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I was like virtually everyone else when someone said Martial Arts or he has a “Black Belt” I envisioned Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan decimating at least 40 thugs utilizing any implement within reach and walking away unscathed looking for lumber or concrete blocks in their path to destroy with bare hands. To enhance my misunderstanding I categorize all the asian based defensive arts under Karate, not so.
My wife was concerned that when my son was 5 years old, since his older siblings were grown and out of the house, it would be important to involve him in an activity to help him interact with others in a challenging yet supportive environment. After some investigation we decided upon trying Taekwondo.
Arguably it was the best thing we did for our son. Now 13 years old he has learned perspective and a balance in life. He appreciates and practices the value of respect for self and others. He values discipline and to always give his best effort in everything from being a loyal friend, to his schoolwork. He has learned that with a positive attitude coupled with focused hard work he can accomplish anything. Most importantly, he is comfortable with himself and who he is.
He is not a Ninja want to be. One of the great american myths of martial arts that its students seek confrontation, in fact they are trained to avoid it. They have developed an inner strength and confidence to pursue peaceful solutions to conflict. However, if they are backed into the impossible corner, well…
My family has been extradordinarily fortunate to be associated with a man who lives his teachings. Master Yoo is 6th degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Taekwondo. No one calls him by his first or middle name, in fact few people knew he had them. He is kind of like “Shane”, “Cher”, “Fabian” or “Madonna”. But with a well deserved title.
He is Master Yoo.
Taekwondo like most martial arts, has a very formal base built on strict guidelines of earned respect. The rich tradition of Taekwondo imbues the atmosphere of the dojang (teaching studio). You feel it when you enter. You know it when you meet Master Yoo. He is 30 something, slight man composed of whipcord sinew, the flexibility of a female ballet dancer and a ramrod straight posture. His movements are measured water-but quick and efficient. He defines balance. In his office he has a gentle voice and quiet relaxed demeanor. On the mat his voice is what you would expect from a Pit Bull. If it could talk, he has an aura that is difficult to accuratley describe, but you can feel it. He is a competent, confident and yet humble. You feel he believes he can do anything, but never promotes it. He is very focused, intelligent and has superb communication skills despite a limited working English vocabulary. He knows each of his many students first name from the point he initially meets them. He is very demanding, unyielding, dishes out compliments as sparingly as if they were a handcut diamond and to the recipient, seemingly as valuable.
He does not tolerate excuses and everyone knows that when they are tired the opportunity will be provided to find out what more they can give. At first one would think adults and children would be terrified of him. After all, he was a self defense instructor for the Korean Army, one of the toughest outfits on Earth.
But he doesn’t inspire fear, he inspires respect. The kids loves him, the parents want him a house guest. Through the seemingly harsh demands his patients for his students success charges the atmosphere. If a student is willing to work hard, Master Yoo works him or her hard. If a student is struggling, Master Yoo stays with him or her, never lowering the standard but compels – nay – commands them to success.
My son is a black belt working on his 2nd Dan (degree). It took him nearly six years to obtain the first level. It is a four year process, to achieve the next. The criteria is numerous and wide-ranging. He must be competent in everything from self-defense techniques, weapons, Korean terminology, poomsaes (forms) and sparring. To demonstrate scholastic achievement, community service, communication skills, teaching and leadership ability. He trains 3 times a week and practices outside of class.
I shake my head for awe. People who say they don’t have time are wrong. It is always a matter of using the time you have. As I write this my son is going head to head with his life-long neighbor-pal on his game cube trying to outwit the enemies of 007. So he does normal kid things. He plays basketball, baseball and soccer. I brag it up about his achievements in Taekwondo, but he rarely mentions it because it simply is a part of his life style. (Of course he is not supposed to boast but I have special right as his Dad).
I go to every training session to enjoy watching my son, but to also watch the teaching ability of Master Yoo. Those who say that today’s kids are soft, have reduced attention spans or cannot do this or that, are flat out wrong. They will respond with great enthusiasm to great challenges.
