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monkeygirl
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Joined: 22 Feb 2002
Posts: 3677
Location: Oregon
Styles: Tae Kwon Do

PostPosted: Wed May 05, 2004 8:30 am    Post subject: Success Story Part 2: Different Perspective Reply with quote

Many people would consider my biggest accomplishment to date - earning the rank of first degree black belt in the art of Tae Kwon Do - an enormous success. After three years of dedicated training, two years of teaching others and one life-threatening injury, I had finally earned my black belt.

I had finally become the envied role model, instead of the student who envies others. Undoubtedly, this constitutes a major personal achievement, but can I honestly consider it a success? Most people would quickly answer yes, but I find myself curiously torn. If we lived in a perfect world where nothing unfortunate ever happened, I could consider my martial arts career to be a wonderful success. But, our world is far from perfection, obviously. Thanks to this imperfection, greed and controversy were foolishly allowed to destroy my happy, successful life.

At the age of 12 years, I decided to join the most popular martial arts school in my area. My brother Sean also joined, so I would not feel alone or unsupported. After my first class, however, I realized that I did not need my family to give me confidence; I discovered that I possessed a natural talent for Tae Kwon Do and my self-confidence instantly skyrocketed. My brother and I soon became hopelessly addicted to the martial arts. Before Tae Kwon Do came into my life, I had little self-esteem and often felt like my life was void of any clear purpose, any driving aim. Training, however, made my life feel worthwhile; every class left me thirsting for more.

Between classes, Sean and I practiced techniques whenever and wherever possible... we found it difficult to stand still without throwing a restless kick or two. After our first week of classes, the school held a test and we earned the rank of yellow belt—my first taste of sweet, gratifying promotion. The following week, I participated in my first-ever tournament and won first place in the beginner’s forms division. With every class, belt promotion and tournament, my confidence grew.

At the end of the year, I received an enormous honor: I was awarded the title of Adult Student of the Year. When Sean and I earned our blue belts (over a year after we had joined), we were promoted to the Leadership Team. This meant that the head instructor believed we had earned the privilege of teaching the lower classes. After this promotion, the martial arts encompassed our lives and became my sole driving passion. We spent three hours a night, five nights a week at the dojo, teaching others and developing our own skills. Something about the intricate techniques and fighting skills of the art fascinated me. Only teaching Tae Kwon Do classes could rival my passion for learning and performing it.

I formed friendships with the other teenage instructors, which soon developed into the strongest relationships of my life thus far. For two long, happy years, we were inseparable.

Earl*, the head instructor/owner was like a second father to me, especially when my real father and I started arguing. My life and the dojo were irreversibly intertwined... life seemed unlivable without the school and my friends, but it did not seem to be an issue. I did not see myself leaving them anytime soon. The dependence went both ways: the owners of the dojo completely relied on my brother and I to teach about 36 classes a month (due to Earl’s full-time job), although we usually ended up teaching about 80 classes. Sean, being five years older, held more responsibility than I did and received a small paycheck each month. This money helped him to pay for his college textbooks, since attending college and teaching martial arts left very little time for even a part-time job.

Over the next two years, my brother and I received several important rank promotions (in both belts and teaching status), and I remained undefeated in the tournament circuit. Not all events were positive, however.

In May of 2002, a 17-year-old student tested for his brown belt. As a brown belt myself (and Assistant Instructor), he had to spar me before he could pass. We fought each other with speed, intensity and power... unfortunately, he did not fight with control. About a minute into our match, a badly placed sidekick of his connected painfully with my right eye. The force of the very powerful blow broke the orbital bone of the eye and gave me terrible double vision. My optometrist informed me of a risky surgery to correct my double vision, but he did not recommend it since he could not guarantee results. My double vision became better with time, but never fully healed... and never will.

To make matters worse, I could not risk another eye injury in the future, for fear of permanent blindness or death. Rather than giving up on my training, I decided to purchase a protective face mask, which would hopefully provide sufficient protection during sparring matches. Many people questioned my decision, but my love of Tae Kwon Do and loyalty to the dojo were too strong. I absolutely refused to let a physical handicap prevent me from earning my black belt.

So, I continued to train hard, and finally achieved my goal on September 21, 2002. Sean tested at the same time, and passed with flying colors. Earl and his wife Linda* threw a party for us, a “Black Belt Extravaganza” - our mother created a PowerPoint presentation of our lives, showing how far Sean and I had come. All of my friends attended the celebration, people were laughing and crying... I cannot remember a time when I felt a greater sense of accomplishment.

It all went downhill from there.

Suddenly, Linda decided to have a bigger part in managing the dojo, which could only mean trouble. Linda, the horrifying mother who could not control her children; Linda, the woman who screamed at customers when they did not pay on time, yet had no problem with paying her own employees several weeks late. She can be described as hostile, hypocritical, paranoid and often unintelligent. This woman wanted more involvement in the dojo and very few students looked forward to her coming.

