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Taekwondo school

In the U.S. taekwondo schools serve not only as martial arts schools, but also provide child care and summer camp programs

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This article pertains to contemporary taekwondo schools. For a discussion of different styles (schools) of taekwondo, see Kwan.

Especially in the United States, a Taekwondo School (or 도장 "dojang") is not just a place to study taekwondo:

  • Martial arts schools in the U.S. also serve as before-care and after-care for young students outside their academic school day
  • Martial arts schools in the U.S. also provide summer camp programs, just as with most sports (gymnastics camps, football camps, soccer camps, etc.)

Because of this emphasis on youth programs some taekwondo schools are sometimes unfairly criticized for being "McDojos." This characterization is flawed on many levels:

  • Taekwondo is a sport just like any other sport. To criticize taekwondo for its youth emphasis is like criticizing soccer for its youth emphasis.
  • All martial arts are a mixture of combat training, physical exercise, and mental discipline, and all Martial Arts disciplines make a judgement as to how much "real world combat" to incorporate into that mix. For many taekwondo schools, the emphasis is on physical exercise, sport, and discipline. To criticize a martial art for this is like criticizing boxing for now allowing weapons in the ring (since weapons would make boxing more "real world").
  • Taekwondo schools are sometimes criticized for having many children with Black Belts. Indeed, for some martial arts a Black Belt is intended to denote advanced expertise. For some styles of Taekwondo however, the 1st dan Black Belt is intended to denote only that the student is now a qualified student. In other words, after two years (or so) of study, the student is now physically fit enough, strong enough, limber enough, has developed enough balance, and has learned enough of the basic movements for the real mainstream coursework (the advancement through the Black Belt levels) to finally begin.

The reality is that placing a child in taekwondo school is an excellent choice for parents who want to teach their children respect and discipline, want to develop their gross motor skills and physical fitness, and who want the child to develop a team spirit and an understanding of good sportsmanship. Many taekwondo schools also teach an appreciation for the roots of the martial art, respect for martial arts traditions, and an appreciation of taekwondo and Korean culture and history. As in other martial arts, taekwondo schools generally try to teach students to appreciate the benefits of hard work and humility.

For adults, taekwondo classes offer excellent cardio-vascular workouts, lots of good stretching, some good strength training (especially for the larger lower-body muscle groups, which helps facilitate weight-loss), and an enjoyable, worthwhile hobby. Adults are typically held to higher standards than children for skill application and comprehension but, depending on physical limitations, instructors will work around them.

Choosing a Taekwondo SchoolEdit

Choosing a school is like choosing a sport; the best selection depends on what you're looking for. Among the factors to consider include:

