There’s a lot of martial arts thoughts bouncing around in my head right now that I would like to write about. The thoughts that are most on my mind right now are the things that I have learned while in Cincinnati. My two months are not quite yet over; I have one week left. Still, I feel that my time of departure is drawing near, and so I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting back on my time spent here so far. It was challenging at times, but I ended up learning a whole lot, and it really was a tremendously positive experience for me.
The three areas I have grown in are my knowledge of business, my knowledge of teaching, and my knowledge of Taekwondo. I learned a lot about each of those areas, but for the sake of length in this post I will share the number one thing I learned in each category: namely and respectively that I learned about running a retail operation, the benefits of really pushing and inspiring students, and the importance of small details.
The main thing I learned about business
My main reason for coming down to Cincinnati in the first place was to learn about running a martial arts business. As the above paragraph points out, I ended up learning a whole lot more than I bargained for, and that’s what has made my stay down here such a positive experience. Mr. Hamilton was a very good business teacher and walked me through many aspects of running a martial arts business. The thing that stuck out the most for me was what he taught me about running a pro-shop.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this term, a pro-shop is the part of a school that sells equipment to students such as uniforms, sparring gear, boards, etc. If done right, it can generate a very nice side income for a martial arts school.
Previous to Mr. Hamilton explaining to me how their pro-shop works and the various elements involved such as taxes and wholesalers and such, I didn’t have a good idea of how a retail operation worked. In truth, it’s not very complicated, it’s just something that most people (including me) tend to overlook. Once I saw how it worked though and how it could be profitable, I felt as though wool had been removed from over my eyes, and it was a very empowering feeling. Let’s face it: learning how to make honest money is a very empowering thing no matter how simple the method may be. What I like most about a side retail operation is that given a certain size of student body and a certain presentation of goods by the school, a nice side income can be generated with relatively little effort relative to other tasks. I’m all about that. This was the business thing that stuck with me the most.
The other thing I learned about business
Okay, so I’m probably breaking some rule of writing by not introducing this topic in my first section and maybe not transition well to it and from it, but here’s another big thing I learned about business that I could only have learned by doing it. Originally, I was thinking that I would be able to start a martial arts school and still work at Home Depot part time so that I could still have a side income while I was opening the school. Now I know there is no way that could work.
Running a school is very time consuming. I elected to have a Home Depot schedule here similar to what I might have if I opened a school back in Rochester. Even though I was only involved in a small percentage of the tasks involved in running the school here in Cincinnati, I found it very difficult to both keep up with working at Home Depot and keep up with my few tasks here at the school. Looking at the bigger picture of all the work it would take to run and grow a successful school, I’d have to say that I honestly believe there is no reasonable way I could do it if I also had to work a part time job at the same time. Therefore, I have to find a way to not need a side income while I was opening a school. I’m glad I learned this lesson here in a sheltered fashion instead of during the real deal.
Things I learned about teaching
The main thing I was impressed by here about teaching was the importance of having faith in students and pushing them to achieve. The students here are held to a high standard and expected to achieve it – even pushed to a achieve it. That last bit may sound harsh, but it’s actually very positive and leaves everybody happy.
A lot of teachers (my previous self included) might have high expectations of their students but may not always hold them to it. Let’s take teaching rear leg jump back kick for an example. In some schools, this sort of technique might only be introduced and taught to more advanced color belt students or those preparing for black belt; the idea being that lower ranking students simply can’t grasp it yet, so why even bother teaching it to them. If a lower belt did want to learn it, a teacher may watch the lower ranking student awkwardly attempt it a few times and then say, “don’t worry about learning that now, you got plenty of time.” The lower ranking student would then disappointedly settle for working on it later.
Before, this seemed all fine and dandy to me. Some techniques are harder than others, and it therefore seemed natural that higher ranking students worked on harder techniques and lower ranking students shouldn’t have to worry about such things at their rank. While there is certainly much virtue to one mastering the fundamentals before moving on to more advanced techniques, I know see that it is also just a beneficial for lower ranking students to be exposed to more advanced knowledge if only to plant an early seed that can bloom sooner; giving them the heads up about more advanced techniques will make them better prepared for those techniques when they need to know them and it will probably inform and improve how the lower ranking students practice their current more fundamental techniques. And who knows, they might even be able to do the more advanced technique perfectly fine now.
I’ve seen white belts in their third class perform jump back very nicely. Did they do it perfectly the first time? No. Could all white belt do this? No. However, think of the benefit received by those white belts that could. Instead of a teacher with-holding knowledge, the teacher gave these low ranking students a real chance and patiently let the students demonstrate whether they were ready for it. All it took for these white belts to learn this kick was a teacher taking a little bit of extra time to say things like “No do it this way,” “Chamber like this,” “Here’s how you have to turn your hips,” and the teacher would not give up on the student even though the student was a white belt.
It was probably challenging for a white belt being taught that kick. However, we learn by being challenged. Because the teacher had faith in those students and gave them a chance, they were a able to learn a technique that was in their capacities to do (even if their capacities had to be pushed and grown a bit first), and they weren’t being held back by the teacher.
From now on, I will have much more faith in my students’ ability to learn and will let them show me what they can and cannot do instead of me jumping to uniformed assumptions about what they can and cannot do (My students at the Southeast Y rock, and we’re going to be some of the toughest martial artists out there!!!!!!!).
Things I learned about Taekwondo
I really saw the importance of the minutely small details of our techniques in Taekwondo. I always knew that the small details were important, but never before in my training has their importance been impressed upon me, and never before have I been forced to examine the small details of my own kicks, blocks, strikes, stances, and throws. Seemingly small details like foot position, knee position, hip position and movement make such a big difference. Sometimes, even being told to alter my movement by a few inches produced much more power and balance in my technique. Again, just like the retail thing, it sounds like such a simple thing to say that these things made a difference, but my experiences here profoundly impacted how I now view certain techniques and also then how I think these techniques should be taught. It is perhaps something that I can’t well put into words, but it was one of the main high points of my stay (even if learning how I was doing so many things wrong was very humbling).
In my arrogance, I thought I would only maybe learn a few things about business here, and would at least get a bit of a testing experience. However, I gained so much more. I really want to thank Mr. Hamilton and Master Begley for being such great hosts and good teachers, and I really want to thank Master Bayerstopher (sorry if that’s misspelled) for working with me so much on technique fundamentals. You all made this one of the best points in my TKD career.