ATA Students Know: There’s Always More to Learn

Why continuing your education in all aspects of your life can keep you sharp on and off of the mats.


The holidays are upon us, which means many students have a break from school and, sometimes, their Taekwondo training.  But just because you have a few weeks off from your regular schedule, doesn’t mean you should put down the books and abandon altogether the idea of learning.

Grand Master Emeritus Soon Ho Lee stresses the mantra “There’s always more to learn,” and that concept is practiced daily by members of ATA and the Songahm community. 

As 2017 wraps up and a new year is on the horizon, keeping education in mind and committing to learning will help you grow inside and outside of martial arts.

The life skills taught in Taekwondo can help students stay disciplined and focused in order to continue their education, while still having fun, even during times when school is out of session.  This process is one that will extend into adulthood.

As Chief Master M.K. Lee of ATA headquarters explains, “Once a person grows, they should never stop until they rest in a horizontal way.”


Structure vs. Mindset

Master Gavin Espinosa of Victory Martial Arts in Stevenson Ranch, Calif. believes the structure of ATA helps people develop life skills to face life’s challenges by constantly providing new goals and new life lessons.

“Even as a master, through the ATA concept of ‘There’s always more to learn,’ they’ve implemented like no other organization that it’s always the beginning of a new part of your journey,” Espinosa says.

Martial arts can help young students stay mentally, as well as physically sharp during the times when school is out, and when school is in session, the mental demands can also help keep students sharp when they go to the gym.

“You can certainly use that education to under-gird the same principles that martial arts is teaching,” Espinosa says.

But for young students it can be a struggle, he says, primarily because of existing mindsets.  In the United States, especially, people have become conditioned to having time off for holidays, spring and summer and the don’t utilize that time as an opportunity to seek new challenges and continue to learn.

“At ATA we try to change that mindset with parents, No. 1,” Espinosa says.

He adds that at his school, he urges parents to help student keep up their daily training and to stay in touch, whether by phone, email or social media.

During school breaks, Espinosa says he tries to go “full steam ahead” with various programs and events.

“We change the mindset so it doesn’t stop the martial arts system,” he says.

And while Espinosa and other instructors send kids off for Christmas with a series of martial arts goals to focus on, he also wants to see them come back to the gym with tangible signs of improvement and an eagerness to jump back into things when classes resume.

To constantly improve, Espinosa says, means a student is constantly setting and achieving goals the ATA way.  “We’re not looking for kids to only have good grades.  We’re looking for kids with improved grades.  Now we can really serve as a tool to bring success in the traditional education system as well as in martial arts,” he says.


Hand in Hand

Chief Master Marilyn Niblock, 8th Degree Black Belt, agrees that education can enhance martial arts and martial arts can enhance education.  A nurse practitioner from Austin, Texas, Niblock began Taekwondo in 1980, shortly after she became a nurse, and uses herself as an example..

“From my perspective, for my medical education, Taekwondo helps keep me focused as a physical outlet, mental outlet and how to discipline myself,” she says. 

Taekwondo, Niblock says, provided an outlet for the stress she felt in her job but also gave her the confidence and discipline to excel, achieve goals and continue to learn at work. 

“My nursing job and my Taekwondo job always went hand in hand,” she explains. 

With its system of belt progression, ATA can mirror traditional classroom education in that students accomplish a specific set of skills in order to be promoted, whether that’s to the next color of belt or the next grade in school.

“I think that’s a perfect framework,” Niblock says.  “As far as the Taekwondo and the martial arts, what I find valuable to it is within the discipline itself and the discipline it provides and the structure it provides.  It helps give you the framework to develop your goals, develop timelines, achieve those timelines and achieve those goals.” 

Consistently practicing one’s kicks or blocks is similar to the kind of drilling student do when learning multiplication tables or memorizing facts.

“Hopefully that repetition of behavior translates for these kids as they go through elementary school as far as dealing with instructors and dealing with other people,” Niblock says.


Level Best

Chief Master Lee talks about the five levels of Leadership training within the ATA and the various skills that come with each level.  The levels mirror one’s growth as a person, and like so many other pursuits, education or otherwise, they provide a clear path to setting and achieving goals.  

The first level is for oneself, focusing on physical fitness, building confidence and respect for oneself and others, not unlike a child becoming socialized and learning how to act around other children when he first enters a school. 

The second level is about building relationship skills, staying passionate, motivating others and remaining honest.  “You can’t develop any relationship without integrity,” Lee says.

Management skills come into play in the third level as new black belts learn to become instructors and to manage groups of people. 

The fourth level is career oriented, dealing with organizational skills, leadership, how to maximize income and produce other quality black belts.

“Anybody who wants to run a business, it’s a critical part of their training,” Lee says.

The fifth level is one of transcendence.  AT this level, martial artists learn how to give back to the community and society. 

While the goal of training is to develop leaders so they can continually pass down the culture and traditions of martial arts, the skills and qualities developed can be useful in any walk of life, Lee explains.

Adults, too, always have more to learn, whether picking up a new hobby, starting a new job or going back to school to learn a new skill.  Martial arts Leadership training can teach people the goal setting and perseverance to accomplish those things and more. 

“Any level that they’re involved in they can apply to their everyday life,” Lee says.


Mature Thinking

Espinosa points out that continued learning is what can help a martial artist excel even as he advances in age. 

As the body grows older, a martial artist may lose the overpowering quickness and strength it once had, Espinosa says, but one can overcome that by staying mentally sharp, studying opponents, practicing forms and mentally cataloging experiences for a tidbit of knowledge that can give you an edge.

“You’re trying to improve your ability to overcome your opponent through mental domination and experience and you find new tools,” he says. 

To keep that mental flexibility and strength, Espinosa says, there is no substitute for thinking.  He encourages constant mental education in adults.

Think about everything, he says.  Think about where you want to be in the coming year, take a good look at what you are reading, watching and listening to.  Ask yourself where you go for fun and where you spend your free time; evaluate your hobbies, even the space in which you live and consider if any of those things need to be changed in order to better foster success.

“Maybe we can create a habit to find higher education,” he says.


Recognizing Success

It’s important to celebrate success!  As a martial artist, recognize the victories in your training with rewards to keep you motivated.  For young students, many instructors encourage students who excel both on and off the mat.

Lee says there are a number of ways to recognize good students who demonstrate learning and improvement.

“Part of learning is sharing your experiences with those you love and respect.  Let your instructor know when you get good grades or make the basketball team.  We want to recognize your accomplishments in martial arts but also the other elements of your life.  Learning in this way can make everything work together.”



Author: Todd Traub | Originally published in Vol. 21 no. 1 of the ATA World Magazine. Updated Dec. 11, 2017.


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