Master Roger Zeitel

Roger Zeitel Fourth Degree Black Belt Essay
03/02/07 Exceptional Taekwondo Center
White Plains, N.Y.

Essay by Roger-Z (03/02/07)

It took me a long time to sit down and finally put fingers to keyboard. I even pushed back taking my fourth dan test for three months -- most uncharacteristic. But like many who reach this rank, I wrestled with thoughts of worthiness. Especially with the rise in popularity of the UFC on television. I find it hard to compare myself to the fighters who train eight hours a day, eat properly, and pump their bodies full of "Xyience." I don't feel like the same type of person.

Truth be told, at age 53 and a working guitarist, I avoid contact sparring and grappling for fear of injury, especially to my fingers. And for good reason. In the past, I have broken knuckles, fingers, and toes. One injury in particular hampers my guitar playing to this day. And let's not talk about knees! My daughter quit after injuring her ankles sparring. She claims they "crack" whenever she walks and that scares her. She worries that it might interfere with playing softball and basketball.

I grapple with the issue of violence as well. As much as I tell myself that I train to subdue and protect, in truth, I enjoy inflicting a "good shot." I work hard with hands, feet, and weapons to perfect moves that maim and kill. I find that difficult to reconcile with my self-image as a "good" person. As a result of my training, I never jokingly spar with my kids, grab an arm, or even pat them on the butt for fear of unintentionally inflicting injury.

But ironically, I view Taekwondo as my personal fountain of youth. Training three times a week not only keeps me "lean and mean," but also boosts my self confidence. Unlike circuit training, yoga, or even ballet, Taekwondo imparts very practical skills. The other day, a white belt mother of a child who also trains asked me, "Will these workouts give me six-pack abs and a perfect body?" "No," I replied. "Pilades and/or a personal trainer might work better for that. Look at my body. This is the result of fifteen years of training. Do I look muscle bound?" She said, "No, you look wiry. But in my experience, those people are the most dangerous!" Another white belt mom standing next to her piped in, "This will help me be deal with my large teenage sons!" I described how training gave me new self-confidence. Now, when a big guy tries to intimidate me by getting in my face, I fight the urge to giggle. My mind automatically runs through ten ways of taking him out.

The women then asked how long it took me to "get good." I explained that I took me more time than most because of very average athletic skills. As a matter of fact, the founders of Taekwondo specifically designed this martial art to train any body shape or type. That's why the poomses do not contain jump spinning back kicks. But reaping the rewards requires perseverance and dedication. Put in three days a week unfailingly and you will achieve more than you ever dreamed.

And that brings me to the idea of fourth dan -- a master instructor. I find this easier to relate to than the concept of "all-knowing, consummate fighter." I love teaching all ages. I especially enjoy demonstrating the mechanics of the various techniques, making sure the body functions gracefully, easily, and with no forced motion. Adults tend to grimace and push their bodies to move in unnatural ways which of course can result in injury. I focus on getting them to relax, move gracefully and naturally. I love the astonished faces when they suddenly kick two feet higher. When teaching self-defense, I make sure that everybody understands that a wrist lock works no matter the size of the person applying or receiving it. Most people either try to bull their way through or not really apply any pressure all. Kids especially love it when they execute the technique correctly and immediately force me to the ground.

So many people, children especially, go through the motions of a poomse without really understanding the purpose of each technique. I explain how the ancients used these forms to train their armies. The techniques we use today descend from the surviving generals! A double knife-hand middle block not only deflects a strike, it also protects the face and solar plexus. A knife-hand strike actually penetrates the stomach.

In the end, teaching Taekwondo (and anything for that matter) involves motivation and setting a good example. Do people naturally want to study "College Algebra" or memorize ten poomses? No. But they want the results -- getting an "A" or winning a sparring match. My job involves keeping the students coming back week after week until they finally realize their wonderful transformation!

2007 Roger-Z