The Impact of The Tenets of Tae Kwon Do on Child Development
by Master Parshotam Sharma, 5th Dan
Courtesy. Integrity. Self-Control. Perseverance. Indomitable Spirit. These are the core values that guide and shape traditional tae kwon do martial artists as they make their journey from white belt to black belt. While many sports teach valuable life lessons and discipline, the martial arts, like tae kwon do, is the only sporting group where core values, philosophy, and personal development are closely tied into the practitioner’s training curriculum, and integral to achieving advancement in the athletic art. For children especially, instilling the core values and principles of the martial arts, such as those in tae kwon do, can help them develop a strong and confident foundation in character, while also building resilience – two key ingredients that can greatly impact their success and happiness in life.
From the moment a tae kwon do student begins their first class, not only are they beginning their journey to master the high flying kicks signature to the sport, they are also beginning their journey to building a strong sense of self through the mastering of the core values or tenets of tae kwon do.
Definition: The showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behavior toward others
For children, courtesy is the first of the tenets that get integrated into their training. The two tae kwon do protocols that begin their understanding of courtesy are bowing and learning to respond with “Yes, Sir/Ma’am, or No, Sir/Ma’am.”
Bowing is used as a sign of respect. All students, including children are expected to bow to the instructors and each other as a form of greeting as well as showing of thanks and appreciation to their teachers and fellow students. Tae kwon do protocol also calls for students to bow into their studio or training space and the flags of your country and tae kwon do’s origin. Again, a symbolic gesture of respect honoring the spaces where you learn, the country in which you live, and tae kwon do’s founding nations – all of which bear great influence on the students journey to inner strength and wisdom.
Students of tae kwon do are also often required to respond to their instructors, as well as each other, with a “Yes, Sir/Ma’am” or “No, Sir/Ma’am.” Instructors will often respond back to students with a “Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Ma’am.” The act of using these responses with their instructors and each other helps to reinforce each child’s own self-worth as they are treated with mutual respect.
Definition: The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles
Often times, a child’s first exposure to martial arts is through television or movies. Many begin their martial arts training with grand visions of being their favorite martial arts cartoon character, with the power to use their newfound moves against any bad guy that comes their way. When it comes to self-defense, tae kwon do is an excellent skill to have. However, like any defensive skill, without the proper perspective for when and how to use the art, tae kwon do can also be used in an aggressive and offensive manner. As the child begins to learn their basic skills, instructors also begin to emphasize the importance of when it is and when it is not appropriate to use martial arts outside of the studio. Through role playing scenarios, including bullying situations and “stranger danger”, children are able to recognize and practice responding to the appropriate circumstances in which tae kwon do should and should not be used, while developing a deeper sense of right and wrong.
Definition: The ability to control oneself physically, mentally, and emotionally, especially in difficult situations
Tae kwon do is not only an exercise of physical strength. It is also an exercise of mental and emotional strength. One of the greatest skills that a developing martial artist gains is the ability to master self-control – physically, mentally and spiritually. As children strengthen their sense of courtesy and integrity, their ability to control their physical responses and ability to identify right and wrong in different situations also strengthens. As students reach higher belt levels, tae kwon do sparring begins. Once sparring begins, the students must draw upon their knowledge of courtesy and integrity to begin treating sparring as a competitive sport opposed to a situation of combat. Due to the seemingly aggressive nature of the sport, students are slowly introduced to sparring, allowing them to strengthen their ability to counter their natural “flight” instinct while participating in the point-based sport. As students progress through the belt levels, instructors focus on developing the students’ technical kicking skills, as well as the students’ mental and emotional self-control. This is known as “state management.” Through practice and guidance, students will develop their ability to focus, proactively respond to challenging situations around them, control their physical and emotional responses, and maintain clarity of thought, all while gaining the courage to stand up for themselves in the face of adversity. For children, the ability to demonstrate self-control under the most challenging of situations becomes critical, especially when encountering peer pressure, and is a key ingredient to the development of a child’s sense of self.
Definition: Continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition; To Never Give Up
As in most martial arts, the belt system followed in Tae kwon do is based on the belief that through patience, dedication, and hard work, the most ordinary of students can achieve the most extraordinary of things. The belt is used as a visual representation of a student’s growth and achievement in technical skill, knowledge and character development, helping the child to develop a growth mindset. At most credible martial arts schools, it can take a child anywhere from 5-8+ years to achieve their black belt. Many ask, “Why does it take so long? How long does it take to learn the kicks?” While some students may pick up the technical skills required in tae kwon do faster than others, it takes most students, especially children, a much longer period of time to develop the mental and spiritual component to the art. Through their journey through the belt system, children learn how to gracefully handle success, defeat, and frustration. Students will also learn to identify how they react physically and emotionally to all situations, and determine what they need to do to overcome challenges so they can move forward. Empowered by a growth mindset, an understanding of the power of perseverance, and the visual representation of their success through the belt system, children develop greater self-confidence and a “can-do” attitude.
Definition: Having the strength or will to continue on no matter how difficult the circumstances
In tae kwon do, the culmination of all of the tenets is indomitable spirit. Does the student have the will to persevere and do what is right in the most challenging situations while demonstrating the highest level of physical, mental, and spiritual self-control with courtesy and integrity? Reaching this level can take many years to master. But with time and practice, all students, including children, find their own indomitable spirit. Through indomitable spirit, and the tenets of courtesy, integrity, self-control, and perseverance, children and adults will develop the self-confidence and knowledge of their own self-worth, establish the mindset to achieve their personal goals, and have the courage to face any challenge that life throws their way.