Learning to breathe

Sean Baxter with sword

“Just relax”, I told myself. That’s easier said than done for a teenager. My turn wasn’t up yet; I was seated on the floor but I was nervous; watching the others only added to the tension I was already feeling. “You can do this”, the hand on my shoulder seemed to say. Looking up, I saw in my instructor’s face a relaxed easiness that reminded me I had prepared for this well enough. Moments later, my name was called and I jumped up and moved to the starting position. All thoughts of whether I was ready or not were unexpectedly erased, and were swiftly replaced with listening for the next command.
“Begin!” barked the official and my body began to move almost of its own accord. It felt like each move took forever but I concentrated on my breathing and getting through this. Holding the last move, I heard the center judge yell “Bah-Ro!” and I returned to the ready position. “Judges, score!” and the three judges presented their assessments of my performance to the recording official.
And, what felt like only a moment later, it was done. I was seated once again with my fellow white belts. Turning and looking about, I caught the eye of my instructor again who had been watching. He nodded. Turning back, the smile on my face must have been a mile wide because several of the other seated competitors were looking right at me. Some with a grin, one or two others with that same pre-performance nervousness I must’ve had on my face only moments ago.
That was the winter of 1984 and my first tournament.
Years earlier, I was living on a farm in a small community in New York State, just south-west of Buffalo.
We had left the suburbs of Los Angeles when I was nine years old. Leaving my oldest brother behind to finish college, my family drove across the country in a white economy van with no A/C and a U-Haul truck containing all our belongings. Stopping only to camp the night or for much needed breaks, it took us seven days to reach our destination in New York.
New Jersey wasn’t much different. My parents had moved there during my sophomore year of high school, leaving my brother and me to tend to the animals until I finished school. I left the cold winters of New York behind and traded them for the humid summers of New Jersey. It was the early 80’s and Black Belt Theater played classic Kung Fu (English dubbed) movies every Saturday morning. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) still had yet to play in theaters but my friends and I were already ninjas. Dressing up in dark or camouflage clothing, jumping over fences, climbing walls in narrow alleys, and sneaking about in the dark, my friends and I thought ourselves like those warriors we saw on TV. Using machetes, wooden clothes rod, and handmade swords we practiced fighting in the backyard. I was the third son, so as long as I didn’t break or chop anything off, my parents didn’t seem to take much notice of our activities.
The summer of 1984 brought us The Karate Kid. We were so primed. It was as if this movie was made just for us. We already had “the moves”. All we needed was a real instructor.
“Cha ryuht, kyung nae” came the command and we followed along what Master Wade was doing, bowing awkwardly as we were just white belts and this was our first class. “Choon-Bi” came next and we moved to the ready stance, mimicking what we saw. We were finally learning real moves from a real instructor! We couldn’t get enough of it. Rain or shine, we rode our bikes to the school for every class. The school, located not far from home, was a converted roller rink with wooden floors and few windows. Most of it was configured as Wade’s Gym with weight training equipment for the gym rats and body builders. Master Wade lived in an apartment over the office. Building code enforcement was a bit lax back then. The dojo was at the far end of the roller rink with a makeshift particle board divider with mirrors on both sides. In the winter, the floors were freezing and in the summer, the heat was stifling. It didn’t matter to us. For us it was home. This is where we would become “real” martial artists.

