Wednesday, December 30, 2015

One year of taekwondo

Our son started Taekwondo soon after he turned four. We have had the fortune to be able to spend a lot of time doing activities with him, and being fairly competent ourselves, but also realized that there were things missing that we (and daycare) were not filling. One, we wanted him to be engaged in something physical and two, we wanted him to be engaged in the world apart from us.  At this point, while he was a very happy, engaged, curious, and reasonably empathetic child, he also was an introvert (not terribly surprising as both parents are as well). In his case it showed as shyness in the presence of new people, and no assertiveness of will (although this may be attributed to lack of attachment in things,) So we were looking for something that engaged him physically and grew his confidence in interacting with others. There are two sales pitches for martial arts for yourg children,  one is that it installs discipline and an outlet for rowdy, physical kids. That was not our problem.  The second is that it installs confidence. That was our goal.

Knife hand strike
Knife hand strike in Songham 2
We went to a relatively new school that was part of the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) . The impact of being fairly new are that it was still fairly small and it had not generated any black belts yet, so the first benefit was he got a lot of individual attention.  The first times he went he looked but did not do anything, which was expected. The school staff spent a lot of individual time with him talking to him and getting him comfortable. In the meantime he observed what was happening.  Eventually, he got onto the floor and started participating.

The first benefit we saw was increased confidence. Taekwondo represented a set of skills that he could learn and be competent in, and his attention span helped greatly here. He dealt with the instructors and interacted more freely with the other kids than he did before.   A few months in, he had an interview with a prospective kindergarten, and he warmed up to the staff much easier than he had to any other adult (e.g. Day care staff) before. (He usually took 3 months to warm up to new day care staff, either new hires or for when he moved rooms). The curtesies of the school have helped him navigate everyday life in interacting with adults.
Bowing before forms
Bowing before testing
The second benefit was concentration and focus, T always had a good attention span, his day care noted that he was a child who stayed in place while the chaos of preschoolers moved around him from activity to activity. Taekwondo added a long term focus onto this, coupled with his natural attention span, meant that the forms and patterns were something he could develop competency in. So, in contrast to the usual criticism of youth Taekwondo as being merely moving limbs, he learned to put power in his moves. And having an object of focus has helped in his usual shyness and tendency to freeze in public view.

jump front kick in line sparring
Jump front kick while line sparring

The other thing we are looking at in the school is how the older kids are like. Once we figured out that T liked this, and we were in this for the long term, we wanted to know who would be influencing him. In a martial arts school, this would mean the kids who reach black belt and become assistant instructors themselves. We have had some interaction as some of the teens have started assisting with classes. But my real interaction has started when I started taking Taekwondo myself. The classes are small, as it is only  two years old, but you see the teens supporting one another, and also you see the older ones, who are approaching the black belt ranks, taking seriously the role of encouraging the others, it was a different experience to have a group of teens providing encouragement to an adult (me) in my first month.
Line sparring
Line sparring

One other thing that we are looking forward to is that as the years go on, he will know people in his life who have taken this path before, and unlike sports heroes, these are people he knows in the flesh. In addition to Masters level black belts he will meet in the course of his training, he knows people with black belts or equivalent in various disciplines, and people who compete at the highest levels. So the people he sees on YouTube or in other media are real people, and represent something that can be realistically aspired to.

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