has two oaths on the wall, in big bold lessons under the words SPIRIT OF TAEKWONDO AMERICA. The first is recited at the beginning of every class, and the second at the end of every class:
I will practice Taekwondo with DISCIPLINE, RESPECT and COURTESY for others, LOYALTY to my Instructor and ENTHUSIASM to show my spirit, Sir!
I will have the COURAGE to be RESPONSIBLE for my actions and be an EXAMPLE for all. I will PERSEVERE to be the BEST I CAN BE with HONOR and DIGNITY, Sir!
The words are different from school to school… but the concept is the same. These words are instilled in us because they are what Tae Kwon Do is supposed to be about.
One of the first questions that Master Lee asked his new student was what she wanted to do, and she said that she wanted to become a Black Belt. I thought it was a great answer (so did Master Lee), and reminded me of Grand Master (Hyung Chul) Kim, my own Grand Master. He and his staff of instructors continually remind the students that we strive to pursue and achieve Black Belt Excellence. Absolutely!
Now, when Master Lee asked her when she hoped to earn that Black Belt she was extremely off on her estimates… she hoped within a month, but it is a journey that will take years. However there will never be a more important journey because it is not simply that of a sport, and it is not a journey that ends when the goal is achieved; Tae Kwon Do is a path that will continue to guide us and inspire us throughout our lives.
I look forward to returning to OMAC when I am back home next week… even with my bad foot, I am jonesing to continue my training. However when I am out of town it is always great to visit other schools, especially when I meet a Master as inspiring as Master Lee.