  • Location - if you plan to attend classes frequently, then a school that's convenient to your home, school or work is going to increase the likelihood that you stick with the sport
  • Cost and Contract - within a given area most martial arts schools tend to charge comparable fees for training. Some schools require a 1-year contract to start training.
    • If you ask, good schools will often permit you to take a first few classes for free, to see if you like the school.
    • Fair warning: in addition to the regular school tuition, there will often be extra costs as well: costs for uniforms, costs for belts, costs for tests, etc. If you're worried about cost, check out the price of those additional fees as well when comparing schools.
  • Instructors - as with any form of study, the quality of the instructors matters a lot. Do you prefer relaxed instructors who think classes should be a lot of fun? Or do you prefer tougher instructors who want to maximize your workout? Instructors who have trained in Korea will often (but not always) have a lot of cultural insight about taekwondo that you may not get from American instructors. 
  • The style of taekwondo - if you like sports, a WTF-style (tournament) taekwondo is probably best. If you're more interested in self defense, then an ITF-style school may be the best. However, schools can vary and may train both traditional and sport styles of Taekwondo. 
  • Self Defense - speaking of self defense, some taekwondo schools will offer special additional courses focused specifically on self defense. The techniques that are taught might include techniques other than just pure taekwondo, and that's okay. If learning to improve your self defense is important to you, consider choosing a school that focuses on the self defense aspects of Taekwondo.
  • Google - one really can't stress this enough: do a Web search on the advertising phrases used in the marketing materials for the school you're considering. Be especially careful about whatever "Federations" or "Associations" the school claims to belong to.
    • If the school claims to be associated with the World Taekwondon Federation (WTF) for example, you'll find literally thousands of hits on Google, and that's a good thing...that is a legitimate Taekwondo organization around since Taekwondo's founding.
    • If on the other hand the school claims to be associated with the Supreme Grand Tigers and Dragons Association or any other such wacky name, a quick Google search will immediately show you that, that association only exists at that school -- it is not a legitimate international organization. All other things being equal, it's much better to join a school that belongs to a legitimately recognized international federation but the choice is yours, if you like the school and those instructors. Do your research!
  • Size of the school - there are some advantages to big schools; big schools often have more activities (such as Demo Teams) to keep you interested in the sport in the long run, and often offer more varied courses during the week to fit your schedule. But of course there are advantages to small schools too. Small schools often have small class sizes, which may mean more personalized instruction. What matters more to you, personalized instruction, or the availability of special teams?
  • Student type - in the U.S., most taekwondo schools tend to be youth-oriented with child students outnumbering adult students by a large margin. As an adult, you may prefer to look for a school that's more adult-oriented. Or not. If you like children, you might prefer a youth-oriented school even as an adult. After you've been studying for a while, adults often get invited to help younger children during class, and that can be a fun way to increase your own enjoyment of taekwondo.
  • Class type and schedule - many taekwondo schools offer the opportunity for parents and children to take classes together. Other schools may offer women-only classes, or classes especially for seniors (older students, age 40 and up typically). It's worth looking at the school's class schedule to see what types of specialty classes are offered at that school, and how they fit into your schedule.
    • One will sometimes hear criticism of mixed adult / children martial classes, the premise being that neither category of student recieves an optimal workout from a mixed class. In fact, martial arts are an excellent activity for families to share. It increases the level of fun for the family members, to be sharing the workout with other family members. It makes it easier for parents or teens to help younger children with their taekwondo homework. It increases the probability that everybody in the family will stick with the sport longer. And finally, it makes better use of the parent's time (parents: why passively watch the class when you can fit-in a good workout by taking the class with your child?). Criticizing family-oriented martial arts classes is like criticizing family-oriented hiking or family-oriented swimming...it misses the point of sports. 
    • Pink Belt - some schools may refer to their women-only classes as pink belt classes. The term is maybe anachronistic nowadays but the term may still be used. Many women students enjoy the availability of women-only classes within the school's weekly class schedule. They may offer special rape-prevention, self-defense-type classes specifically for women.
    • Grey Belt - some schools have special classes for older students (such as senior citizens) that are sometimes called grey belt classes. Again, many seniors enjoy the availability of classes that are geared toward older students.
  • Teams and Clubs - statistically speaking, most taekwondo students quit studying taekwondo within a year of receiving their first Black Belt. As previously mentioned, larger schools often have special teams for more advanced or enthusiastic students. These special teams help keep your interest in the sport high even after the first few years.
    • Black Belt Clubs - despite the name, typically this is not a club for Black Belts. Rather, it's a designation assigned to students (usually children) who aspire to become Black Belts. Typically there is an extra fee or contractual commitment (and a special uniform or patch) associated with the Black Belt Club. The idea is that the student joins the Black Belt club when he or she has studied enough taekwondo to be sure that he or she likes it, and now wants to commit to sticking with it. 
    • Demo Teams - as previously mentioned, larger schools will often have Demo Teams where especially talented students can highlight their skills by putting on shows at special events, such as tournaments. Demo Teams usually consist of teenagers and young adults. Demo Team students are also often identified by special uniforms or patches. For teenagers, Demo Teams can often be a great social activity as well, like being on a High School sports or cheer team.
    • Leadership Teams - especially in ATA-style taekwondo, but also in other styles of taekwondo as well, students (often teens and adults) who demonstrate a lot of leadership during classes (e.g., assisting other students with their studies) will often be designated as being on the Leadership Team (again with a special uniform or patch as well). There may be additional leadership classes where the Leadership Team is taught how best to assist the school's instructors.
  • Cubs / Tiny Tigers programs - if you're shopping for a school for a very young child, check to see how old your child must be to attend regular classes. Typically children must be age 5 or 6. Some schools offer "cubs" or "tiny tigers" programs for younger students (ages 3-4). For very young students (ages 3-5) many schools don't teach much taekwondo per se; the lessons often tend to be more gymnastic in nature (for example, learning how to do forward-rolls), exercise-oriented (for example, running simple obstacle courses around the dojang), and discipline-oriented (how to sit and listen patiently, how to follow instructions, how to wait your turn, etc.). Some very basic kicks and punches are often also practiced. Probably the greatest benefit of these classes though is the exercise the chilren receive and the discipline they learn: when they turn 5-6 and are ready to start real children-oriented taekwondo classes, they'll already understand how to exercise in groups, follow instructions in class, etc. That having been said, many children don't start studying taekwondo until much later (ages 8, 9, 10, etc.) and are able to "catch up" very quickly. Taekwondo is not one of those things you have to start "very young" to become good at; you can start at any age and have fun, learn a lot, and progress very well. Don't every worry that you started your child "too late;" there is no too late for taekwondo.
  • Special Needs Students - taekwondo is a very inclusive martial art and many of the larger taekwondo associations and federations host special tournaments for disabled students. Most taekwondo schools probably won't have special classes set up just for special-needs students, but many taekwondo schools do have special-needs students in their general student population. If you have a special-needs child, check to see if there are any classes on the weekly schedule that are particularly amenable for special-needs instruction. For example, often the mixed Adult/Children classes on the weekly schedule will be a good fit for special-needs students.
Comparison of Some Common Taekwondo Styles
ITF aka Chang Hon style WTF aka Kukkiwon style ATA aka Songahm style Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo
Example Associated Logos
ITF-logo
WTF-logo-LARGE
ATA logo
MDK TKD logo
NEW ITF logo
Kukkiwon-logo
Includes weapons training... Typically yes Typically no Typically yes Typically yes
Organization Type Federation of schools Federation of schools (augmented by government sponsorship of Kukkiwon) Franchises Federation of schools
Student Uniforms Typically white with black trim on the bottom of the shirt White; no black trim on the bottom of the shirt (black belts will have black trim around the collar) White, typically embellished with many patches to represent school, special teams, etc. Typically white with black trim on the bottom of the shirt
Word for "forms" Teul (previously Hyeong) Poomsae Poomsae Hyeong
Forms are called... Chang Hon forms Taegeuk (previously Palgwae) forms Songahm forms (the forms are copyrighted by ATA) Pyong Ahn forms
Forms named after... Famous persons in Korean history Elements of the I Ching
Forms organized as... Typically organized as crosses or lines For color belts (taegeuk forms), three parallel lines, like the I Ching trigrams Organized as an eight-pointed star Two parallel lines and four angled lines

