My Unconventional Path to Learning TaekwondoBy Jennifer Shipp
I took my first Taekwondo class in college along with a SCUBA certification course and a class about how to appreciate jazz music. I was nearing the end of my degree and I was also considering a change of major. That semester at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, I took classes that struck me as interesting even though I mostly didn’t have any idea what to expect from the class experience itself. I also went skydiving for the second time (the first time I smacked into the side of a building right before landing, leaving a dent in the steel siding).
I’d heard of Taekwondo but only in terms of the Karate Kid. I knew I’d be kicking and punching but I wasn’t sure how to really apply what I’d be learning. I’d wanted to sign up for Okinawan Karate, but that class was full (probably because the Karate Kid was fairly popular at that time). So I decided to try Taekwondo as a martial art that was second best. I arrived at class on a Monday where an ex-military instructor with thick glasses and a crew cut took his place at the front of the room.
“We all hiked to the top of the mountain barefoot and then we practiced in the snow.” The instructor told us one day during a short intermission between forms and one-steps. I didn’t know if I believed him or not. I was still pretty gullible as a college student but I was just worldly enough to leave my mind open to the possibility that he was full of crap. The students gathered around him like he was a guru.
I did my orange belt and my yellow belt testing with that instructor. Around that time, I met my husband, John and discovered that coincidentally, he had a black belt in Taekwondo. On one of our dates he did a flying side kick (pulling his groin muscles) to impress me. And I was impressed. He urged me to go to the school where he’d studied Taekwondo since it was only a few blocks from his house. Six months later when I moved in with John, the proximity of the classes became really convenient. I took classes three nights a week.
But the classes were expensive and we were relatively poor. I kept up with the classes two years and eventually got my black belt, but with much difficulty in terms of finances. The instructors, mostly men, were not the most phenomenal teachers I’d ever encountered. The instructor who’d taught John no longer worked there by the time I’d started taking classes. But I was still able to learn a few things.
One of the most important things that I learned from the class was that the class itself was not where I learned most of what I came to know about the martial arts. Once I got good enough to spar, around camouflage belt, John and I would fiddle around together, trying to make sense out of how to use the various movements. It was a cheap way to have fun and definitely the best way to actually learn how to use martial arts. There was no structure to what we worked on together. We just experimented with stances and strikes, faking each other out, and ways to execute a hit or a kick that would actually do some damage. At the same time, we were careful with each other. We controlled our movements so as not to do actual damage. Sometimes we’d wear chest gear to stay sharp at executing punches and kicks at full force. This was definitely the best way to learn martial arts.
And so, even though I had some classroom instruction, even though I had opportunities to spar in class with other students, the best learning happened while working with my best friend, John. Some people are able to be successful working in traditional schools, but the best martial arts practice their skills at home with friends. That’s why we decided to make martial arts into something that’s accessible to anyone who’s willing to put in the hours at home. It’s entirely possible to learn Taekwondo at home, with detailed instruction and a friend who’s willing to work with you.Tags: at home, black belt, karate kid, nebraska, orange belt, spar, taekwondo, yellow belt