It is a matter of consistency of expectation and respect. No one interrupts when Master Yoo is talking. They look him in the eye. Through his example the students treat eachother with utmost respect When they spar (compete) the Taekwondo masters always refer to ones opponent as their partner. They do not use the work opponent. Dressed like the Michelin Man and looking like the Stay Puff Marshallow Man in their protective pads. The students go at eachother with maximum fury. There is no anger or trash talk, respect for their partner is giving them your best effort. They have joined in an instance competition to further each other in their development. They win and lose and must deal with the realities of both. Losing is not despised, but giving less than best effort is.
There are many “teachable moments”. Time and again students face personal crossroads. They get knocked down, they get frustrated with a difficult form. They get fatigued. At time the expectations seem overwhelmingly, Master Yoo bores in. His instincts for applying pressure, backing off, providing a correction or compliment when most beneficial are superb.
He has his own brand of humor. He knows when to relieve tension and frustration. But he never backs off the high standard of performance.
As a coach and teacher, I thoroughly enjoy watching and learning from others as they ply their craft. Rarely have I ever seen the respect, effort and focus by young people in school classes or sports that I have witnessed in Master Yoo’s dojang. I wonder why. Much of it has to do with the structure, mystique and tradition of Taekwondo and other martial arts. The linchpins of Taekwondo are discipline, respect, self-confidence, and best effort. Much of it has to do with the obvious and dedication, pateints and effort, Master Yoo gives daily.
I think mostly it is that he models what he expects from his students. He walks his talk – in whatever language he is using. You can trust that he will give you his very best, all of the time. You feel that he is happy when you succeed. His expression of compliment is a crisp, single nod of his head. Yes or better. Light on words, heavy on meaning.
This man is flat out a great coach and teacher. He presents me a coaching clinic, three times a week and doesn’t even know it. (It could be said it is included in the fee we pay for my sons involvement).
In our American culture, the term Master carries a negative connotation, born in our history when the dispicable institution of slavery tore us apart. Haesung Yoo is not the Master of his students – he is their exalted teacher/coach. Without question he is a master of Taekwondo and all it represents. He earns the respect he is granted every day. For all the right reasons, he is….The Master.
JOHNSTON FAMILY: Doing Taekwondo as a family established a common ground for my 12 and 13 year old sons and myself. We started at the same time, so we equally didn’t know what we were doing. It’s great to learn something together. It builds a strong relationship that is more linear or equal. They see a different side of me, and see how hard I have to work to keep up with them. I think it lends credibility when I tell them that sometimes they have to work hard to get what they want or to a skill level.
We’ve had successes and failures together. We practice at home, joking about things that happened in class, helping each other get better by giving tips to make a poomsae or kick better, and applauding success.
I believe this will be an important foundation for my relationship with my kids as they move from childhood into their teen years. Being able to have that “common ground” and rapport with them will help me get my voice through, hopefully when they most need to hear it.
CLARK FAMILY: It has been great to be a part of an activity that we can do as a family. Each week the kids and I are learning something new together. Most other activities I am just there watching—with Taekwondo I am right out there with them. I am able to better help my kids practice at home, and they help me too!
HALL FAMILY: The best thing about doing Taekwondo with my two daughters is that I can be an active participant, not a spectator. How many other activities can you join your kids class and do what they are doing. Another benefit is that I can help them practice and prepare for testing. Taekwondo is a great opportunity to share a positive experience with my girls.
CAMILLE - FIRST DEGREE BLACK BELT: With my Tae Kwon Do training with Master Yoo, I have improved so much in the sport. From teaching me new forms and helping me improve my techniques in both forms and sparring, he has always encouraged me to do my best and to keep working harder. He was also a great sparring coach during competitions. What I like best about Master Yoo's teaching is that he did not just explain to me what to do but he actually showed me the technique until I did it correctly. Master Yoo is someone that I not only respect during Tae Kwon Do classes but outside of classes as well.