In the senior white belt attendance card, there is a question the students need to learn–why do we take promotion tests?

The answer to this is pretty simple and is applicable to almost anything in life that involves tests.  Here’s the answer…

There are three (3) things to keep in mind regarding why we take promotion tests:

  1. To get better.  We get better because in preparing for a test, we practice–a lot.  This practice gives us more experience and lets us become better through repetition.
  2. To gain confidence.  When we test, we have to stand in front of our peers and an audience.  The fear of that and messing up is enough to really make you nervous; but with practice and focus, you will gain more confidence in front of others.
  3. Let a qualified judge determine if we get promoted.  Promotions in martial arts require that judges determine if you are proficient enough to take on the next rank.  If you pass, you will move on to the next belt and new challenges.

If you are up for the next promotion test, keep these three things in mind.

Boy in sparing gear ready to spar

Sparring in Taekwondo

Some students love sparring and some don’t.  Regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on, sparring in martial arts serves an important purpose.

Before we get to what that is, it is important to know what we practice in the classroom so that you can have a better perspective into this subject matter.  In class, we learn many things.  Here are the core of what we learn:

  • Tenets of Tae Kwon Do:  courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit, and victory
  • Martial arts knowledge as it pertains to our style of the art
  • Breaking techniques:  a board breaking part of the curriculum to practice accuracy, balance, power, and speed using specified techniques
  • Step sparring:  a prearranged set of attack and defensive techniques which allows the student to discover and learn timing, distance, and technique execution in a safe way
  • Forms or Poomsae:  a set of combinations placed in a sequence creating a routine pattern; it promotes balance, power, combination technique execution accuracy, as well as a means to perpetuate technique knowledge commensurate with the students’ skill level
  • Self-Defense (for teens and adults):  students learn how to defend against certain types of common attacks
  • Free Sparring:  following a set of rules, students are allowed to free spar; students wear protective gear and are generally allowed to only hit a certain part of their protective torso, and occasionally for mature black belts, contact to certain parts of the head; in most cases, the former is where contact is allowed for safety reason.

Free sparring is the most unique in all of the physical activities above.  What makes it unique is unpredictability.  Compare that to breaking techniques, step sparring, forms, and self-defense.  In all of these activities, except free sparring, the situation is predetermined–no surprise.

Free sparring provides an ever changing situation, that is, your opponent is moving constantly whereas in other activities, the situation is pretty much static.  This isn’t to say that the other things don’t serve a purpose–the all do.  All aspects of our training provide a purpose.  However, this article is here to identify to the reader why sparring is important.

It is in free sparring that the student is able to put into practice everything they have learned in a more chaotic situation.  This is where the repetitive nature of practice comes into play.  The repetitive practice is what is infused into the students’ instincts.  In free sparring, things happen fast.  There is no time to think.  It is the students’ instincts that take over.  You see, when a student starts to think about what they are going to do in sparring, their reaction time slows down.  It is the instinctive student who has properly learned techniques who will triumph in a free sparring match.  It is the instinct that will help the student defend themselves should the need arise.

So you see, free sparring helps the students hone their defensive instincts.

If you have any thoughts about sparring and the ideas presented above, please feel free to share by commenting below.


There is a question on our student’s knowledge list that asks “What’s the most important tool in life?”

The simple answer is “goal setting.”

We are now in the middle of the first month of the year–January 2016.  By this time you should have 1 to 3 goals already set for the year.

Here are some thoughts about setting goals:

  1. Set no more than 3 goals for the year–anymore and you will be out of focus.
  2. Set goals that are realistic.
  3. When making a goal statement, it is best to state something that you are going to do versus something you aren’t.  For example, you might say that this year, I will stop drinking soda.  Instead, state that you will drink more water.  This replaces the bad habit of drinking soda, which is what you really want.
  4. Make sure to pick worthwhile goals.

Why is goal setting important?

Without a goal, a person can go through the year without direction or purpose.  Without direction, it is difficult to achieve anything.  Goals help us focus.  If you keep you goals in mind, it will help you take action towards achieving them.

Google “courtesy” and this is what you’ll get:

“noun:   the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behavior toward others.”

