The “Tae Kwon Do” White Belt Class 1: The “Mystery Sweater”

For my first mystery shopping assignment in the field of martial arts, I decided to go with a more common style that would ideally appeal to newcomers. I’m not suggesting Tae Kwon Do is simple or anything, but it seemed less intimidating than, say, my first lesson at a Russian Sambo wrestling school.

I chose to bring my daughter along because I’m a big wuss. She is just seven years old and has never heard of Tae Kwon Do, the martial arts, or even fighting. I believed that having her there would offer me some insight into how child-friendly the session was, as well as a second perspective and give parents an idea of what bringing their child into a similar class may entail. I didn’t take her with the intention of hiding behind honesty.

We arrived early enough to find where we were supposed to be and meet the instructor I’d spoken with over the phone. He appeared like a pleasant enough guy, perhaps ten years my junior and dressed in a very attractive Adidas Tae Kwon Do outfit that made me feel like I’d stick out like a sore thumb in my XXL black t-shirt and shorts combo.

First things first, we had to line up. The instructor arranged all the students into a number of lines, all facing the front. I think his methodology consisted of picking all the senior grades (a couple of red-belts being the only graded people here in a class of no-belts or recently purchased, still sticking out sideways like cardboard, white belts), followed by everyone else in order of age. This put me nicely slap bang in the middle of the very first row, right in front of the instructor. I think he eventually gave up organising all the children by age and fell back on plan B, arranging them by height.

So once arranged in a seemingly reverse cinema seating arrangement (seemed odd sticking the shortest at the back and the tallest at the front) we were told to stand to attention and then get into the ready stance. The ready stance consists of breathing in slowly while raising the hands up to your chest and then lowering them, clenched into fists, to just below your belt/shorts elastic.

Then things got ugly. The warm-up was hard going indeed, resulting in not so much warmed up muscles but a sweaty red-faced heavy breathing mess. Sit-ups, press-ups, squat thrusts, leg raises, running, tig (for god’s sake – I’m not the right shape for playing tig in a sports hall full of midgets), stuck-in-the-mud (where I deliberately got stuck and made sure none of the little buggers freed me, I needed the rest, I was knackered) etc. etc. You know you’re unfit when you start clock-watching before you’ve even finished the warm-up.

Now we were warm, we got down to learning some techniques. This went very well and I was quite pleased that I have retained some of my flexibility from my youth. Front kicks, Axe kicks, punches, blocks, stances no worries. Then we had to get into pairs for some partner work. There was a definite sense of urgency in finding a partner, everyone trying to avoid being the odd one leftover at the end. Presumably, they have to partner up with the instructor or something if they’re unlucky enough to miss out on getting someone their own size extra small being the standard in this class where the adults are outnumbered by children six to one.

I must have caught the eye of the only lady in the class as she seemed to be in my face straight away. She seemed friendly enough and benefited from being over 4 foot tall so I figured we’d get along fine. Looking back, I think she just wanted to beat me up. Come to think of it, she is probably the reason behind the urgency in pairing up. Practising blocking, I’d be throwing punches at her stomach (as instructed), nice and clean, light contact left/right/left/right etc and she practised the block technique all friendly enough. Then it was my turn. She launches into a series of jabs, hooks, combos. She doesn’t want these to get blocked. She wants to use my stomach like a punching bag.

Self Defense Techniques

Self Defence Techniques are next on the agenda. Here I was in the unenviable position of being her attacker. Let’s just say she defended herself admirably using the techniques that were demonstrated. If I wasn’t going down, she’d be pushing me, trying to leg me up, pinching(!) until I did. Now in a real attack scenario, I’d have probably decided to change from my light chokehold technique while she subjected me to all this messing around and just lamp her but it seemed better to eventually fall to the ground and get it over with. I wasn’t convinced that the techniques we were shown would be effective in real life, at least, not when performed how we were doing them.

We finished off our partner work with some pad work and light sparring and then had to go our separate ways, back to the safety of the lineup and some pattern work. Now patterns are set sequences of techniques that need to be memorised. These don’t seem to be the easiest of things to teach nor learn, especially when the majority of the class don’t know they’re left from their right. This is going to take some time and patience. We’ll be taking this away for some homework.

The class ended much as it had begun, back in our lines, doing more exercises to cool down. I must have been doing them wrong as I just got sweatier.

To summarise, if you’re unfit you will certainly get a good work out from Tae Kwon Do. It is almost like attending a circuit training class. The instructor confirmed that to get proficient in TKD you have to be fit, and that is why, especially in the beginner classes, he tries to push the physical side. He also tried to instil a sense of discipline in the class. Chattering was punished by everyone having to do press-ups. Not sitting down/standing up quickly enough was punished by everyone having to do leg-raises. Unfortunately for me, being in a class full of easily distracted 6 and 7-year-olds was cause for a little more discipline than I’d have liked.

As for my daughter, she really enjoyed it. She liked all the running about and doing the exercises. Things like press-ups and sit-ups are not something she has come across before. It was all new and exciting for her. She didn’t really pick up on what some of the techniques were, for example, she has no concept of a block or putting 50% power into a technique so a little more child-friendly explanation of what we were doing sometimes wouldn’t have gone amiss but hey, it was only our first class.

Overall Verdict

  • A good introduction to Martial Arts, easy to get into
  • Excellent form of exercise
  • Teaches discipline
  • Good for children, seemingly

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