Dwayne Ferguson  -- Sixth Dan

Post date: Sep 28, 2014 3:25:16 PM

Tae Kwon Do

I don't know when I realty decided to do Tae Kwon Do. I had toyed with the idea of learning a martial art when I was in college, but that was twenty years ago. When I turned 40 (an age I used to think bordered on senility), I started to think seriously about taking Tae Kwon Do classes.  There were quite a few things I had put off because of graduate school and then later because of the job. If I were ever going to give this a shot, now seemed like the time.

My real motivation came from the mystique of the martial arts.  They had always been fascinating, even though I doubted I'd ever become proficient at breaking boards with bare hands and feet. I began to come up with the rationalizations I felt I would need to justify investing that much time and money:

1. "The world is getting more dangerous. You never know when the self-defense skills will be needed." Questionable, the last physical confrontation I had was a locker room scuffle in the seventh grade. 

2. "I need the exercise." True, but the extra twenty pounds still haven't magically disappeared.  At least, my heart rate is down ten beats per minute. 

3. ''It's something my son and can do together." This has worked out well. 

I had also read about the "build confidence and discipline" claims but wasn't too sure about that.  The "make new friends" claim didn't seem too important. I didn't have enough time to spend with the friends t already had.  Little did I realize these things would happen anyway. 

I shopped around at several schools, asking about costs, family rates, and all the general questions. At the first school, the third dan black belt who was half my age really pushed for me to sign up. It reminded me of college recruitment where we faculty were interested in keeping the body count up so our program would not get cut. Another school was heavily into competition and Olympic style Tae Kwon Do.  Since I probably was too old for that, I should really enjoy refereeing.  Neither of those seemed to be right for me. 

One afternoon I happened by the Clive branch of the Eric Heintz Black Belt Academy. The place was smaller, and the facilities didn't offer weight-training and other amenities. But the people there were clearly having a good time. The students and instructors were open and friendly and invited me to join them.  They weren't just looking for another tuition or another sparring partner to kick. This was a group I would be comfortable with, even when I was being awkward and unable to tell my right leg from my left.

I began classes on June 26, 1989. I had always been an adequate athlete •- seldom a starter, and never a star, but good enough to make the team. I was as self-conscious as any beginning white belt. The kihaps were the worst. I know they sounded fake and inhibited. I became even more aware of my inadequacies as I watched the fifteen year olds stretch, kick, and jump while I groaned, hopped, and lumbered. And the sore muscles after class -- I'd stiffly ease into my car, sag into the seat, and wonder if it’d ever get any better. Somewhere along the way, it began to get easier. I gradually came to realize I did not have to compete with the youngsters to see who could jump the highest or stretch the farthest.  While I can still admire their abilities, I accepted my challenge as being the best that I can. That is all I can ask of myself. 

My son, Jonathan, started Tae Kwon Do the next November. It has been good for us. I've learned to adjust my expectations to be more reasonable, to remember that he is a little boy, and to help him learn and grow in small increments. He has learned to stretch his limits, to set a goal, to take on a challenge, and to increase his self-control and discipline. I have been able to watch him grow. And I understand what he is experiencing like it happened yesterday--because I did just learn it yesterday. By sharing the workouts, the learning, the tests, the same instructors and the same friends, we have something in common that we would not have had otherwise. 

There is a cliché, "You never know how much something means until you lose it." For a day in October, I was afraid my doing Tae Kwon Do was over. I had been working out hard through September. The knee that l had injured many years before was sore and swollen, but it generally hurt less during and after a workout. So l was pushing hard, getting ready for the black belt test and ignoring that my body was telling me to stow down.  At a Brown Belt-Black Belt class three weeks before when I had originally hoped to test, my knee gave way in the middle of an ax kick, dumping me flat on my back. What I remember most was the sharp snap in the back of my knee and the pain in my shoulder from landing on it. By the time I got home that night, I could only hobble, and stairs were negotiated only by climbing with the other leg. The next day I went to the neighborhood clinic hoping for good news, and fearing the worst. The physician found nothing torn. Risking being overly technical, he stated, "You must have stretched something." An orthopedic surgeon confirmed the diagnosis on

Monday, and I was assigned to a physical therapist for three weeks. Now after two months of strengthening exercises, my knee is functional, and I am more careful to listen to when my body says to go easy. I thought the invincibility of youth had faded long ago, but apparently I had forgotten.  This experience was a quick reminder. 