Courtesy is “the” very first tenet of Taekwondo.  It is number one because of some of the things we learn to defend ourselves.

Imagine, for example, someone learning various techniques that can hurt others.  Then imagine that this person is not a nice person.  This sounds like a bully and a dangerous person.

Think about it?

As martial artists, we are held to a higher standard by others and ourselves, because we know that without courtesy, we can be a danger to others.

This week, look for examples of courtesy at your school, at home, at the mall, and everywhere.  Share what you saw so that others can have a better understanding of the number one tenet of Taekwondo.


Respect in Taekwondo

(Written by Kenneth Yi in 2011)

On a popular social networking Internet site called Facebook, as I write this essay, there are currently 12,904 members that have joined “I’m a Black Belt in Taekwondo.”  My guess is that many of those black belts were asked the same above question as one of their requirements before obtaining their black belt in Taekwondo.  Furthermore, when you google the exact above question (Webster dictionary finally made “google” an official verb), you will be able to read all the different responses for many days as the search will give you 1,740,000 results.  If you google “what black belt means to me,” you will get 4,160,000 results.  In reading a few of the posted answers I realized that each person went through different  experiences in reaching their black belt.  Therefore, at the end, it appears that everyone has a different opinion about the meaning of being a black belt. When you compare some of the answers posted, only a few writers really try to answer the question “what it means to be a black belt.”  Instead, one can not help but notice that most writers are telling their stories about their journey in finally obtaining the black belt in Taekwondo.  Possibly, one of the reasons is that most writers obtained their black belts at a young age.  At younger age, it is more difficult to understand  what being a black belt  truly represents. My grandfather was a life long practitioner of Kumdo reaching 9th  degree and served in Korean athletic development  in many capacities.  Now he is mostly remembered as a founding coach of a Kumdo team at a major university in Korea (  He wrote an article which said that martial artists not knowing the meaning of “Do” are just simple hoodlums that learned how to wield a stick.  He stressed  that the meaning of “Do” should be realized by all of us and practiced  not just inside the dojang but more importantly outside in our daily lives.  Furthermore, he emphasized that we are never perfect but constantly striving to reach that perfection.  He said, possessing those characteristics and attitude constitutes a true martial artist. Similarly, Casimir Loeber wrote,

“In my opinion, there is a huge difference between being a black belt and having a black belt.  A black belt is after all a black piece of cloth that is tied around ones waist.  On the other hand, being a black belt is something profound that represents who you are to the core.  With enough effort almost anyone off the street can work out enough to accomplish the physical feats associated with having a black belt, but if takes someone truly special to embody what being a black belt represents.  A black belt represents the never ending quest to perfect your mind, body and soul; to treat others and the world with respect and to hold you to the highest standards possible.”

Although written many decades apart and at two extreme ends of the earth, Mr. Loeber’s and my grandfather’s article tell the same inherent message.  Mastering the physical techniques is required in order for one to advance in ranks to reach the black belt.  Many hours of dedicated training will transform a student to perform physically at the level that is expected of a black belt.  But one must at the same time learn and understand “The Way of Taekwondo,” the “Do” portion.  Striving to apply the tenants and commandments of Taekwondo in our daily lives is very important.  Understanding what the true meaning of being a black belt is just as important as knowing how to execute the poomse to perfection.  Therefore, I believe that being a black belt means that one sets an ultimate goal of trying to reach that perfection of the mind, body, and the soul. Most professional athletes retire before reaching 40 years old.  The physical demands of a sport will take a toll on an athlete’s body.  Soon, one will realize that they can’t compete at the level that they are accustomed to or wanting to.  When an athlete realizes this fact, they will usually hold a news conference and tearfully announce to the world that they will quit.  Achieving  the goal of a black belt in Taekwondo has taken me 6 years.  I will be turning 48 this year.  I can remember many days that I was so sore from training that I could barely walk.  Adam Aronson wrote,

“I have always believed that difference between a black belt and a white belt is the black belt just did not quit.  This is to me the most important meaning black belt and the reason why I am still pursuing it.” (

