Note: This is the second of 2 essays I wrote as part of my test for Ee Dan (second degree black belt) in Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan.
This topic brings to mind something that Kyo Sa Nim James Vasquez told me after I was promoted to Cho Dan. I'm having trouble finding his note, but essentially he said that the key to being a good Cho Dan is to remember that, above all other goals, we are responsible for the care-and-feeding of the gups, and that's what gives being a Cho Dan meaning. Essentially, I took this to mean that without that sense of responsibility to our juniors, that desire to help others along the path, it's just a bunch of kicking and punching.
As I approach the rank of Ee Dan, I think that my understanding of this role is in many ways unchanged, although it now has to encompass the rather different needs of responsibility toward newer Cho Dans as well. Given how many students choose to end their training after reaching Cho Dan I think this is a very significant addition to our responsibilities.
So, what actions enable us to support and nurture our juniors? In broad terms, I think that the real work of caring for our juniors falls into three broad categories: Acting as a teacher, acting as a role model, and acting as a community leader.
I think the most obvious role of an Ee Dan is to act as a teacher for the junior members of the dojang. Whether it’s taking the path of training toward the Kyo Sa certification, or simply in assisting other instructors with warm ups, demonstrations, and class activities, this is clearly the most nuts-and-bolts way that senior students can take an active and supportive role in the dojang.
After I reached the rank of Cho Dan I quickly realized I wanted to teach more as a way of helping to give back to our dojang and to our instructor. What I quickly realized was that, while I may have learned my gup-level curriculum well enough to test for Cho Dan, I felt I had a long way to go in learning it well enough to demonstrate and teach it correctly to other students. I knew after I received my promotion to Cho Dan that I had a lot of work to do in improving the ways in which I articulated how to perform techniques if I were going to be a reasonably good teacher one day and help my juniors adequately
This was a pretty big challenge for me personally as I find that for me there’s a very big difference between how I learn and how I am best able to teach someone else. I’m a very visual learner, and a very visual thinker as well. So when I learn new techniques I usually learn them best by watching my instructor or my seniors demonstrate them, or by viewing videos, and then by sort of “playing them back” in my head. And while this method of learning works for me, it doesn’t really translate well into a teaching method unless the other students are also visually oriented learners and can learn by watching me demonstrate technique.
So, to best serve the needs of my juniors I needed to work on improving my own abilities. I spent a lot of time forcing myself to explain techniques using words, breaking them down into individual steps and verbalizing them as an instructor. I forced myself to use language first, then use physical demonstration as an example of what I’d said, instead of as the primary way of teaching. I think I’ve come a long way in this, although I find that sometimes I still get tongue-tied when trying to explain myself and I wind up resorting to “uh, just do it like this….” But I’m getting there, and hopefully my progress and efforts to improve in this area of my own training has proven beneficial to my juniors as well.
I think another of the prime roles of an Ee Dan is to continue to act as a role model for the lower ranking students., but now with the added responsibility of showing Cho Dans their path forward as well. Given how many students tend to quit after attaining the rank of Cho Dan, I feel that Ee Dans have a unique opportunity and responsibility to communicate what keeps them going to the new Cho Dans and the first gups preparing to test for Cho Dan. We need to share with our juniors the reasons why we keep training, and to express the satisfaction we get from staying on the path in spite of the lengthy periods between testing, if we are going to encourage students that may have viewed the midnight blue belt as their primary goal to instead look at training as an ongoing journey with Cho Dan simply a mile marker along the way.
One of the best ways we can do this is by acting as a good role model, and by showing through our words and deeds the continued benefits we realize from continuing to train in the Tang Soo Do Mi Guik Kwan. One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is to really try to find ways to apply the 8 Key Concepts to my life and behavior both inside and outside the dojang. By exemplifying the ongoing, life-changing aspects of our art, we can encourage others to stick with it even when things are tough, and to think of Tang Soo Do as an integral part of their life or lifestyle, instead of simply as an activity.
Given the relatively small number of Ee Dans in most dojangs clearly they can be expected to hold a certain amount of responsibility for helping to foster a greater sense of community and family within the dojang. Based simply on the number of years that we have been training with each other, and the number of juniors we have who are more recent additions to the Mi Guk Kwan family, it just makes sense that we are perceived as leaders and organizers within the dojang by the newer members.
As such, I think it’s important for Ee Dans to take an active role in both organizing dojang community activities (in-school tournaments, celebrations, clinics, etc.) as well as actively participating whenever possible in other organizationally-oriented events (regional tournaments, Weekends with the Masters, Nationals) whenever possible. If our juniors don’t see us participating in these events as often as possible, to the best of our ability, they will almost certainly be less inclined to participate in them themselves. So, for the good of the dojang, regional, and organizational communities I think it’s very important that we continue to demonstrate our support for these events, and encourage others to join us as well.