It had finally happened: 32 students are staring at me. Each of them is dressed in a traditional dobok. They are standing perfectly still and arranged in rigid lines. My palms are sweating and my stomach is turning in knots. It’s the first week of my summer vacation and I’m wishing I could transport myself back to the beach I was at just hours earlier. I’m looking around the room and I can barely catch a hint of a patch, the South Korean flag, on each of their left sleeves. I had been dreading this day. I knew this day would happen eventually, but I didn’t realize that this moment would change my life. I was nowhere near realizing it then; I was just trying to make it through the next 60 minutes without making a complete mockery of myself.
From the contextual clues, you might have guessed what’s going on; but then again, Tae Kwon Do isn’t exactly the most well-known sport in the United States. I guess I could have started by saying that I am a martial artist. This scene depicts my first day of instructing a class on my own, and I wasn’t prepared for it. All of this, although it takes many years and numerous career choices in between, eventually leads me to my current position at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy and, moreover, me sitting at my desk writing this very blog. For sure, that instant many years ago brought about my love of teaching, and it is how I arrived in my current profession, but that is neither here nor there. What changed my life was the the moment I realized that I was someone’s role model and had to act the part too. The awareness of it all eventually came crashing down on me. Young children were going to be looking to me for guidance. And, while as uncomfortable as it might be, I would now have adults, some who were more than twice my age, looking towards me for answers. I was 16 years old, still just a kid as I look back on it, and I kept asking myself, “Who am I to take on this responsibility?” Humility and I had a long journey together that summer.
FACT: Thousands of years ago, the martial arts was invented by peasants who were trying to protect their families and lands from invading armies. At their disposal: their own hands, feet, and farm tools.
FICTION: The martial arts is about learning how to fight.
Here today in the United States, we aren’t exactly faced with hostile forces haranguing us along our city streets. And it’s a rare occasion when we are actually faced with a situation that requires us to defend ourselves. But, the lessons learned from these ancient arts are still quite valuable today. Some say the world isn’t what it once was. It could be said that in our modern era people seem to have less respect, discipline, integrity, perseverance, humility – the list goes on. However, these are the backbone tenets in almost every style of martial arts and without them the martial arts is not a very practical endeavor. It’s not really about the techniques: the kicking and punching aspects are only about 10% of the martial arts. But the rest? The rest is entirely mental. This mental behavior is the hardest to learn and even harder to put into practice.
During my 25+ years of training, and eventual ownership of a martial arts school, I’ve experienced some amazing stories. I’ve traveled across the country coaching numerous Jr. Olympic competitors, trained with several International demonstration teams, and seen thousands of students come through my doors and progress through the ranks – even some with Cerebral Palsy and ADHD (and I’ve even seen a 90 year old senior earn a black belt). But truthfully, the most impressive feat I’ve seen to date is watching a troubled student turn things around in their life. You see, I don’t consider martial arts to be a sport or a hobby; it’s plain and simply a way of life, and once immersed in the lessons (if you take them to heart) you’ll find yourself building a better world one day at a time, one class at a time, one lesson at a time.
My insights mesh well here with Holy Trinity’s philosophy – as many lovingly call it, “The Holy Trinity Way.” It’s possible to gain an education almost anywhere in the world but what you won’t always find is a deeper underlying structure beneath it all. You’ll find it here at Holy Trinity. Call it faith, call it values, call it whatever you want, but what I can’t help but notice is that the hardest part of “growing up” has little to do with the educational knowledge you gain in the classroom, and more to do with the spiritual growth that takes place within ourselves. It’s the same in education as it is in the martial arts. This growth makes us into the leaders of tomorrow and provides us with support during the most trying of times.
– Russell Deatherage
5th Degree Black Belt
HTEA Computer Science Educator / IT Desktop Support Analyst
I’ve recently starting teaching martial arts here at the HTEA Upper School as an after school club. I’ll also be conducting a Self-Defense Seminar at the Pineda Campus over the summer for those who are interested in learning some practical ways to defend against an attacker. There are two courses, one for teachers and parents, and the other for high school students. I encourage you to give it a try. You never know, it just might change your life.