During that weekend of uncertainty until the orthopedist confirmed everything was intact, it became very clear what I would miss if I couldn't do Tae Kwon Do. First, I did not want to give up what my son and I share. I took him to class during the two weeks I was unable to work out.  Observing from the sidelines is definitely not comparable to doing classes together. Second, I kept thinking about the people that had become important to me, particularly those with whom I had shared so many hours and so much sweat. I value their friendship and did not want to see it drift away. Third, I would miss the sheer physical activity. This is the longest I have stayed with an exercise program since leaving high school sports. Perhaps, that is because Tae Kwon Do is so much more than an exercise program. 

During the next few weeks, I began to reflect on why this school is so special.  I had read Mr. Heintz’s statement that he teaches people to teach Tae Kwon Do. This was a somewhat odd statement, but J hadn't really thought much about it. Now I realize that this perspective helps make the school such a strong organization.  In a graduate educational counseling class, we used the approach -- "See one.  Do one.  Teach one."  We do something similar in the dojang.  "See a technique.  Do a few thousand.  Then teach the younger belts." I also recalled how much I had learned about my academic discipline in the first two years I taught.  I discovered one of the best ways to learn is to teach someone else. The teacher must pay attention to what he or she has been doing and communicate it.  In the dojang we all are expected to teach and share what we have learned. We grow and improve as we help others.

This school is probably one of the few organizations that members consistently demonstrate positive concern for each other.  The bowing and calling the black belts (and often senior color belts) "sir” and "ma'am” seemed so strange and uncomfortable at first.  As it became a habit, an attitude of courtesy grew. Sometimes now outside the dojang by reflex, I call others “sir" or "ma'am.“  Now the courtesy and respect just seems natural. 

Another aspect of positive concern is that fellow students and the instructors accept each other as individuals with differing abilities. The expectations are clear from white belt on. We are to respect others as persons, for what they have accomplished, and for their sincere effort.  We also learn we can trust each other not to laugh or make the situation embarrassing. This makes it easy for students to go out of their way to help a lower belt with a form or one-step, or simply to give a compliment or word of encouragement. 

I have gained a great deal -- friends, better physical well-being, and confidence that comes from surpassing what I thought were my limits.  I want to express my gratitude for alt those who have helped me along the way.  First and most of all, I am grateful to Ms. Judy Clinton. She has tremendous patience and is willing to go far beyond the call of duty and give her time to her students.  I greatly appreciate the hours she spent drilling me on forms and one-steps.  Ms. Clinton uses good teaching techniques.  She takes the students level of ability as the given starting point, and as the psychologists say, through rewarding successive approximation, she brings out the proper skill.  And most of all, she loves what she is teaching and is enthusiastic about her students' achievements.  I also appreciate the way she treats my son, Jonathan--Skittles as she nicknamed him. She has love and hugs to give him while at the same time demanding he reach his potential.  She is the kind of person I want to help shape my son's development. 

I do not wish to diminish the contributions of the many senior and junior belts who have helped me to this point, but I do want to single out a few.  I am glad to have shared this growth process with Ms. Sandy Schulte and Mr. Duc Bui. We have worked hard together for the last couple years.  We have shared a lot of sweat, numerous bruises, and constant encouragement. 

l also appreciate Mr. Ralph Schulte's encouragement, and Mr. Terry Goeldner's helpful suggestions to improve a stance or to add more power.  I am grateful that Ms. Bair has taken time to work with us at Brown Belt/Black Belt class to improve our technique, and that she has, on occasion, shown me that my guard was down with a solid, but not painful, jump reverse side kick to the ribs. 

I am particularly grateful to Mr. Heintz for creating this school, for setting the tone and expectations, and for bringing together this group of people.