Beaumont Taekwondo Centre

Taekwondo Benefits

The benefits of Taekwondo, particularly for children in Ireland

Extract from presentation by Master Gerry Martin as part of his 7th degree black belt grading
I took up Taekwondo, the Korean form of martial art, in 1975 when I was in my late teens and it has shaped my life ever since. What started out as a hobby in the training hall or “dojang” of Mr. Michael Geraghty (1st Degree), assisted by Mr. Brendan O’Toole (1st kup) in Saint Saviours Hall, Western Way, Dublin, twice a week has transformed into my career for over 30 years. On my own journey, I’ve made good friends and had some great experiences, like my world champion gold medals in Argentina in 1981 and in Glasgow in 1984 and my European team gold medal in Naples in 1982, as well as my achievement of 7th degree black belt in Benidorm, Spain in September 2009. I am also convinced that the values of Taekwondo, my training regime and sparring partners really helped my path to recovery from a serious operation in April 2011.

I spent many happy years teaching in the Taekwondo Centre in Dublin’s Exchequer Street with my friend and fellow instructor Master Brendan O’Toole, 8th degree black belt. The fact that over 5,000 students passed through its doors, many going on to open their own clubs, is a great source of pride to us and it was with more than a touch of sadness that we closed the doors of the Taekwondo Centre in 2010. These days, we both remain active in Taekwondo at local, national and international level via the Irish National Taekwondo Association (INTA) and the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF).

In November 2011, I opened the Beaumont Taekwondo Centre with the help and support of family and friends including my former student Mr. Gerry Mooney 2nd degree black belt who went on to open his own club in Clontarf. As the saying goes, there’s no place like home and Beaumont is my home today and the location of my very first club in Lorcan Green back in 1980, so I’ve come full circle.

How Taekwondo brings out the best in us
The raw and natural enthusiasm amongst children for Taekwondo is something that has to be seen to be believed and we see it every Tuesday and Thursday night in Beaumont. Of course, there is a much deeper meaning to the martial art of Taekwondo which we encourage our students to live through the five tenets which are at its very core, namely courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control and indomitable spirit. I am not the only one who sees this depth in Taekwondo teaching as unique and good. According to Dr. Jill Tracey, an expert in sport psychology at Wilfred Laurier University, “All these [tenets] can be learned through sport, but Taekwondo specifically emphasizes them which is quite unique. In other sports it may be assumed they are learned. You certainly hope all kids learn self control, how they manage things, but in Taekwondo self control is specifically taught and developed. Also in Taekwondo the focus is on respect and courtesy, which is also unique”.

Taekwondo students wear a uniform and a belt which depicts their grade from white through to black and onto the different degrees of black belt. This progression of belts is a strong motivator and young people need success to build confidence, and the many belts is a continuous motivation. Sports such as football are mostly focused on the win or lose, but Taekwondo focuses on internal aspects such as memory, concentration and balance.

As every parent knows, children today have to work on how they interact with others within society and the importance of having core values and good manners. General Choi Hong Hi, the founder of Taekwondo, wrote “It can be said that courtesy is an unwritten regulation prescribed by ancient teachers of philosophy as a means to enlighten human beings while maintaining a harmonious society”. Taekwondo is full of tradition and rules that are steeped in courtesy, like bowing to the instructor on entering the Do Jang (or gym) and at the beginning and end of each session, by addressing the instructor as Sir or Miss, by greeting your fellow students, by lining up in terms of grading level, therefore giving the higher ranks an immediate respect, by bowing to an opponent before sparring and ensuring that he or she is ready before proceeding etc. In addition, as Taekwondo instructors we emphasise the importance of listening and there is no tolerance of chatting or making personal comments in class without first raising your hand and directing any questions through the instructor. Through Taekwondo the students learn to respect their instructors and seniors, to respect each other and more importantly to respect THEMSELVES.

Integrity in Taekwondo is all about learning and understanding the difference between right and wrong. General Choi wrote “One must be able to define right and wrong and have the conscience, if wrong, to feel guilt”. To get children to really think about integrity under the banner of Taekwondo makes sense, particularly in a society that can expose our children to all sorts of peer pressure through advertising and social media. The aim in Taekwondo is to nurture the child and build an adult who has respect for themselves and for others and knows the difference between right and wrong and strives to be the best they can be.