Not quitting and reaching the black belt has made me feel younger and my body stronger.  Becoming more flexible has alleviated many aches from simple daily tasks.  The confidence that I have gained allows me to feel more youthful in spirit.  The realization that you are coordinated enough and that you can control you body to perform Taekwondo techniques gives you an increased sense of empowerment.  Being able to train in Taekwondo with younger classmates has been a blessing.  The grimacing faces of the fellow students next to you as you stretch and cheering each other as we spar will always be cherished.  Because I will continue to tie the black belt in dojang means that camaraderie we share with each other will continue.  Finally, the sense of improvement I gain from day to day as I train further is satisfying.  So, being a black belt means that you are maintaining your strength in your body and nurturing your youthful heart. Here is a part of the essay written by Thomas Lynch, 3rd Degree Black Belt.  He concluded his essay by writing,

“I’d like to thank my mom for enrolling me in Tae Kwon Do at the age of four, and taking Tae Kwon Do with me.  I’d also like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Lightfoot for putting up with me when I was a crazy little kid back in the day.  Without their faith in me, I would not be standing here today.  Thanks for a great 10 years, and here’s to many more.” (

Taekwondo has been a great activity for my family.  Just riding to and from the classes together with my kids has been fun.  Sharing about Taekwondo has brought us much closer than any other activities that we have done.  There are only two kinds of people in this world.  Either you are a black belt or you are not.  Once you are a black belt you are forever recognized as a black belt.  Quitting at blue belt in Taekwondo is never mentioned as a person’s list of accomplishments.  The legacy was left from my grandfather to us.  Being a black belt means that I can continue that legacy down to my kids.  Becoming a black belt along with my kids will always remain as the biggest accomplishments in my life.  One of the most important reasons of becoming a black belt for me is that I will be able to continue this common bond with my kids forever.  To me that is priceless. I have observed that most students stop training once they reach their black belt as if they are graduating.  I like to tell them that black belt means that we have just learned the basics and it’s a new beginning.  Becoming a black belt means reaching a fork in the road that will start a new journey.  The kicks have to improve; the forms have to be done with more precise stances and more life lessons to be learned inside dojang.  I was told by a professor that when he was conferred his PhD degree, his mentor told him that it’s only a license to do further research and continue to learn on his own without supervision.  He emphasized that the degree wasn’t to show that now he knew everything.  I know there are so much more to be learned.  That’s why black belts are given as 1st dan and not as 9th dan in Taekwondo.  Even as a black belt, one must maintain the commitment to learn as if you were a lower colored belt. Written by Dan titled: Does your black belt define you, or do you define it?  He concludes by writing,

“It’s the opinion of other martial artists which are most influenced by the ‘dilution effect.’  Telling other martial artists that you have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do means little if anything (I believe this effect has most damaged Tae Kwon Do).  This, of course, is not limited to Tae Kwon Do, but applies, to some degree, to all styles and schools.  The people that truly know what your black belt is worth, is your fellow students, and your instructor.  Finally, you are the only person in the entire world that understands what your black belt means.”  (


“Respect has a great importance in everyday life.  As children we are taught (one hopes) to respect our parents, teachers, and elders, school rules and traffic laws, family and cultural traditions, other people’s differing opinions.  And we come to value respect for such things; when we’re older, we may shake our heads (or fists) at people who seem not to have learned to respect them.  We develop great respect for people we consider exemplary and lose respect for those we discover to be clay-footed, and so we may try to respect only those who are truly worthy of respect.  We may also come to believe that, at some level, all people are worthy of respect.  We may learn that jobs and relationships become unbearable if we receive no respect in them; in certain social milieus we may learn the price of disrespect if we violate the street law:  “Diss me, and you die.”  Calls to respect this or that are increasingly part of public life:  environmentalists exhort us to respect nature, foes of abortion and capital punish insist on respect for human life, members of racial and ethnic minorities and those discriminated against because of their gender, sexual orientation, age, religious beliefs, or economic status demand respect both as social and moral equals and for their cultural differences. And it is widely acknowledged that public debates about such demands should take place under terms of mutual respect.  We may learn both that our lives together go better when we respect the things that deserve to be respected and that we should respect some things independently of considerations of how our lives would go.” (

