Taekwondo for Leadership Skills

Ms Jen here, writing what at first may come off as a “proud mom” post, but I promise there is more to it than that.

In the previous post you can see a video of my fourth grade daughter, Poppy, giving her speech for Vice President of her elementary school. She chose to do the speech about the Tenets of Taekwondo: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control and Indomitable Spirit. In the speech, she explains what each of these means, and how those qualities make her a good leader.

It got me thinking about some of the more intangible benefits of Taekwondo. I put my kids into this program originally because (1) I wanted them to get some exercise, and (2) I wanted them to learn some self-defense, since their various special needs make them potential targets for bullies. But I did not necessarily anticipate at that time all of the other things they would get out of martial arts.

I adopted Poppy just shy of her 4th birthday, and she has been doing Taekwondo almost since she first arrived in the USA. While I would love to think that my fantastic parenting is 100% responsible for the amazing person that Poppy is today, I know that can’t be completely true. But what I do know for sure is that one of the best decisions I ever made for her as a parent was to keep her training in Taekwondo. In light of her school Vice Presidential campaign, and as she prepares for her junior black belt test after 6 years of training, I have to stop and think about all this program has done for her.

A super-introverted, nerdy kid myself, I would have died rather than to get up in front of the whole school to give a speech (and break a board!). Poppy, on the other hand, walks willingly toward it, completely of her own volition, and IN SPITE OF being nervous and scared. This is something I never could have given her. But Taekwondo did.

Taekwondo has taught her that she can face her fears. Being a member of the sparring team in particular has reinforced the idea that “FEAR means Face Everything And Rise above.” To stand in front of someone you don’t know, whose job it is to beat you, takes courage. At a belt test, to stand in front of a board you have to break, knowing you’ve failed at it in the past and that everyone is watching you, takes courage. Poppy has been doing these things since she was four years old. The day before the school election, Poppy told me several times how scared she was about giving the speech to the whole school. But never did she waver in her resolve to do it anyway.

Taekwondo has taught her to help others and to rejoice in their victories. It’s part of the culture in class that the high belts help the lower belts; the lower belts help the white belts; and the white belts help the brand new students. Everyone has something to give. You encourage each other. You be a good partner, which includes pushing your classmates to work harder. We stay to watch our teammates spar at tournaments, and we go to watch belt tests and cheer on our classmates. Even though in sparring we train to compete, we all work to help each other improve in class.

Taekwondo has taught her courtesy. Yes, it’s one of the Tenets and therefore maybe obvious. But its effects are far-reaching. Poppy can talk to anyone. She is not afraid to go up to someone she doesn’t know and introduce herself, ask a question, offer help. She can address adults politely, make friends with other children easily. She was brand new to her elementary school this year, as a fourth grader, and during her campaign she had to meet and speak to many other kids she did not know and ask for their vote. This was possible for her because, at Taekwondo class, she knows it’s her responsibility to go up to new students, introduce herself, and help them learn.

Taekwondo has taught her to move past disappointment. As a parent, I have often watched my kids struggle with something in class. Maybe they can’t get the moves of the pattern down and keep failing their challenges. Maybe they keep bouncing off the board instead of breaking it. Maybe they are in tears by the end of class. And as their mom I have desperately wanted to swoop in and tell them it’s okay, you don’t have to do it. I’ve wanted to ask Master Ricardo to give them one more chance, or to let them slide. But ultimately, NOT rescuing them from this has given them far more than I ever could by temporarily taking their frustration away. They’ve learned to cope with frustration. To move past it. Which is why Poppy decided to campaign for school Vice President, even though earlier in the year she lost an election for Student Council Class Representative and was inconsolable for a little while. She knew that all she could do was pick herself up and try again.

Taekwondo has taught her to work hard. There is no participation award here, no medal for just showing up. If she wants that next stripe, that next belt, that trophy at tournament, she knows the only way she is going to get it is with hard work. And she sees it pay off. Maybe she spends weeks doing a 360 axe kick on a paddle, every class, getting bored and tired and sore. But then on test day, she slices through the board like it’s nothing and gets handed a brown belt while her family and classmates all cheer. Maybe every single Saturday she spends 2 hours sweating through a brutal sparring workout, then doing free sparring, instead of sleeping in and playing video games. But then at the tournament, she is kicking hard and feeling fine in the second round while her opponent is exhausted. She knows that’s what it takes, and it’s what helped her put hours of work into writing and practicing her speech for school.

These benefits are all things she has gained IN ADDITION to being super physically fit and healthy, and IN ADDITION to having the skills, strength and knowledge to defend herself should (god forbid) she ever need to. The physical benefits of course are fantastic, and are what I originally sought in signing them up for Taekwondo. But the more intangible lessons are the reason I’ve kept them here, and will continue to keep them training. I’m super proud of all they have learned and achieved here. Thanks for watching Poppy’s speech.

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