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First class

16 July 2009

Last week, the City saw fit to hire me as a taekwon-do instructor. Tonight was my first class teaching.

I prepared by writing a matrix of all the colored belt moves, organized by type. Kicks got subdivided into kicks that take one stance length to perform (standing and mid-air kicks), and ones that take two (stepping, skipping, and jumping kicks). I also read through my USTF Class C Instructor’s certification class notes, hoping to glean some wisdom.

Class was held tonight in an alternate facility because there is an art class using our normal room. We often end up there when our normal room isn’t available. It’s not ideal for taekwon-do. The ceilings are short; I’d guess eight feet tall. This precludes jump kicks, considering our taller students have to be careful during warm-ups not to scrape the ceiling while rotating their arms over their heads. The back half of the room is carpeted, making sliding and turning in place difficult. And, it has no clock, which makes time management challenging.

Rather than lament my fate, I asked myself what redeeming features the room had. There is one: full-length mirrors on one side of the room. I vowed to make them part of my lesson plan.

Minutes before class, I thought I was in luck, as we had only eight students. However, another half dozen or so came in at the last minute. The room is cozy, being barely wide enough to stand in rows of three.

It was strange calling the class to line up and having our head instructor standing in the senior student position, with our assistant instructor next to him! Both of them are second-degree black belts. I’m actually the 4th highest member of my class, though the gap is less pronounced with my immediate senior, who is a junior and got his black belt just a few months before I did.

I needed a little assistance with the opening ceremony, as I didn’t know my role as instructor very well. I loosened up the class a little with a joke during announcements, saying that in honor of the 40th anniversary of the first man on the moon, our school director was making a special trip to Colorado to guest teach the class. She is coming, of course, and we’re excited to see her again. We all laughed at the thought of the moon landing triggering her trip, and I said I wasn’t sure there was a connection. Our head instructor found one: she lives in Florida near Cape Canaveral. There you go!

I warmed up class, which I’ve done many times before. I then divided the class in two. The seniors got to practice in front of the mirror, honing the techniques they use to break at their ranks. The juniors were in the back with our assistant instructor working on kicks.

I floated between the two groups, making sidebar comments to students who needed some extra assistance with stances or were beginning to be distracted. So far, so good. Again, it felt very odd calling the class to halt to switch stations!

The seniors went to the back, where our head instructor and I worked on breaking. Unlike last time, most of the students made their breaks! The juniors went to the front and started using the mirrors.

Trouble in paradise

As we rotated through the senior students, first performing kicks and strikes against focus pads and then on boards, one of the rec center employees came in and explained that they’d double booked our room for the last 15 minutes of class. They wondered if we could pull the divider and use one half of the room. The head instructor deferred to me. I said sure, we can make that work.

We continued and then the facility manager came in a few moments later. Turns out the group that had reserved the room was 50-100 strong! So they asked pretty please if we could finish class outside. I acquiesced.

We hurried a little through the breaking, and even got all the juniors a chance to try to break a board before I had the class adjourn outside. The best place to practice is in front of the facility, which is a gentle hill but the grass is soft.

I had the class line up with their backs to the sun and perform some step sparring drills. We have two that are performed alone. Then I had the first and third rows face the row behind them and do the drills with a partner. Afterward, I asked the senior students to begin working on step sparring at their level.

Curiously, the two students that had the most trouble were my two youngest. My son couldn’t understand what my daughter was doing, and he could barely hold back the tears of frustration. I suggested to him that he let his sister, who outranks him by quite a bit, do her thing and he might learn something. I ended up having to partner with her for a round to show him what was expected of him. After that, he was better.

The head instructor thought it was much later than it was, but I’d been keeping track of the time with my phone. We finished class on-time in the traditional closing ceremony. I made the same mistake in the closing ceremony as the opening one, but I don’t think anyone really noticed. I never ended up using the matrix I made, but I know it will be valuable going forward.

Afterward, the head instructor said I did a great job, and the assistant instructor heartily agreed. He said the class would be in good hands while a contingent from our gym go to train and vacation in Florida next month. All in all, I think it went rather well!

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