Black belt means to me ‘respect.”  I believe that because I have the respect for what Taekwondo is and all that encompasses, I was able to reach to black belt.  Without that respect that I have gained along the way, I probably would have given up and stopped training.  Training in Taekwondo has a mystic quality.  It feels like I did not become a black belt but that Taekwondo slowly transformed me into a black belt.  It is hard to explain with words.  Taekwondo deserves the utmost respect.  The advancements in ranks were exciting and challenging.  But, there had to been more than obtaining that next belt.  The whole training process has been a humbling experience for me.  And, I realize that it was the respect for Taekwondo and what Taekwondo represents that helped me persevere through the training  to reach the black belt.    At the end, it will be the respect for my black belt that will further me along in ranks.  The understanding what respect is and more precisely what “mutual respect” represents, is what I believe to be the true meaning of being a black belt in Taekwondo.  The black belt in Taekwondo signifies “mutual respect.”  A mutual respect is the only way that will lead to positive results in everything we do.  At the end of each class, all students recite the 10 commandments of Taekwondo.  The black belts should add as 11th commandment “respect your black belt.”

If you need to see how three of the basic Tae Kwon Do kicks are done, look no further.

The video below shows you how the three kicks are done by first showing them in normal speed, then at half speed.

This video covers the front kick, the round kick, and the side kick.

This week we’ve focused on the first tenet of Tae Kwon Do–courtesy.

It is the first tenet for a reason.  This video, exemplifies the spirit of courtesy, and why you can be successful and rich in life when you apply it.

If everyone applied the tenet of courtesy, the world would be a better place.

Victory:  6th Tenet of Taekwondo

Victory: 6th Tenet of Taekwondo

Victory didn’t use to be part of the tenets of Taekwondo.  At some point in time they added it as a tenet, giving us six Taekwondo tenets to guide our lives by.

What is Victory?  It is a tenet that tells us to have a positive outlook on things.  Regardless of how bad things seem to be, there is always a silver lining in those dark looming clouds.  In simple terms, it is a way of having a positive mental state, and always having a “can do” attitude.

You could also say victory can  be directly tied to our attitude towards things.  If you are pessimistic, then you definitely aren’t exercising victory.  If you are optimistic, then there is a good chance you are applying the tenet of victory.

Here are examples that show a case where victory is lacking, and where victory is applied, respectively:

John is getting ready to test for his black belt.  He is feeling a bit edgy because the final test day is coming and he is thinking that the test will be extremely difficult.  He is particularly afraid of failing to break the dreaded one inch brick.  He continues to get anxious and nervous as the day of testing draws near, and in the process fails to prepare for it.  As a result, he failed to pass on his first attempt at black belt testing.

Jane on the other hand is excited that she is finally getting tested for black belt.  After all, she’ll been training many years to get to where she is now.  With the testing only weeks away, Jane prepares for the test by constantly practicing her forms, self-defense techniques, and many other things that she knows will be on the black belt test.  She thinks that no matter what happens, as long as she does her best in preparing for the test, there is really nothing to be worried about.  And if for some reason she fails, she’ll find out what to fix for the next test.

Can you tell the difference between John and Jane?  How do their attitudes differ, and which attitude is conducive towards their upcoming black belt testing?

You are correct if you noticed that Jane has a definite advantage over John, just in their outlook on things and what they are doing about their situation.  If I were to bet on who passes the test, I see Jane as having a significant advantage over John.  John has already imposed roadblocks on himself through his negative attitude, while Jane just prepares for the test.

The above is just a simple example of how victory can help in your day to day lives.  It doesn’t have to just apply to Taekwondo.  You can use it at school, at home, and anywhere else you happen to be, and under any situation.

I’m glad they, whomever they are, added victory as a tenet of Taekwondo, because with it we have hope.

Kenneth S. Yi--a true black belt

Kenneth S. Yi–a true black belt

It is hard to believe and difficult to accept the passing of a fellow Koryo Family Taekwondo Center black belt and friend–Kenneth S. Yi.

Who is Kenneth S. Yi?

To the instructors of Koryo Family Taekwondo Center he is a caring family dentist, a sincere family friend, and the embodiment of a true black belt and martial artist.

As one of Dr. Yi’s patients, I know he takes time to meet you at his clinic’s waiting area, and once on a dental chair he’ll take time to check how things are with you and your family–showing genuine concern for everyone’s well-being.