A year into my training, needing a way to pay for college, I enlisted in the Army Reserve and shipped out to the Fort Benning Infantry School. Side note: Georgia in the heat of summer is no picnic. The drill sergeants were tough as nails and had no qualms about working us into the dirt. Our barracks were the old Gomer Pyle 1940’s style; a long, two story building with two rows of bunk beds and no A/C. Straight out of the movie Full Metal Jacket.
Up way before dawn, standing in formation, we waited for the drill instructors to march us to a dirt field for PT. An hour or so later we finished up physical training with a five mile run and back to the barracks. I can’t thank Master Wade enough for preparing me for the physical rigors of boot camp.
That fall, I returned to martial arts training and started college. By then, I had a car. So if it rained, I didn’t have to show up to class soaking wet anymore.
Training at Master Wade’s school continued, learning new patterns, new techniques, and endless rounds of sparring. At that time, sparring gear was a bit of novelty and hadn’t made its way throughout the martial arts industry. Headgear was none existent. Coincidentally, this had the side benefit of teaching you to block well.Martial Arts Training Center
Change is good; though sometimes painful. Sometime later in 1988, I said goodbye to my friends and family in New Jersey and found myself in Charlotte NC. Needing a place to train again, I enrolled at Mr. Strickland’s Taekwondo Plus.
Once again, I was hooked. I went to every tournament, camp, seminar, cookout, and event Mr. Strickland offered. We took a 13 hour bus ride to Long Branch, NJ for a tournament in the middle of a mall. We rode an old school bus to Pensacola, FL for a tournament near the beach. One time, we went to a winter camp in Ashville NC where it had snowed the night before. Every cabin had about six students in it and the only heat was an electric heater in each cabin. It was very cold that night so everyone had their heaters turned up high. Sometime that night, the breaker for our cabin tripped. No lights, no heat, and no alarm clock.
Needless to say, we slept through the first workout that following morning. In recompense, we performed extra exercises at every workout as was the custom at the time.
There are more stories told of past Winter Camps than I can remember. Stories of the workouts, the meals, the games, of rock climbing, and the evenings’ activities. Legend has it there were two teenagers, their fondness for each other, their lateness to a workout, and their subsequent punishment that involved carrying a small bolder to every workout and meal. But that legend has faded into myth.
One simple question was to later change the course of my life forever.
The summer of 1995 saw me doing what I had done for years, teaching class at Mr. Strickland’s school. Instructing just seemed so right to me. I would take material that I had learned and try to explain it in such a manner that a student could understand it. The essence of this was in my blood. I tried my hardest and performed better whenever I was asked to demonstrate and lead others. It drove me to better myself in so many ways. Ever since I was asked to warm-up a class at Master Wade’s, or to lead my squad as a cadet officer in ROTC at college, I was drawn to leadership, to try to excel when others depended on it. It may have been with that in mind when Mr. Strickland asked if I wanted to run a school in Concord, NC. It was such a simple question and had I been somewhere else that evening when he thought to ask one of his many instructors, this story would be very different; written by someone else. It’s funny how life can change dramatically in such a small moment.
So began the journey that would put me in a place to affect so many lives. The fall of 2014 marked my 30th year in martial arts. Nearly 20 of those years were spent as owner and operator of Concord Taekwondo America. It has been a truly grand experience for me and one that has enriched my life for decades. Someone once said, “Do not ask for an easier life, ask for the strength to endure the one you have.” It has been a journey fraught with many challenges; more so than anything else I’ve done in life. It has created some of my best experiences, it has shown me the best in people, and it has given me a quite a few people I now call friends.
Over the course of 20 years, I have had the honor and privilege of instructing over 2,000 students. Over 250 have achieved Black Belt. Many of those have had the fortitude to achieve high rank in Taekwondo America. Some became instructors; and a small few went on to make teaching Taekwondo their livelihood. It has been a life I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Take Control of your Attitude

Jim Rohn

Jim Rohn

We all have tremendous potential. Each of us has the ability to put our unique human potential into action and to acquire a desired result. But the one thing that determines the level of our potential, produces the intensity of our activity and predicts the quality of the result we receive is our attitude.

Attitude determines how much of the future we are allowed to see. It decides the size of our dreams and influences our determination when we are faced with new challenges. No other person on earth has dominion over our attitude. People can affect our attitude by teaching us poor thinking habits or unintentionally misinforming us, or providing us with negative sources of influence, but no one can control our attitude unless we voluntarily surrender that control.

No one else “makes us angry.” We make ourselves angry when we surrender control of our attitude. What someone else may have done is irrelevant. We choose; not they. They merely put our attitude to a test. If we select a volatile attitude by becoming hostile, angry, jealous or suspicious, then we have failed the test. If we condemn ourselves by believing that we are unworthy, then again, we have failed the test.

If we care at all about ourselves, then we must accept full responsibility for our own feelings. We must learn to guard against those feelings that have the capacity to lead our attitude down the wrong path, and to strengthen those feelings that can lead us confidently into a better future.

If we want to receive the rewards the future holds in trust for us, then we must exercise the most important choice given to us as members of the human race by maintaining total dominion over our attitude. Our attitude is an asset, a treasure of great value that must be protected accordingly.

When you have the right attitude, you can do the remarkable.

When you recognize your gifts, you can change anything for yourself that you wish to change. If you don’t like how something is going for you, change it. If something isn’t enough, change it. If something doesn’t suit you; change it. If something doesn’t please you, change it. You don’t ever have to be the same after today. If you don’t like your present address, change it—you’re not a tree!

