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Photo by Thao Le Hoang, Photo is not directly relevant to the writing.
The writer (Kim Yong-sup, 32) is in his doctral course at Indiana University-Bloomington on Recreational Theraphy. He has a 4th degree belt in Taekwondo and 1st degree belt in Hapkido. He has experience in teaching Taekwondo for 10 years in diverse countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, and 2 years of experience as a physical education teacher in Ethiopia for 2 years. His areas of expertise and interests are changes in psychological health of vulnerable youth through martial arts particiation.
In December 2018, I arrived at a martial arts studio in Indiana to volunteer as a Taekwondo instructor. At the studio, a boy about 5’2 feet tall, stood in front of a full-length mirror practicing a roundhouse kick. He seemed proud of his performance. At the back, another boy with cerebral palsy was repeatedly practicing a punch in his wheelchair. It didn’t look easy but his movement was precise. And as two children with Down syndrome came to say hello smiling beautifully, another boy who looked about 10 years old came up, kicked my butt, and ran away swinging his arms with joy. I could see his parents being startled at what their son had just done. That was my first visit to the Taekwondo Studio for People with Disabilities at Indiana YMCA. As you can see, this place is always filled with energy.
The parents answered they had seen biggest improvement in social skills. Due to a lack of impulse control, children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) or autism find it hard to adapt to their communities. According to a special education teacher, students suffering from autism show disruptive behavior during classes. Additionally, due to poor communication with their friends, school life is challenging for them. However, with Taekwondo, their school life can change in a positive direction. It helps them understand principles, improve self-control, and nurture thoughtful minds. During Taekwondo class, everyone shows his or her respect to their teacher by bowing. At the beginning of the class, they take a few minutes for meditation. The parents are all surprised when they see their child staying still for minutes with their eyes closed.
Second is development of physical strength. Amy (not their real name) is a 20-year-old Taekwondo practitioner with Down syndrome. She has learned Taekwondo for more than four years and recently earned a Red belt. Her specialty is a high roundhouse kick. In the past, due to hip dislocation, she often had to skip classes and it made her unhappy. Hip dislocation occurs from excessive joint flexibility, a physical characteristic of people with Down syndrome. However, after continuous training and efforts, not only did her arm and leg muscles gain strength, but her overall body coordination essential for lower body balance and physical performance has improved. As a result, the frequency of hip dislocation has decreased.
Third, is enhancement in cognitive ability. William (not their real name), a 21-year-old boy with autism, is the oldest student at the studio and has learned Taekwondo for four years. He always arrives at the studio earlier than everybody else and repeatedly practices basic movements including blocking and kicking, in front of the full-length mirror. I can never forget the moment when he perfectly performed Poomsae Taegeuk 5 Jang on his evaluation test. He slowly, but precisely, recalled every movement, leaving the audience in awe. William’s parents said in the interview that his ability to remember and perform physical movements have improved significantly, and he can now perform movements he could not have done before. Studies support that cognitive performance of ADHD children differed depending on whether they had experience in Taekwondo education or not(Kadri et al., 2019).
William (not their real name) practicing his kicks before class.
Braden (not their real name), who kicked my butt and ran away on my first visit, obtained his blue belt early this year. These days he encourages his friends to practice, demonstrates his performance in front of others, and seems focused and calm during meditation time. His completely different behavior from the past surprised not only his parents but also the volunteers. Braden now bows his head to me and asks how I am doing. I have seen how students with disabilities like Amy, William, and Braden change, and have heard first hand experience from the parents. Taekwondo has high therapeutic value to enhance physical, mental, social, and cognitive health for people with disabilities. Taekwondo as a therapeutic measure for people with disabilities need more support and interest of many more people.