Taekwon Do 101

Class starts at 6.30pm. Be sure to arrive earlier though because lateness is a sign of disrespect to the instructor. Also possibly a sign of oncoming press ups.

Before class really begins most of the students warm up. Warming up involves standing in groups of four or five, talking. Warmed up? Good.

Next students ‘form up’. This is where they get into lines in the shape of a square. Or a rectangle. Black belts go to the front. Newbies go to the back, near one of the sides. Somewhere. There’s a definite ranking sequence, and it takes everyone a while to find their spot, there is a lot of shuffling, and swapping places, and moving down one. If you can figure out what the ranking sequence is, and where you should be standing, go collect your black belt.

One of the highest black belts generally leads the class. He says a word and everyone bows. That word is probably in Korean, and you’ll miss it every time he says it in his first two or three hundred classes.

Next you’ll practice spot turning and step turning, and blocking and L stance and walking stance, and knife block, and knife hand, and something called an ‘upchucky’, also some more kicks with and without the word upchucky in them. The instructor will demonstrate these turns a few times, and the class will do them together. It will seem very clear to you at the time which is which. When the instructor goes away and the class does a run through again, you will forget everything. Except following your nose and following your bum. Because the idea of following your butt anywhere is a strange idea.

During the class you’ll notice that everyone calls the black belts Sir and Mam. You do that every time a black belt tells you to do something. You’ll possibly do that every time someone with a belt higher than you tells you to do something. But you’re not sure. Maybe it is just black belts. Mostly though? You’ll forget to say anything except ‘whoops’, ‘danm’, and ‘shoot’.

When practicing spot and step turning the instructor will tell the class to turn to D. D is the door. Or the back of the hall. Or the front of the hall. D is no fixed spot. D is a mindset. A manifestation of your existential desires. You accept D into your heart and turn. Trust in D, and D will see that you are turned in the same direction as the rest of the class.

At one point you learn a new block. This block will deflect a punch to the face. In this block (which you can’t remember the name for, and probably couldn’t pronounce anyway) you pat a tiger and catch some crumbs. The tiger hand is in line with your shoulder, and tensed, but relaxed. The crumb hand is cupped, but not cupped, and at the height of your solar plexus. Which seems to be your sternum. At least that’s where the wrist should be. Also? you should be in L stance, and 80% or your weight should be on that foot. No the other one. The one at the back. And while you’re at it? Remember to breath. 

Four different black belts will help you, and each one will tell you a different two or three things to help you remember.

At the end of the class you form up again. By this point everyone knows their spot. One of the black belts, often the one that used to be a gymnast or a ballerina, or a contortionist, leads the stretching. There is some Korean (?) and some more bowing. You bow to all the instructors that took a section of the class. Remember that none of these guys get paid for teaching or giving you a hand, and so the bowing, and respect is pretty much all they get in return. Make it a deep bow.

As you leave the hall some people turn and bow at the door. Some don’t. Some half turn and do a quick nod. Some you don’t see bow, but they could have done it while you weren’t watching. You know your Dad’s Karate group does the bowing thing. To bow or not to bow… You bow, because Taekwon Do is all about respecting the others in your class and especially the ones with cooler belts than you. And apparently the Grand Hall of St Peters School has a cooler belt than you, because you don’t even have one yet.


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