Having the right attitude is an essential prerequisite for success and happiness. The right attitude is one of the fundamentals of the good life. That is why we must constantly examine our feelings about our role in the world and about our possibilities for achieving our dreams.

It is our emotional nature that governs most of our daily conduct in our personal and business world. It is the emotional aspect of our experiences that determines our behavior. How we feel about life’s events is a powerful force that can either freeze us in our tracks or inspire us to take immediate action on any given day. With the right attitude, human beings can move mountains. With the wrong attitude, they can be crushed by the smallest grain of sand.


If Sitting Is the New Smoking, How Do We Kick the Habit?

walle_humansIn the 2008 animated film WALL-E, Pixar depicted a light-hearted but dystopian world of obese, immobile people whose needs are met by a bustling horde of robots and computers — a world that hardly seems like science fiction as we witness the precipitous decline in physical activity over the last generation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 80 percent of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of exercise they need each week for optimal health. So, did Pixar predict the future of humanity or is there a way for us to course correct?

Sedentary behavior is an intractable issue. Seemingly benign forces make it easier and easier for many of us to conduct our work, school and social lives from the comfort of a chair and an internet-connected gadget. Unfortunately, sedentary lifestyles are a driving force behind burgeoning health care costs, and they pose an alarming threat to the health and well-being of our children. Fortunately, there is cause for hope in lessons from the tobacco control movement and efforts to change smoking behavior.

Sitting Is the New Smoking
Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, and author of Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, is credited with first declaring that “sitting is the new smoking.” He explores this in terms of negative impact on health, but there’s another interpretation of the analogy worth considering — a roadmap to tackling a major health issue that requires large-scale behavior change.

Mass behavior change is hard, but it’s been done before. Fifty years ago, smoking was a common, socially accepted habit ravaging the health of millions. That changed dramatically, thanks to a decades-long campaign to reverse the epidemic of smoking. The 1964 landmark Surgeon General’s report definitively linking smoking to lung cancer became a call to action that has since engaged health care, media, philanthropy, government and grassroots efforts in an epic battle to control tobacco use. That effort has reduced adult smoking rates in the U.S. from 42.4 percent to 18.1 percent. This successful multi-sector approach provides a template for mounting a similar effort to reverse the trend toward sedentary behavior.

Confronting a Prevention Paradox
Our health care system is characterized by a prevention paradox, where financial incentives favor high-cost treatment of disease over low-cost prevention. Failure to confront this paradox threatens the sustainability of our health care sector, which is spending 75 cents of every dollar on chronic conditions linked to sedentary behavior, like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The tobacco control movement overcame the obstacle of misaligned financial incentives to great effect, shifting consumer behavior and rallying health care business interests to the cause. What can we learn?

Developing tools to help consumers change behavior is key. Smoking, like sedentary behavior, is an extremely complicated habit to change, with no silver bullet that works for everyone. Over time, smoking cessation programs, nicotine patches, gums and other products were developed to aid smokers in their efforts to quit. Today, insurers reimburse the cost of such tools as a way to prevent more costly health problems down the road. We need similar tools, made accessible in health care settings, to help shift patterns of sedentary behavior by motivating greater levels of physical activity.

Rigorous analysis of the cost of physical activity interventions as a preventive tool versus treatment of diseases where sedentary behavior is a factor is also essential. The Surgeon General’s 1964 report on tobacco helped catalyze the anti-smoking movement. The first Surgeon General’s report on physical activity and health was published in 1996. Similar to the Surgeon General’s 1964 report on tobacco, it illuminated the broad body of evidence linking sedentary behavior to a wide range of negative health outcomes including premature death, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cancer. The 1996 report also noted that “research on understanding and promoting physical activity is at an early stage.”

As one health care executive said to me recently, “If sitting is the new smoking, we are somewhere in the 1970s with sedentary behavior.” What began in the 70s for smoking is now unfolding for sedentary behavior in the wake of the Surgeon General’s report and a steady flow of new evidence on the preventive health benefits of physical activity. A heightened focus on prevention, advances in technology, and insights from behavior change science have led to a wave of innovation in products and services designed to motivate physical activity — a significant step in the right direction.

