Updated: Aug 25, 2021
When I joined Jae Nam Training Academy in 2016, I was considerably skeptical and nervous about trying something as new as Tang Soo Do. I had several years of prior experience in martial arts, but nothing quite like Tang Soo Do. Going in, I seem to remember an air of hopeful caution in my first few classes. I had tried out several neighboring studios of differing types, but none of them quite fit what I thought I needed at the time. It is safe to say now that I took to my training under Master Acri quite quickly, and I began to study there earnestly. Even though starting at Jae Nam forced me to join at white belt, repeating that rank at a new studio for the second time, I jumped into my training wholeheartedly, because restarting my rank did not reset my experience. I used what I knew from my previous training to progress in what I was learning in Tang Soo Do easier. Skipping ahead to September of 2019, I found myself in the passenger seat of my moms' car, half-frantically looking over my history and terminology flashcards for the hundredth time. As I headed to my Cho Dan test, I became filled with anxiety and worry. It felt as though the prior three and a half years had all been leading up to this singular moment. Even then, standing at the gym entrance, I thought back to that summer day in 2016 and recognized the progress I had made and the work I had put in to get where I was. Now, two years later, thinking back to all these moments, I recognize all those previous events as a testament and example of the work that I put in, all the milestones that I reached, and, of course, the struggles I faced along the way.
Accept, Adapt, Overcome
Following the Fall Classic Kalahari Tournament in 2019, when I received the rank of Cho Dan, I was eager and ready to hit the ground running with the next level of my training. The first several months were relatively smooth. I learned my two new hyungs, solidified the next ten one-step sparring techniques, and explored the possibilities available to me now as a Dan Student. My focus from that point on was to absorb as much information as possible and learn what was required of me to move on to my next rank and beyond. Unfortunately, not everything stayed so sanguine. Without a doubt, the phrase “We are living in unprecedented times” and many others of the sort are more than commonplace in the world as a whole today. I tried my hardest to outline and prepare this essay without mentioning the effects that the Covid-19 Pandemic had on my training, including my development as a student and burgeoning instructor, but one affected the other so deeply it became impossible. When the dojang closed for the first lockdown in February of 2020, I had no idea what it would mean for my training. Much like my expectations regarding other activities, I believed that I would resume my training after the original two weeks of lockdown. When two weeks became four, and four weeks became more, I began to worry about what my training would look like moving forward. Aside from my work on my own at home, I grew to feel ever distant from my progress in learning. Before Master Acri began to hold live virtual classes, I started to feel physically and mentally disconnected from my instructor, my peers, and myself as a student. That mental disconnect showed itself in my motivation. My effort waned and my training slowed. I found it harder and harder to give myself the practice I needed to learn, and my ability to push myself for the sake of progress dwindled. I saw myself at one of my lowest points during the spring of 2020, and I had no idea what the future would hold. My mind had left the realm of progress, so all I could think about was how I could get myself out of this cycle of little-to-no motivation. I found little things to keep me going; I tried running short distances right when I woke up to jumpstart my day, I began doing stretches and a short list of conditioning drills throughout the day to keep me active, and I even studied up on history when I could to keep my mind fresh. The little things slowly made the bigger things easier, which was only aided further by the start of virtual classes. After a while, I got into a rhythm. I would attend virtual class, then train on my own afterward as an attempt to push myself even further. By the end of the lockdowns, I felt content with the way I had used my time, however challenging it was. My schooling also contributed greatly to the challenges presented during this time. After the shift to fully virtual school, I was sitting at my computer on zoom for upwards of 8 hours a day with very small breaks during the day to walk around and keep active. Independent training and virtual classes with Master Acri gave me an outlet to keep active and healthy at this difficult time. I learned to get up and stretch between every class, even if it was only for a few minutes, it kept me moving. Redoing my room to allow me to train in the evenings for live streamed classes gave me a proper space to train as well. Through the many challenges that pushed me during Covid, one of the main lessons I learned was independence. To be able to learn, train, and study on my own became a crucial part of my preparations for this coming September.
New Found Commitments
Alongside the new responsibilities that came with gaining my instructor's certification, turning 18 also came along with its own separate set of new obligations. I needed a proper job. For context, I grew up going to an overnight camp every summer, and now that I’m 18 I had the opportunity to apply as a counselor for the summer camp. I got the job after applying and going through that whole process, the only complication was the time commitment. I had to be there for a large portion of the summer and that meant less training time in the studio preparing for testing. One of the biggest challenges with this was strategizing my studio time, when I could come in for extra training and how I was going to stay sharp. Getting past this was stressful, but due to Master Acri being so accommodating and helping me whenever I needed it, I managed to balance the two responsibilities relatively well. In addition, the skills I learned at camp as a counselor greatly enhanced my comfort level with teaching in the studio. Learning how to work with kids of all ages and how to lead activities successfully are a crucial part of being a camp counselor, and they carried over very successfully in a studio setting. The first day I was back in the studio after a week at camp the difference in my comfort helping in class was quite notable. Time management became a large part of my life when planning the summer, and it’s a skill that’s served me very well since then.
A New Set of Skills
One of the biggest milestones I reached within the span of the past two years is receiving my instructor's certification. I had known for a while that I could apply to become a Cho Dan instructor right before I turned 18 last winter. Upon turning 18, I immediately went to Master Acri to see what being an instructor would mean moving forward. Teaching represented a massive learning curve for me in regards to my anxiety. I had and still sometimes have trouble speaking in front of groups of people. This is especially true when I am entrusted with the responsibility of serving in a leadership position. My first experiences with “teaching” were leading portions of the gup tests as a Cho Dan Bo. Frankly, they always terrified me. Nevertheless, in keeping with the Tang Soo Do tenet of Indomitable Spirit, I was firmly committed to developing those skills more and learning how to be an effective instructor. I have great admiration and profound respect for Master Acri, and I give him credit fully for how far I’ve progressed as an instructor. Master Acri pushed me to conduct more, to lead more, and slowly pushed me to become a more proficient and comfortable instructor. After I received my official instructor’s certification, I began to attend the kid’s class as well as my class to help out and begin leading small things. Time and experience were my best tools to becoming a better teacher, in addition to watching and learning alongside my instructor. Another positive impact that teaching had on my training was how my basics improved. Being put in a situation where I am teaching new students requires me to have a decent comfort level not just knowing the techniques, but knowing how they work and what their purpose is in the studio. Due to teaching, I’ve never known my basic techniques better than I do now. These new skills are clearly still developing. Moving forward, gaining more teaching time, and being allowed to take on more responsibilities in the studio are some of the most anticipated aspects of my training.
Moving Forward: my Attitude and my Spirit
Regardless of the outcome of my performance in this September’s Dan testing cycle, my attitude towards my responsibilities and my progression as a student will not change. I will still strive to continue to grow and adapt to the challenges I face in the future. I fully intend to take full advantage of every class I take, every class I teach, and every bit of wisdom passed down to me by my instructor and other superior ranks. Similar to that day in 2019 on my way to test for Cho Dan, I am intentionally pondering and scrutinizing my past experiences through Martial Arts while reflecting on how they have led me to this moment. All of my past instructors, peers, and friends in Martial Arts have aided me in some way. All of them have made a significant impact on my journey to this point. In addition, the challenges I have faced in the past two years are a powerful testament to my growth and development as a student, teacher, and well-rounded person. To say I am grateful for them would truly be an understatement. Looking forward, I am committed to devoting my time and energy to becoming my best self through Tang Soo Do, and I am eager to see how I grow in the Tang Soo Do Association. Tang Soo!