The Value of Martial Arts
I started martial arts in Judo 32 years ago. After 15 years I earned a black belt and switched to TaeKwonDo because I always liked the idea of breaking boards, and because my knees would no longer tolerate the twisting and lifting of Judo throws. I am still doing TaeKwonDo because the martial arts philosophy agrees with the type of person I am and with the type of person I want to be. My experience has been with Master Pak, and before him, Mok Tokko. The combined result of their teaching and the content of the program has enriched my body and mind. The principles of Master Pak's program are the fundamental principles of human relationships and, consequently, those of an effective teacher. The members come to the workouts to improve. When I am in the dojang, I look around and see side kicks which are higher and faster than mine. The attitude of the dojang is to look around and see how well the others are doing and to learn from them. I attend the intermediate work out because I cannot keep up with the advanced members. But I like Fridays when both the advanced and intermediate work together. I like the small groups when the advanced are able to give me advice on my techniques. I incorporate as much as I can. I also like those special sessions when each black belt teaches a few moments of his or her favorite moves. As a professor, I want to incorporate this learning atmosphere in the classroom. I am the professor for the weakest students as well as for the strongest. Each class should have material for everyone. I want my students to know each other. I want them to help each other to learn math. The atmosphere of mutual respect that exists in the dojang is the same that I strive for in class. A student becomes proficient in mathematics by doing the work himself. I cannot learn TaeKwonDo by watching Master Pak do sidekicks for an hour, and my students can not learn by watching me lecture for an hour. They will learn from a demonstration and a supportive environment where they can work together. I always like to learn something new, and when my rank is assigned to do one technique, and the higher belts are given another, I want so much to learn the new one. As I progressed from the back row towards the front, the people ahead of me always looked impressive. But I assumed I must look impressive also. Eventually I became red belt and was often in the first row. That was the time that the mirrors were installed. I looked terrible. I decided I must be throwing myself off balance by trying to view myself in the mirrors. Master Pak said that if you video tape a colored belt and let him look at himself, he will either get much better, or he will quit. The mirror is like a helpful black belt giving me advice. In fact the mirror reflects back the advice I was given, and indeed I can see myself what I am doing wrong and can fix it. So I ask myself, why should I test? I could just go to practice. I could work to improve myself. I could be a member of the club. What good will a black belt do me? Why go the extra effort? First: in my philosophy, I am testing to honor TaeKwonDo. I believe that the program is an excellent program. Because I have incorporated so much of my personal and professional interpersonal relationships from those modeled in TaeKwonDo, I encourage others to join. The program is what it is because of all of its pieces. If I recommend it, I must recommend all of it. The program would not survive if each member adjusted it according to his or her tastes. The program has ranks and an established testing procedure. I must therefore honor the program by working within it to make it successful. I want very much to wear the black belt because that will say that I honor and respect the program, my instructor, and the martial arts philosophy of life. The second reason for testing is my philosophy of learning. One must work to improve. The same reason that I kept coming after seeing my self in the mirror is that it is good to do better. When I audit classes at ISU for no credit whatsoever, I still take the tests. I need a goal to work for. The tests provide me motivation. If I have to learn new forms for the next test, I will learn them. It gives me self confidence to ask a black belt to help me. Since this is for testing, it is his duty to help me, and helping me will count towards his advancement too. I measure my success by passing, and I also measure success by preparing myself and testing. Because of this opportunity to test, by preparing and testing, I am proud of myself.
There have been many wonderful interactions between me and others due to my involvement in the martial arts. The warmth and friendship of meeting other club members on campus makes the huge impersonal mass of people seem so much more like family, an inclusive community. Among the black belts that have assisted me, I remember Anne Chase. She is so full of encouragement and praises that I leave the dojang convinced that I am really improving. I always like the advice from Ralph Knox because I believe that if I were thinner, my body type would be more close to his than the other black belts. What works for him would probably be a good technique for me. While Jennifer and I were both red belts, at the end of class when we were doing forms, I would see Jennifer always doing the moves crisply and carefully. I am reminded that I can use the opportunity to learn to do them that well also. So I finish the workout with enthusiasm and determination. I have said that Martial arts helped me personally and professionally. It has also helped me bond with my daughter Anna. I am in better physical shape, and I am still flexible from continuing in the martial arts program. I also am a better professor, colleague, husband, and father. The university has invested heavily in a learning style for the classroom called "group" learning. This modern method of instruction has been modeled in the martial arts on campus for thirty years. I am proud to have been a part of it.