Real Progress, Future Prospects
One promising example of progress is the effort at Kaiser Permanente to bring physical activity into clinical practice through its Exercise as a Vital Sign (EVS) initiative. By elevating physical activity to the importance of body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate, Kaiser is taking an important step to diagnose sedentary behavior and open a dialogue with health care consumers about options for behavior change and treatment. This is only a first step: “Taking the temperature alone doesn’t make the fever go down; you have to try an intervention to lower it,” as Dr. Robert Sallis, the physician who brought EVS to Kaiser, notes in comparing exercise assessment to taking other vital measures.

Deciding what to do for sedentary patients is the frontier of this work today. The good news is that physical activity interventions — analogous to smoking cessation programs — are where tremendous innovation is occurring. Zamzee’s kid-friendly physical activity program is one of many approaches being tried at forward-thinking health care institutions. But these tools remain relatively inaccessible to consumers through a health care system more focused on treatment than prevention. These programs should be widely integrated into clinical practice and reimbursed through Medicare, Medicaid and private health plans, just as anti-smoking tools have been integrated over the last 50 years.

By following the successful path forged by the tobacco control movement and its anti-smoking campaigns, I’m confident the “anti-sitting” movement can be mobilized to similar success in reversing the epidemic of sedentary behavior. It will take sustained commitment across the private and public sectors to create the tools and assemble the evidence that will drive impact. By embracing the notion that sitting is the new smoking, we have actionable steps we can take to save lives and change behavior in the same way the tobacco control movement has saved the lives of millions during the last half century.


“Do you have a reservation?”

Winter Camp 2014Taekwondo America Winter Camp is a weekend packed with fun, friends and of course Taekwondo!

This camp is for Orange belts and above who are 8 years or older. We are having a fundraising to help send the students to camp.  If you are interested in going or helping out, see Ms. Foster for full details.

Location: Camp Hanes, King, NC

Time & Date: Friday, November 7 (Check in is 1pm – 3pm*) through Sunday morning, November 9 (Check out is 9am)

What to Bring: Workout clothes, sparring gear, rebreakable board, target pad, shower and bedding supplies.

Attire: Workout clothes, (bring cold weather gear for the cooler evenings)
The November 8th weekend will be full of great seminars and workouts taught by our region’s Taekwondo Masters and Chief Instructors. This is an opportunity to meet many of your fellow students in Taekowndo America and improve your skills with our region’s very talented Instructors.
For Directions, see the link below. www.camphanes.org
* (if you are needing to arrive later, inform Mr. Baxter)


“You don’t need help, you need PRACTICE!”

(Reposted from Master Perdue of Westerville OH)

I was working with a little girl the other day that was as cute as a bug. She had the kind of smile that could make any adult just melt and spoil her. AND SHE KNEW IT! It was obvious she had used her charms many times on her parents and teachers. How could I tell? Because any time things got slightly difficult, she would immediately ask for help from one of the instructors before even attempting to try to do it on her own. Of course, they were just too happy to comply. Unfortunately for her, my daughter was the exact same way and over time I became immune to such attempts.

On this day, I was trying to show her a rather simple kicking combination that required more balance than her belt level was used to doing. Sure, I knew she would have trouble with it at first. But I also knew her, and the other students in class, could all do it with a little effort, focus and practice. Hey, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing. After demonstrating the technique a few times, I had them all practice the combination. Sure enough, when it was her turn, my little cutie pie attempted the combination twice and when she didn’t immediately succeed, she turned to me and said “I need help!”Cutie copy

Now, as an instructor, I have to admit, I get a real kick when this sort of thing happens. “Really, let me see it again so I can see what you are doing wrong.” She stuck out her little tongue, picked up her foot and tried again. This time a little better than the last. “I’m not sure, can you do it again.” This time she did it even better. “Oh, I see what you need.” She looked up at me. “You don’t need help, you need PRACTICE!” That is when she realized that her cute trick didn’t work. She rolled her eyes, sighed, stuck out her tongue and kept trying. While she didn’t completely get the kick down, she made great progress and I am sure she will get that combination in no time.

One of the things I have always guarded against, both as a parent and as an instructor, is swooping in and fixing things too soon when the kids are having problems with something. Real lasting development never comes easy; which is why it lasts forever and never has to be retaught. The next time your child struggles, whether it is something physical or their math homework, smile and say “You can do it. You just need PRACTICE!”

“Not Yet”

Black BeltI had a student struggling with earning a stripe the other day, which reminded me about why I do the things I do. In this particular case, a teenage student was wanting to test for a stripe. Part of the requirement was for the student to write down several sparring combinations on paper and be able to demonstrate these sparring combinations to an instructor. The idea behind this is to get the student to think differently about sparring; to transition from choreographed one-steps to the dynamic movement of free-sparring, and to come up with combinations that work well for them.