Practice AreaEdit

Typical dojang

A typical taekwondo dojang

The word dojang translates as "the place of the way." (jang = place; do = the way, just as in the term taekwondo.) The main part of the dojang is the practice area; in modern schools, red-and-blue mats are typically on the floor of the dojang. (Older schools often had wooden floors.) The dojang is usually decorated with items such as flags, banners, belts, instructional materials, and traditional caligraphy.

Of course different schools have different traditions and rules. Some of the more common aspects of a dojang however are:

  • Always arrive to class on time. If you're late, bow to the instructor when you enter the dojang, as a way to apologize for being late.
  • Always bow when entering the dojang. When leaving the dojang, turn to face the dojang and bow again.
  • When lining up at the beginning of class, higher-belt students line up in front.
  • When the instructor gives an instruction (e.g., "Everybody sit!") follow the instruction briskly, quickly, and with a "Yes Sir!" or "Yes M'am!"
  • Sitting in taekwondo class means sitting on the floor with legs crossed, facing forward, arms at rest on your knees, back straight. Alternatively, it may mean sitting with one's legs underneath. Never slouch in taekwondo.
  • Shoes are not allowed in the dojang ever.
  • Class is usually started and concluded by bowing to the flags and to the instructors (thanking them for teaching you).

School EquipmentEdit

Typical equipment found in a dojang includes:

Bags and TargetsEdit

Kicking paddle

Kicking Paddles - Kicking paddles are padded training tools used primarily as a target for a kicks. One person holds the paddles while another person kicks. The paddle is usually held so that the curved edge points in the same direction as the kicker's toes.

Punching-mitts

Punching Mitts - Punching mitts, also called focus mitts, are like heavily padded gloves (padded especially in the palms) that are usually used as a target for punching. Again, one person wears the mitts while another person practices kicking or punching the mitts. 

Freestanding bagKicking bob

Freestanding Kicking Bags and Bobs - a freestanding kicking bag (also called a pedestal bag or kicking tower) is like a punching bag on a stand. Because it's on a stand, it can be moved around (with effort). 

When the bag incorporates a stylized human torso into the design, it's often called a Bob. Sport taekwondo typically uses bags; traditional taekwondo often uses Bobs.

