• Master Sang Mee Ko

Keep Calm and Taekwondo On


I live Taekwondo every day, and that gives me the energy to carry on through COVID-19. My family's dojang has supported me from birth, and the values I have learned over years of martial arts training constantly give me strength. Now, as the head instructor, I have the pleasure of paying it forward, to the next generation. During COVID-19, my spirit remains strong not just because of my own values, but seeing them reflected back in my students.

The five tenets of Taekwondo are: courtesy, integrity, self-control, perseverance, and indomitable spirit. All of these have been put to the test during these challenging times. We struggle to be courteous when only survival is on our minds. We question the integrity of those around us as we anguish over why this is happening. Managing work life balance from the confines of quarantine has led to a serious shortage on self-control. Persevering through this seems impossible. Indomitable spirit seems like some sort of mythical creature.

However, I see these qualities in my students every day, and that's what's getting me through these tough times.

- Courtesy

We bow every class. I find it funny that, on the mats, sometimes it was a struggle to get children to bow properly. I get it - they don't see the point, or they just want to get out of class faster. They duck their heads quickly or exaggerate their bow and fall over. But they do it in Zoom, and they do it well. They even proudly bow in their videos they send to earn stripes. It seems like such a small thing, but it's a big deal to me.

Most of them wear their uniforms to Zoom lessons, even though I don't require it. They understand how to show respect for their classmates and instructors that will guide them on their martial arts journey.

Of course, the kids aren't the ones doing the extra laundry and setting up computers and tablets for online lessons. They have the support of some of the most amazing parents ever. Parents of my students send e-mails of appreciation and comment on our social media posts with words of encouragement. They may just be a quick sentence or two, but they go a long way for me and my team. Thank you.

Integrity

We teach our students that integrity means "to do the right thing even if no one is watching." In the process of transitioning to online, I missed a few payments. My students could have gotten away with free lessons, but they e-mailed and called me to ask why they hadn't been charged.

Some students have even insisted they continue to pay, even if they do not attend our online lessons. I couldn't agree to that, but it warms my heart to realize people value what we do.

Self-Control

I dreaded having to tell students if they hadn't earned their stripes for a skill at the beginning of quarantine. Surely, they would quit out of frustration since I was not able to help them in person. I was wrong. I underestimated my students.

They have the self-control to push past that frustration, accept constructive criticism, and try again. Again, I understand for my children, this is with the support of their parents. However, parents have more demands on their self-control than ever, and the fact that they are willing to help extra by holding targets that I cannot at home, or send videos of their kids' techniques for review, speaks volumes. It means they had the patience and took the time to keep up with Taekwondo, even though they didn't have to.

Perseverance

Perseverance ties into self-control. It's one thing to control your impatience through one class, but for weeks and weeks...as an eight year old? There are even adults who cannot handle that kind of strain.

Again, I thank the parents backing our students and working together with me to teach their children to persevere, even with this crazy situation.

Indomitable Spirit

Indomitable spirit is the strength to overcome any challenge. Even more than perseverance, this means harnessing your inner strength and the support of those around you. It is something that takes time and experience to develop.

It makes sense for me, as a fifth degree black belt, to have an indomitable spirit. It doesn't make sense for brand new white belts to have it. And yet, they do! They get back up, over and over again, and return to class, even if it's boring or frustrating. I've even had some parents begin their Taekwondo journey through Zoom!

Another group I am most proud of are our black belt candidates. Even in normal times, we have students who cannot make that last push to black belt. I give my students a lot of support to make sure they are well-prepared, and I worried that with video lessons, they would not be ready in time. Again, I underestimated their dedication. Just because they are children do not mean they do not have the drive to succeed.

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When families tell us we're doing a great job, I remind them it's not just us. It's like asking whether the chicken or the egg came first. Our core values attracted the right people. But we wouldn't be able to do so if those values were not, well, valued in the first place.

When I thank people for being a part of our Taekwondo family, I mean it from the bottom of my heart. We would not exist if people didn't truly believe in courtesy, integrity, self-control, perseverance, and indomitable spirit. Sometimes, waves of negativity about how "lazy" and "entitled" the next generation is bring me down. But then I am brought back up to the surface by what I see in my students.

I know we can get through this because we found the right people and gathered them at our dojang. Taekwondo has served me well all my life, and I will continue to pay it forward.

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