Kenneth S. Yi is a very giving family friend.  Two years ago, after learning of my grandson’s first Christmas play, which was scheduled during the Taekwondo classes, he offered to cover the classes for me.  This allowed me to enjoy a one time only event which I would have otherwise missed.  Ken is a successful dentist and business owner.  Whenever he got a chance, he dropped words of wisdom to my kids, who are young adults, one of which has dreams of becoming a dentist as well.  Ken also openly shared with us some of his common sense business growth knowledge to help our own business.  In September 2013, when my father passed away, Ken was again there, willing to offer help to cover classes on days he was free; we never took him on that offer, but instead closed the school for the duration.  Nevertheless, this shows how much of a true friend Ken can be.

Ken embodies the characteristics of a true black belt and martial artist as he clearly abides by the six tenets of Tae Kwon Do–courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit, and victory.  Although he is already a successful dentist and business owner, he treats everyone with respect and is very humble.  His word is his bond; when he says something, he does it.  He once said that if we ever needed help in covering a class to let him know; he’ll do what he can to help.  He has already proved that he keeps his word.  As a father of two kids, I’ve seen Ken take full responsibility of his children’s welfare as he and his father take time to bring the kids to classes periodically.  I would say that Ken isn’t a natural athlete, but his strong perseverance and determination carried him through the challenges he faced as he worked his way to black belt.  In my time being Ken’s instructor, I’ve never seen him lose his cool.  He is able to keep it together regardless of underlying pressure.  Our curriculum is comprehensive; it is both physically and mentally challenging; regardless, Ken set his goal for achieving the rank of 1st dan black belt, and did it.  When he trains in class, he gives it his best to the point that his uniform is soaking wet from sweat.  Because of his indomitable spirit, he is able to keep up and outpace some of the younger students.  Ken’s attitude about training radiates positive mental attitude; this helped him deal with the challenges as he journeyed his way up to black belt.  Ken is a first rate black belt; I see him on equal standing with any martial artists out there, regardless of their rank.

Kenneth S. Yi will be missed by the Koryo Family Taekwondo Center family, as well as the Forlanda family.  His passing is a great loss for everyone, but we will never forget him as his spirit lives on within all of us.


self-controlIn our classes, both young and old, we make it a point to recite the tenets of Taekwondo at the beginning of every class.  The purpose of this, of course, is to remind everyone the general guidelines we, as martial artists, use to live by.  In addition, every week, we discuss one tenet in very good detail–asking each student to find examples they see or actually exercise in their daily lives.

Recently we covered “self-control.”

On the student’s card, this tenet encourages the student to calm themselves down in the face of anger or frustration, by breathing in a relaxed manner while counting up to ten.  This process actually has some logic to it because our emotions generally take over when we get angry; by counting to 10, we engage the side of our brain that deals with reason and logic.  The combination of relaxed breathing and counting help control the anger that is brewing inside us.  The result is that we are less likely to be angry, and thus less likely to say or do something we will regret in the future.

Because we teach everyone targeted defensive blocks, strikes, punches, and kick, it is very crucial that we temper these skills with self-control (in concert with the other tenets).  Without self-control, a person learning these skills can easily become a bully, or worse, a danger to society.

Be advised that students who use their skills for other than self-defense, can quickly find themselves suspended from Taekwondo classes.

Self-control is not just about anger control.  It is all about controlling ones self from temptations.  There are many pressures in our environment, as well as within our feelings, that cause us to do something.  Sometimes what we do is good, but more often than not, it is something that isn’t good.

At school for example, kids are under constant peer pressure to be with the “in crowd.”  Say for example, the “in crowd” are all smokers.  This creates peer pressure for a kid to smoke since that act is associated with that group.  A strong sense of self-control, can help a child justify to themselves why that group is not such an “in crowd” after all.  Instead, they will learn to feel sorry for those that fall and succumb to peer pressure.

There are many other things kids (as well as adults), can be tempted to do.  With self-control, they can temper such urges.

Now you know the importance of self-control, and what can happen, should a student fail to exercise it.

Have you exercised self-control lately, or have you seen someone put it to use?  Please share by commenting below.