Heavy bag Heavy Bags - a heavy bag is a large cylindrical bag typically suspended from the ceiling with chains. Heavy bags are used when you wish to develop power in your kicks or punches.
KickmasterKicking-shield Kicking Shields - kicking shields can be flat or curved. When curved, the can curve either around the holder's body (in which case they're normally held horizontally) or curve away from the holder's body (in which case they're normally held vertically). In either case, the holder should hold the shield tight against his or her body; trying to absorb the force of the kicks on just your arms would be difficult, tiring, and potentially could result in slight injury.
Breakable Boards - wooden boards are often used for testing. Plastic rebreakable boards can be used for practice.

Other EquipmentEdit

Agility-ladder Agility ladder - an agility ladder is like a rope ladder that's laid on the floor. The agility ladder is used to help develop better footwork. Typical drills involve stepping down the length of the ladder quickly while moving one's feet in and around the rungs in different patterns.
Kicking Drill - Elastic bands - very large elastic bands (like very large bicycle inner tubes) are sometimes used to develop kicking power. The band is typically placed around the waist of the kicker; some brands of elastic bands go in pairs around the upper thighs instead. Another person holds one end of the band (or the end is affixed to a solid wall or post in the dojang). The kicker tries to step as far away from the holder as possible, facing away from the holder, then commences to practice his or her kicks. The idea is that since the kicker has to overcome the backward pull of the band, the kicker will learn to develop more forward power.
Barre ("bar")  - like the wood bar typically seen in ballet classes, this is a long horizontal bar that's afixed to a wall of the classroom at about waist height. The idea is that students can hold the bar to stabilize their bodies while repeating kicks. This helps develop better kicking muscles and better form.

WeaponsEdit

Sport-oriented taekwondo typically does not include weapons training. Traditional taekwondo however may include weapons training. Weapons usually include fighting staffs, swords, and knives. 

Dobok: Taekwondo UniformsEdit

Wtf dobok

A WTF Black Belt uniform

Black dobok

An example of a typical Demo Team uniform

Generally speaking there are three styles of taekwondo uniform tops:

  • Older, traditional taekwondo uniforms use a cross-over jacket front, usually with black trim on the bottom of the jacket
  • Newer ITF-style uniforms use a vertically closing jacket, usually with black trim on the bottom of the jacket
  • Sport-style and the most commonly seen taekwondo uniform uses a pull-over V-neck jacket that is solid white (no trim at the bottom). Black Belts will have black trim around the collar.

All styles of taekwondo wear similar long pants. Black Belts may have black stripes down the leg.

The basic taekwondo uniform is white, but there are many variations. For example, Instructors as well as Black Belt Club, Demo Team, and Leadership Team members may be given different color uniforms.

The school logo is often imprinted on the back of the uniform or is available as a sew-on patch. Patches may also be used to denote membership in special teams. National flags are often sewn on the shoulder of the uniform.

Belts and Belt TestingEdit

BeltColors

While there may be a great deal of standardization within the curriculums of individual taekwondo federations, individual taekwondo schools themselves may use wildly different schemes for the belt colors. Large and more modern schools often use many different belt colors -- this allows the instructors to tell at-a-glance which students are which. Small or more traditional schools may use fewer belt colors, but add "stripes" to the belts to denote the various ranks. In short, if somebody from another school says "I'm a Green Belt" or "I'm a Blue Belt" that could mean almost anything...it's more useful to explain what gup (beginner level) or dan (degree) you're at.

Different schools also conduct belt testing somewhat differently, but there are some common themes:

Testing usually occurs every month, two months, or three months depending on the size of the school. Some schools require all students to test together, other schools adopt a test schedule that divides students by belt color.

A belt ceremony is usually held after the test (or the next day) to award belts to students who passed their tests. Instructors typically place new belts at the feet of the students, the students turn away from the instructors and remove their old belts, then turn back to face the instructor. The instructor places the new belt on the student and congratulations the student. It is considered bad etiquette to remove your old belt while facing the instructor, and very bad etiquette to put your new belt on yourself the first time; the instructor must put the belt on you since he or she is "awarding" you the new belt.

VocabularyEdit

See main article Taekwondo Vocabulary for a more complete list of taekwondo terms. The terms below are associated with taekwondo schools.

English Hangul Romanized Korean
School 도장 Do-jang (literally "place of the way")
Head of school 관장님 Kwan-jang-nim
Master instructor 사범님 Sa-beom-nim
Instructor 교사님 Gyo-san-nim
Uniform 도복 Do-bok (literally "clothing of the way")
Belt Tti

See AlsoEdit

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