After she came, things started to change for the worse, slowly but surely. Instructors became required to swab the toilets and sweep the floors every night (tasks that should have belonged to Linda), even though we rarely had the proper equipment for the job. Students’ equipment orders often took three weeks longer to arrive than usual; when the orders finally did arrive, they had a tendency to be very wrong and had to be re-ordered... another long wait for the customer. Linda raised the monthly tuition prices by $10, even though many customers found it difficult to pay the previous tuition of $80 per month.

Meanwhile, Earl combined several of the classes so he could leave an hour earlier, and worked a full-time job so that his advanced students rarely ever saw him. Earl made promise after promise to the students, none of which he could keep. In essence, the customers paid more and got less.

Then, Earl and Linda suddenly decided to stop paying Sean his monthly salary, without even telling him first. When Sean asked why he had not been paid for the last two months (thinking that they could not come up with the money, as was often the case), Earl tried to cover up by claiming: "We told you in the meeting a few months ago, we are not paying instructors anymore."

Even supposing this were true, Pennsylvania labor laws state that an employer must give written notice before discontinuing an employee’s salary. Sean informed him of this, but Earl still refused to pay for the last two months of work. Laws aside, consider the sheer immorality of the situation: Earl and Linda expected Sean to work for free! Linda eventually came into the situation and started an argument. Sean tried to resolve the fight diplomatically, but to no avail.

He eventually decided to resign his rank of Assistant Instructor and started looking for a job. Sean and I stayed at the dojo for several months longer, but Earl began to treat us differently. He did not treat us like black belts, he treated us like strangers: overly nice and unfamiliar. I kept my rank of Assistant Instructor, but Earl shut me out of my best friend’s black belt test, even though I had participated heavily in the judging of another friend’s black belt test.

Finally, Sean and I could not take any more and left the dojo entirely. I never even got to say good bye to my friends and have not seen many of them in several months. It hurts too much to even think about telling them why Sean and I left.

I lost over 100 students, my surrogate family. I miss everything about the dojo, even the people and activities I used to dislike. Just when I think I have moved on and gotten over my grief, the smallest thing triggers a fond memory of the school and I fall apart. Life has never been the same and I doubt that it ever will be. When I think back to the things I have sacrificed out of loyalty to my dojo - such as my eye injury - I wonder: was it worth it? If God gave me another chance, would I make the same decisions? To this day, my eye causes headaches, sinus pains and prevents me from playing many sports.

I earned my black belt, but from who... a lying cheat of an instructor? Losing your friends and way of life can make any success feel like a massive failure. So was I successful?

If we lived in a perfect world where nothing unfortunate ever happened, I could consider my martial arts career to be a wonderful success. But, our world is far from perfection.

*Names changed.
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Patrick
KF Administrator

Joined: 01 May 2001
Posts: 27104
Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Wed May 05, 2004 8:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for the submission.
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italian_guy
Black Belt
Black Belt

Joined: 26 Nov 2003
Posts: 1476
Location: Italy
Styles: Formerly in Goju ryu karate (Nidan) now in Wing chun with past experience also in krav Maga, Kickboxing, Tai chi chuan (yang) and JKD.

PostPosted: Thu May 06, 2004 6:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very good and intense article. My congratulations.

Since you decided to share your story with us let me make my considerations.
You have done the right thing in leaving your dojo even if it is painful.
You have my deepest symphaty but things couldn't go on as you describe.
But now let me give you an advice (I'm a relatively old fart and old farts like to give advices) GET BACK TO MA as soon as possible, stop your inactivity before you become depressed. Try to find another TKD dojo if is possible, but if not, find some other MA school and start from square one, with your dedication, your experience and your talent you'll learn fast whatever art you'll choose. Don't let them discourage you.
As soon as you find another place where you can express your dedication the last part of your experience will become just a memory.

Yours in MAs.

italian_guy
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drunkenninja
Yellow Belt
Yellow Belt

Joined: 12 Apr 2004
Posts: 28

Styles: Isshinryu

PostPosted: Fri May 14, 2004 11:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I totally agree with itaian_guy.

You and your bro absolutely can't quit now.

Your much too young to give up, find another dojo, and get back into it.

You want revenge? join a dojo and beat all their students in tournements! lol

No really, get back into MA, even if its not TKD which im sure you've grown fond of. Have an open mind to the other MA.
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monkeygirl
KF VIP

Joined: 22 Feb 2002
Posts: 3677
Location: Oregon
Styles: Tae Kwon Do

PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2004 4:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the responses!
Unfortunately it's not so simple as finding another dojo. I'm now enrolled in a boarding school (although I don't live there this year, I commute) which I once figured takes up about 80 hours a week. Next year I will live up there, so it's becoming increasingly difficult to fit MA into my life. So different from a few years ago, when life had to fit into my MA...
I'm now trying to negotiate with some school athletic officials to get better facilities for martial artists. We have state-of-the-art gym equipment, but we can't even have a decent hanging bag in a low-traffic area. (we have a 30lb-ish bag that's about 6 feet away from a major door and at the junction of three major pathways in a gym that facilitates about 500 people nearly every day)
So, I'm trying to get it to where we can have a dedicated room (there are a few empty rooms in the gym that are waiting to be filled, but there's competition among teams for the rooms) where we can have some nice equipment like a decent heavy bag, some hand targets, and even some padded weapons that would stay in the room so we can practice weapons forms and still comply with school rules regarding weapons. There are quite a few martial arts on campus, so the room would be in high demand. If we can get those arrangements made, my MA life would be a little easier, at least until I get to college. Once I get into college, I think I'll have more time to find a new dojo/style, and that time is getting closer and closer...this fall I start my senior year of high school!
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Red J
Black Belt
Black Belt

