No, really. No, no, over here. Helllllllllooooooooo! *frantically waves hands* Earth to the student not paying attention, please respond. Ok, let’s try sitting on the target so you’ll quit throwing it back and forth with your partner arguing over whose turn it is to hold it.
Why, as instructors, do we spend so much time demanding your attention? There are a couple of reasons really. First of all, this is called a Taekwondo school. That last word there implies that learning will take place. If you don’t pay attention when we review the material, one of two things is going to happen. Either you will do it incorrectly, or as soon as the instructor gives the green light to begin you’re going to come up and ask “what are we doing”. Either way, we spend time recounting the same information rather than having time to go more into detail and help individual students who paid attention but are struggling with some aspect of the technique.
The second reason is safety. Why is it dangerous to not pay attention? If you perform the techniques incorrectly there is a chance you could get hurt. If you’re not paying attention to what is going on around you, you may accidentally hit someone when you are practicing your form. If you aren’t listening for the instructor to let you know when it’s time to go or stop during sparring, you may hurt your partner by hitting them when they are completely unawares and unprepared to block. This is also why it’s so important to answer, and answer loudly! Maybe you are ninja focused and paying amazing attention, but your partner has an ear infection and doesn’t pay very good attention in the first place anyway. If you answer, it clues your partner in to the fact that something is changing, and may avoid you getting hit unexpectedly.
Another problem we’ve seen lately (and if you’re paying attention you’ve heard us stop the entire class to talk about it) is with students not paying attention to where they are going. When we ask you to go around a group it’s not because we think you need the extra exercise from walking a little further. At least 2-3 times each week a student comes within seconds of getting hit because they walk through a group to go get a target, or between an instructor and a student testing for a stripe, or in the middle of a group doing their form, or between and instructor and someone about to break a board. Remember when Mrs. Lacy talks about the difference between contact and impact when sparring? If you get hit in one of these situations, it is going to be impact, because the other person isn’t expecting anyone to magically appear at the end of their foot.
Last but not least, we want you to pay attention because of the very first tenet of Taekwondo – Courtesy. If you are spinning in half circles while holding the target for your partner, it’s not very courteous to them because by moving the target you’re actually making it harder to get better. If you are paying attention to your partner, you can help make sure they are doing the correct technique. If your partner isn’t doing the right kick, or is performing the kick incorrectly, do **NOT** abruptly move the target out of the way mid-kick, put your face where the target used to be, and point to what your partner is doing wrong. This also happens several times a week, and each time it makes my heart skip a beat. If you think your partner is doing the kick wrong, ask an instructor. We are there to help, not just to stare at ourselves in the mirror and look pretty while you’re doing target work.
A final note about sparring: the goal is always not to get hit, but that isn’t always feasible (especially if you spar with your hands down). Last week Mrs. Lacy asked one of the juniors classes, “what should you do if you’re sparring and your partner kicks you upside the head?”. One of the students (who obviously wasn’t paying super close attention because he misunderstood the question a little bit) responded, “Point and go ‘IN YOUR FACE’!”. While he was a little confused, he actually did have the right idea. If your partner hits you and you don’t block, it’s important to acknowledge the hit with a quick “Nice” or “Good hit”. If you don’t acknowledge it, the next time your partner is going to hit you a little bit harder. If you don’t respond to that, they’re going to hit a little bit harder and a little bit harder to try and get your attention until you either acknowledge the hit or go and complain to an instructor that they are hitting too hard. Even though taekwondo is an individual sport, everyone at the school is on the same team. While no one wants to get hit, it is important to congratulate your teammates when they do well (i.e. getting in a good, clean shot while sparring). Acknowledging the hit also helps you acknowledge weaknesses in your sparring defense, and until you acknowledge them you cannot fix them.
Classes are only 45 minutes, so come prepared to pay attention the whole time. Parents can help their kids pay better attention in class by getting them into the school 5 minutes before their class starts with their belt, taekwondo clothes, and gear. If you drop your child off too early, they will be bored and unfocused when class finally begins. If you get them there late they miss lining up and warming up (when we are working on getting them focused) and are often so frenzied by being late that they spend the rest of the class trying to play catch up but never quite getting there. Adults who get to class early are encouraged to begin light stretching on their own. Not only can extra stretching help prevent injury, but it also gets your mind focused on what’s about to happen. Taekwondo is a physical sport, but it is also a mental art form. If your mind is wandering, you’re missing half of the benefits.