Indeed, integrity and self control go hand in hand and are discussed in class at every opportunity, where our students are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, to live up to their word, and to develop the strength to say no to unhealthy peer pressure. Our students are encouraged to push themselves, to improve their stretching and kicking ability, to fine tune their movements and ultimately to become the best practitioner that they can be. Sparring is encouraged in class. It is non contact and the big message for our students is to never put themselves in the path of danger or evil; to respect themselves and others and to use their art form in the right way.

Perseverance is an easy one to explain against the backdrop of a society that demands instant results without putting the focus on effort. Not the case in Taekwondo, where students need lots of effort and perseverance to succeed to black belt. Some of the patterns which are choreographed defensive and offensive movements against imaginary opponents involve sequences of movements ranging from 19 to 72 and these have to be done with the utmost precision. Children are encouraged to practice their patterns and to work on their stretching exercises outside class. Some children come in with a natural level of flexibility and they find things easy in the beginning, but it is the children who persevere and work hard who ultimately do best. Every aspect of Taekwondo requires perseverance – the patterns, the various systems of sparring like three step, two step, one step, semi free and free sparring movements with an opponent, the attempts to break wood, the confidence to enter sparring competitions with real live opponents and to put the theory into practice. Perseverance in Taekwondo translates into perseverance is all aspects of life. Confucius said “one who is impatient in trivial matters can seldom achieve success in matters of great importance”.

We know that children who do Taekwondo have better concentration skills, they’ll stick at a task for longer and they will push themselves harder. Although research on the effects of martial arts training on children is scarce, there are indications that it really does enhance concentration, self control, and self discipline in young students. I believe the experts who suggest that children doing Taekwondo may also benefit from improved self esteem, reduced aggressiveness, decreased anxiety, and increased independence.

Self control is an important tenet for children and adults alike. As instructors we help these children to grow into power machines. They kick with speed and agility and accuracy. The have the know-how to protect themselves if set upon by real life opponents, but they also have the self control to use their art form in defence mode only. These children quickly learn how a kick or a punch can hurt an opponent. They understand that when sparring they need to be clever and controlled to win the bout and this shows them the value of self control, inside and outside the Do Jang.

Indomitable spirit is the tenet that raises eyebrows amongst adults but the children get it immediately. Maybe that is because children tend to trust in their instincts and their hopes and their dreams, something that can dwindle into cynicism and regret in adulthood. Children know that they have untapped abilities deep within them. They believe in superheroes and in dreams coming true and turning the impossible into possible. Children naturally believe in a spirit that is indomitable; and if the spirit stays strong, tries hard and if the child really believes in themselves, there is no limit to what they can achieve physically and mentally.

Consider the sometimes shy, slightly clumsy youngsters that stumble into class and how they, through sheer spirit, practice and determination, transform themselves into athletic, sharp, fast, intelligent and respectful Taekwondo exponents. The fun aspect of Taekwondo should not be underestimated, particularly when it comes to children and we like to call it the FUNdamentals in building success in the artform and it really works.

In conclusion, I would say that many parents encourage their children to take up Taekwondo because they want these children to be able to protect themselves in potentially threatening and dangerous situations and to keep fit at the same time. In contrast, children are attracted to Taekwondo by the high kicking, awe inspiring routines they’ve seen perhaps on TV. I have no doubt that both parents and children get more than they bargained for in real benefits from Taekwondo. Assuming they work hard of course, these children become physically agile and strong yes, but they also learn important life skills like courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control and indomitable spirit which can be used in all aspects of their life. They also appreciate what it takes to perfect their style through sheer hard work and repetition of those little things that they may not always enjoy at the beginning but that are really, really important to the final product or performance.

Future employers appreciate this perseverance and attention to detail and when looking at the CV of a candidate who has blossomed into an adult Taekwondo practitioner. They recognise that this potential employee has the perseverance, work ethic, control and indomitable spirit to do a great job. Something to remember of course is that people can take up Taekwondo at any age and while I have concentrated on the benefits for children – these benefits are there for people of all ages – so it’s not surprising to see many parents following their children into Taekwondo.

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