More than just kicks
July 3, 2008 · Updated 6:02 PM
"You can kick with perfection, punch with bone-breaking power and still be a washout at Greg Woodward's Tae Kwon Do Studio in Oak Harbor. Being tough isn't enough. You have to follow the path or suffer the consequences. Any of my students ever break the law, I want someone to call me and they'll be expelled, the 28-year-old martial arts instructor says. I have no problem kicking people out. A lot of people don't bring their kids here because I'm so strict.Apparently, that exacting attitude works for the young students in Woodward's Martial arts classes. Or so it seemed last Wednesday evening as more than a dozen white-robed youngsters and young adults bowed to their instructor and collected a display case-worth of trophies earned June 24 at the HWA-Rang Tae Kwon Do Federation Grand National Championship in Lynnwood.In fact, of 28 students in Woodward's class, all placed in the competition and 15 took first place honors in their respective divisions.So what gives? Why are so many young students walking around saying Yes sir, or No sir, every time an adult speaks to them in class? And why are they kicking butt in competitions?Maybe, Woodward says, because he doesn't train them just to win trophies.It's not about winning trophies, that's all glamour, the 28-year-old black belt instructor says. If you don't live the values, you're just a fighter. People in our school have to show proper respect for parents, teachers, elders and society in general.That vision is reinforced at the beginning of every class as students recite the tenets of Tae Kwon Do in unison: Courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit.Translated literally, Tae Kwon Do means, To kick with the foot, to smash with the hand and the way.But in Woodward's class, the path to learning how to kick and smash is paved with spirituality and discipline.Student Shawn Mann says those qualities are more important to him than his growing precision and proficiency at Tae Kwon Do. Or the first-place trophies he won for sparring and form June 24.Mostly, what I've gotten is the mental and spiritual side, the integrity, morals and high standards, the 18-year-old green belt says. And the self-confidence.Matter of fact, Mann says, the power of Tae Kwon Do comes not so much from showing how formidable you are - but from knowing.The more I learn how to fight, the less I want to fight, Manns says. It's not like I have anything to prove.Confidence is a word students use a lot in Woodward's classes.Dresden Donnell, 11, says she used to come just to watch her brother Zach learn how to protect himself.But it looked like fun and I wanted to learn how to defend myself too, she says. Seven months later Donnell says she has gained more confidence, as well as something else.Courtesy, she says. It's a good workout, but you have to be willing to show respect.His mission as an instructor, Woodward says, is three-fold.To develop the physical body, develop a mind that can control the physical body, and develop the spirit.To that end, he and his instructors walk students through a five-stage program to develop flexibility, body conditioning, forms and short kicks. Sparring comes last.Woodward structures the training that way to weed out students who just want to learn how to fight.After three months, people who just want to fight get bored, he says.On average, Woodward says, it takes about four years of steady practice to earn a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He also says belts aren't really the point.Traditional sports, it's all about win, win, win, Woodward says. This is mastery oriented. With Tae Kwon Do, it doesn't matter how long it takes. As long as you're learning something, you're a winner."