Community Center Martial ArtsI recently went to a local community center to view ongoing Taekwondo training. The hall showed 36 children of varying ages (mostly 8 to 12).

The Instructor appeared to be a middle aged man of some distinction. His techniques were solid enough, clean enough, and demonstrated that he had once honed his craft well.

As I looked around the training hall, I noticed parents and students yawning. Bored at the thought that this torture could go on much longer. I also noted (as with most studios) there were a very few that seemed to stand out. They showed attention to detail in their lessons. They showed the desire, thirst, and determination to learn their lessons well.

I learned that this Master (purported to be a 7th Dan in Taekwondo) had been teaching at this facility for 7 years. That he had a studio just down the street. His school was so small, the local community center permitted his teaching at their facility as a means of bringing in new students (to the community center and his school). I also learned that the students were of a transient nature and only 12 were full-time students.

To make matters more difficult to take, I learned that this was the very last class until summer camp. There was no fond farewell. No special pot-luck dinner, and no special awards ceremonies provided for the class. Only a minder to show up for a tournament scheduled a week or so later.

To my mind’s eye, bored students are those who are not learning AND having fun at the same time. They are those left to run through core training exercised instead of a cool-down at the end of a class. They are students whose decision to train is one that was made for them by parents who never thought to demand that their child be taught with the same dedication as those that ‘appear’ more talented (or special) warranting increased attention.

Hence, my aversion to training in a community center or local youth center rather than a formal Dojang. Each has a reason for being there. A dream needing to be realized. Rather than permit them to leave our ranks out of the mis-perception that training is too hard, or, that they are not that good, each student needs to be shown the “thing” (special ability) that they alone possess that makes them a necessary part of the whole school.

Training in a formal dojang

Only then can the school itself become the living embodiment of a martial spirit. Who are their instructors? Where are their mentors? What do some forget with time, that would otherwise make a waning school thrive?

In years past, I would go in and speak with an instructor, without identifying myself as anyone other than a fellow practitioner. Sometimes we would train. Sometimes we would decide to train together more formally for years to come.

I wonder, at times, about the schools that I have been fortunate enough to train with. Those where I hung my hat for a year or three. Some did well after I had gone. Others had lost a majority of their students. Some student black belts opening schools. Others, trying to hang onto what was slipping away.

It comes down to this: You must care about those under your guidance and direction. You must provide them with teaching that is nurturing, caring, interesting, and even “fun.” But, in every case, you must realize that the student needs to have your full attention from time to time. That you both can plan a series of goals that permit the student to remain that integral part of your studio system. A part that lasts far beyond the achievement of a black belt ranking.

If you truly wish for your students to become greater that yourself, then your answer is simple; teach them to be like you. But be sure the example is one worth living up to.

It is a hard road when so many of our students can leave and achieve higher ranking in other schools just be walking through the front door. Imagine what caliber of Association we will one day have when all students strive to achieve your personal level of commitment.

This can be achieved at the community center, or a formal Dojang. Try it – and prove me right.