After class, the student spent a moment or two writing these down but hadn’t physically performed the combinations. With me holding the list of these combinations, I asked the student to perform the first one. There was no one else around other than an instructor or two. After a long pause, it was apparent the student hadn’t put much thought into the combinations nor hadn’t had enough time to practice. The result of this was I asked him to take them home and work on them a bit more and we’ll try again. It was his last stripe and we had three weeks of classes before testing. With plenty of time to accomplish this goal, I know for a fact that he will achieve it.

On the surface, the student had done what was asked of him. He had written down several combinations that included the required techniques and was able to perform them, though slowly. The parent was in attendance during this exchange and was very supportive of what I was trying to accomplish with his child.

In this case, the student needed to hear “not yet” to push them to try harder. The first crescent kick a white belt performs is rarely on target. The first board break attempt from a brown belt rarely breaks the board. We must fail more often than we succeed before we are a success. The challenge of hearing “not yet” often motivates students to achieve more than they thought possible. In short, we need to hear “not yet” more often than we want.

My goal is to help a student to achieve their full potential. This requires a change in the student. Whether physical, mental, or emotional. No great achievement has ever been reached without a great amount of effort. Many great achievers have often reached a point. A breaking point for some. Many have questioned whether the goal was worth the effort. Whether reaching the summit of Mount Everest was worth the expense, the lost toes and fingers from frostbite, a lost friend who fell or their own life. Whether becoming a Navy Seal is worth the exhaustion, the hypothermia, the broken bones, and the unpleasantness of near drowning more than once. Or whether earning a black belt at Concord Taekwondo is worth the time and effort it takes to achieve it.

Need to know how to tie your belt?  Many students initially struggle with learning to tie their belt.  The specifics of this knot are fairly simple but can easily be reversed or crossed. This video should help.  


Martial Arts Spirit

971968_10151468719882253_1088670030_n[1]Throughout time the martial arts have evolved in many different directions. Many times the basic principles and philosophies are forgotten. Whether for sport, health, discipline, or self defense, people become involved in the martial arts for many reasons. The master is a guide to help the student unlock the true treasures of the martial arts. A person without proper direction will most definitely lose their way.

However, a true understanding of the martial arts comes only from filling oneself with the spirit of the martial arts. I have heard my master comment that a student who does not have a true concept of the martial arts spirit cannot grasp the deep meaning of their martial arts training.

The OHTC Experts Guide states, "The martial arts' spirit is the true master of the martial arts." This martial spirit transcends everything. Martial arts teach ideals such as consideration, courtesy, respect, morality, integrity, modesty, and a positive outlook. Without these mental qualities, a student is described s merely, "a monkey with a gun."

To put these qualities to use we must have a sincere and serious attitude. This involves practice and practice makes' perfect. The martial art spirit is not something that we turn on when we are in class or talking with master. It is not something to be cultivated in the school and left behind when we go back out into our lives. The discipline and ideals learned through martial arts should carry over into our every action. By realizing this fact one may begin to see the true spirit.

If a student sincerely practices the teachings of the martial arts, it will show. The master provides us a living example of the martial art's spirit. As a samurai maxim states, "A man who has attained mastery of an art reveals it in his every action." A true master of the martial arts reveals it in his everyday life. Martial arts teach us wisdom, peace, and knowledge.

It teaches us to know ourselves. As Lao-Tzu states, "Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment." Many times I have been told, "You must conquer yourself before you conquer others." How true this is! If there is no self control, what real expectations are there of controlling others.

In knowing oneself, the true path to knowledge is begun. Knowledge is power and with this power ideals and philosophies are cultivated into the martial arts spirit. Spirit is one of the three principles of the martial arts. The physical aspects are related to our health and skill. The mental aspects are correlated to the insight which is obtained through wisdom and experience. These mental and physical aspects, through practice and dedication, combine to produce the spirit. Spirit is defined as our philosophical behavior. Martial art's spirit is recognized in our actions. It fills us and guides us to control our behavior. In controlling our behavior, we discover knowledge and inner peace. It is not an easy path, but it is the right path.

It has been stated, "In practicing martial arts, do not be intent on winning or losing, because winning or losing is not important. The important matter is using it in your life. That is true winning which is complete for the good of your life." This is the spirit of the martial arts.