Joined: 11 Aug 2002
Posts: 2278
Location: WPB, FL
Styles: Shaolin Kempo Sandan

PostPosted: Mon May 17, 2004 5:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Monkeygirl:

I really enjoyed your writing. You have something a lot of people don't have, insight and perspective. You will carry these lessons with you and they will help shape your life.

Good luck on your last year of high school. Remember to be true to yourself. You will find yourself and your true friends. Stay on the path.....
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aefibird
Black Belt
Black Belt

Joined: 26 Oct 2003
Posts: 4416
Location: UK
Styles: Past and present: 2 styles of Karate, TKD, Aikido, Wing Chun, some Tai Chi

PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2004 10:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Monkeygirl, thanks for sharing your story with us. I really hope that you manage to get back into martial arts sometime soon. You seem to have real fighting spirit - keep going with the plan to get a martial arts room at your school! Good luck with it.
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Thruhiker
Orange Belt
Orange Belt

Joined: 21 Oct 2003
Posts: 124
Location: Michigan
Styles: TKD

PostPosted: Mon Jun 07, 2004 9:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Monkeygirl, Your article was very nicely written. I am sorry to hear about your untimely meeting with a side kick to the orbital bone. I pray someday your vision and sinuses will be restored and that you can compete in any sport you wish. For now, I would encourage you to continue studying your forms/katas. I read a terrific book called Living the Martial Way by Forrest E Morgan and in the book Forrest talks about how forms/katas create the warrior inside us to grow. If nothing else practice what you know and keep your TKD skills sharp.

As far as your instructor goes, I am sorry you had such a bad experience. It seems that people always have good intentions in life but as pressures develop over time people, Earl, get caught up in paying bills rather than passing along his knowledge to create a "legacy". It's unfortunate that Earl had sold himself out rather than staying committed to his students/friends/family. If you look at the Japanese and Koreans their history shows dedication to the Martial Way. These ancient martial artists practiced when it wasn't permitted by law and they traveled for hours sometimes by foot or bicycle to practice with an instructor. The dedication that these people had allowed the martial arts to survive over hundreds of years and we should be grateful that we are privileged to partake in such ancient practices.

Maybe one day Earl and Linda will realize that its not about the almighty dollar but its about the lives that you are affecting. I hope that you can get into a school where you can become the teacher that will pass along the "legacy" in an honorable way. You have gone down a hard road but, I believe you have learned a painful lesson.

By the way is Sean practicing any martial arts these days?

Best Regards,

Thru
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monkeygirl
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Joined: 22 Feb 2002
Posts: 3677
Location: Oregon
Styles: Tae Kwon Do

PostPosted: Mon Jun 07, 2004 11:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for your comments, everyone.
I have started to train on my own again, although it's still pretty emotionally painful. With time though, it's getting easier. I've started to get excited about training again, which is a good sign, I suppose.
This summer I'm a junior counselor at an "Adventure Camp" that my high school runs. I'm pretty psyched because I'll be teaching the Martial Arts enrichment program. I'll get four 1-hour lessons with each group. I'm psyched about teaching again.
Also, I was talking with my high school's dance teacher, and we started comparing kata to dance in the fluidity and precision of movement. Now she wants to collaborate with me on something this fall and maybe present it to her students.
Also, for my senior project, I want to do some kind of Self-Defense For College/Safety Awareness thing, with some SD workshops and stuff. So lots of exciting things are coming up

My brother (Sean) is trying to get back into training as well, but his college schedule has made things difficult. Perhaps now that summer is here he'll have more time, but then he's working, so who knows.
We both miss competing a lot. I'd love to get back up to my "prime" or "peak" level so I can take it to some kind of state tournament. The problem is, (aside from the training, cost of tournament entry, and the fact that I'll be living at school next year without much transportation) most of the tournaments that aren't run by Earl & Linda are run by places that want you to join their association, and all of those World Ranking groups. It's hard to find any legitimate tournaments in the tri-state area. We've gotten invitations to tournaments out in Indiana, but uh...no.
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FlailingLimbs
Yellow Belt
Yellow Belt

Joined: 10 Feb 2003
Posts: 63
Location: Winnipeg
Styles: Shotokan, Suta-ryu jiujutsu, Shito-ryu. Hopefully, someday boxing/BJJ as well.

PostPosted: Mon Jun 07, 2004 7:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thats what happens when you don't question "is where I'm at a McDojo"? God bless the internet and searching for poular opinions.
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When cornered, kick 'em in the spetznats. If that doesn't work, run around acting like an epilept + flail your arms about while whizzin' in your pants, then fall down foaming at the mouth. They'll be so disgusted THEY will walk away from the fight....
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