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Taekwondo students learn discipline and confidence

Three times a week, seven young students eagerly gather at Mountain Fitness to study a Korean martial art known as Taekwondo. The energy level is palpable as this group tackles forms, kicking, punching, board-breaking, self-defense and physical-fitness activities.

Taekwondo is the national sport of Korea. This form of martial arts became a gold medal sport beginning in the 2000 Olympics. Taekwondo translates to feet, hands and mind. The popular sport combines a variety of techniques that include combat techniques, self-defense, sport, exercise, meditation and philosophy. Taekwondo that is taught at Mountain Fitness emphasizes both methods of traditional Taekwondo, involving power and self-defense, along with sport Taekwondo, which focuses on competition and speed. At the beginning of every Taekwondo class, the ten commandments of Taekwondo are repeated, instilling values and respect in the students. They are as follows: Strong spirit, effort, patience, attitude, self-confidence, respect for the national flags, respect for instructors and parents, respect for higher ranking belts, never misuse Taekwondo techniques, and there is no defeat, only victory. Students must demonstrate these values to progress.

Master Phil Walter is the instructor at Mountain Fitness. Walter achieved his fourth degree black belt in 2005. The road to master is long and arduous. There are 10 degrees of black belts in Taekwondo, with master being achieved upon receiving their fourth degree. Walter has been practicing, as well as teaching, Taekwondo for 17 years. Having his own Taekwondo school for several years before moving to Mountain City, Walter also teaches Hapkido, a more street-oriented form of self-defense. In Taekwondo kicking is emphasized, using the longer reach and power of the legs. Students also learn a variety of blocks, punches and open-handed strikes. As they progress, the students learn take-down techniques, sweeps, throws and joint locks. Taekwondo instructors will also combine some techniques from other martial arts to emphasize self-defense.
Currently, there are seven active students in Taekwondo. These include: Spencer Henry, Josh Herman, Ryan Gambill, Evan Bauguess, Bryce Yeatts, Shaylan McGuire and Dylan Shepherd. The students are moving up through the ranks as they progress to the next belt level. Sparring is a form of controlled fighting where students demonstrate their blocking, kicking and punching. Seven-year old Shaylan recently began sparring with the other students. “I like sparring and breaking,” said Shaylan. While all of the other students piped in that they, too, enjoy sparring, Ryan Gambill added, “I also like forms.” This group of students eagerly participate in the classes, pushing themselves to learn more as their goal is to become a higher-ranking belt.

Each class begins with students showing respect to the national flags of the United States, Korea and the instructor. Warm-up stretches help loosen up and stretch the muscles for further activities. At each class, students practice punches, blocks, stances or positions and kicks. As these techniques are mastered, new skills are introduced. The classes are taught to the age and belt levels of the students. Master Walter also talks to the students about bullies and how not to become a victim. “Their job is to not become a victim,” said Walter. He teaches the students that if a bully does not receive a reaction from their intended victim, they will leave that person alone. Master Walter added, “They learn to fight so they don’t have to.” These students learn that they don’t have to prove anything to anyone else because they are self-confident. Through sparring, discipline and the control of their emotions is instilled in each of the students. Before the students begin to spar, they must bow to their opponents to show respect.   When they are finished sparring, the students bow again and shake hands.

As Taekwondo students move up through the ranks, they achieve different belts. At every level, the students must learn new punches, forms, stances, blocks, self-defense, board breaking and sparring. They also need to learn specific Korean terminology for their sport. Various colored tapes are awarded to students while they are working towards the next belt level. A white tape indicates that the basic positions, stance, kicks and blocks have been demonstrated. A yellow tape awarded to a student shows the student has learned the new form for his next belt level. A green tape indicates the student has learned the necessary self-defense techniques to move onto another level. The blue tape is earned when a specific board-breaking technique is achieved for the belt level for which they are striving. The red tape indicates the student has a good attitude, follows instructions and is respectful. “The red tape is the most important because it means that the student has a good attitude toward the instructor and other students,” said Walter. Taekwondo stresses the importance of respect for themselves and others. Walter added that parents and teachers also have input to the student’s attitude at home and at school. Taekwondo students have the opportunity to learn leadership skills. This must be demonstrated by the students as they move up the ranks towards the next belt level.

Walter’s target for his students is simple. “The goal is for them is to be the best that they can be,” said Walter. Not all children do well in team sports. Taekwondo allows all students the opportunity to excel. Students learn to focus and set their own goals. “Taekwondo provides a pathway to achievement,” added Walter, “There are no bench warmers in Taekwondo.” This sport allows students of all ages to participate and achieve to the best of their abilities. Students do not enter the sport of Taekwondo with talent. It is developed. Taekwondo also instills confidence and self-esteem in the students. As they progress in this martial art, students realize that with practice, they can do things they never thought they could achieve. Students progress and advance at their own pace. Children and adults with attention issues, autism, weight and health issues find that they can excel in Taekwondo, instilling self-confidence as they realize that they can accomplish as much as the next student.

Master Walter is proud of each of his students and their accomplishments. Walter added the students have a good time jumping, kicking and practicing their drills. “They are eager to demonstrate what they have learned towards their next belt level,” said Walter, “They are a bunch of great kids.”