A senior National Poomsae team of eight athletes and two coaches from Australian Taekwondo will contest the World Poomsae Open Challenge in Muju, Korea, from November 3-5.
It’s no secret that Taekwondo is an extremely addictive sport, but it’s also important to remember that there is life outside the Dojang.
Whether a child is participating in the sport recreationally, or at an elite level, it’s vital that they avoid falling behind at school, so they can broaden their horizons and live a fulfilling life.
Brisbane-based club, ONE Taekwondo, is doing its best to ensure that its younger members thrive on and off the mats through a pilot tuition program for high-school-aged students.
Formally established a few weeks ago by senior members, Dr Evie Rank and her husband, Paul Rank, ONE's Academic Excellence Program will assist students in years seven to ten.
The free program has been a couple of years in the making as the Ranks had already been providing some general academic assistance to ONE Taekwondo students since Covid-19 hit.
Around that time, Dr Rank (a Medical GP) and Mr Rank (a high-school teacher) noticed that children at the club were often asking for help with their homework. When school became even more challenging due to remote learning, they decided to provide some extra help.
“We often had kids walk up to random adults in a club and ask if they could help with an assignment or help with a little bit of homework,” Dr Rank says.
“My husband's a teacher and I've done a fair bit of studies myself. We’ve been helping these kids since Covid, when they were learning remotely… if they had questions they could email or call us.”
During this period, it became clear to the Ranks that the extra help was going a long way, and that Taekwondo had given these students many of the tools required to thrive academically.
“The skills that they learn, and the qualities that they have already cultivated through training, are the exact same building blocks they need for academic success. It’s very translatable.”
“They push themselves so much harder than their peers. Even when preparing for gradings and competition, they learn how to perform under incredible amounts of attention and pressure, and how to look after their body before and after a competition.
“They've done all the hard work. They don't realise that yet, but it's something they have to realise on their own… Once they do, the sky's the limit.”
Dr Rank says these foundations of hard work, discipline, and composure, give young Taekwondo athletes a significant edge over their counterparts in everyday life.
“It's like cooking with a recipe, the basic quality ingredients are already there. You just have to mix it all up, and then plate it.
“We’re glad we don’t have to compete with these kids for jobs because they’re already head and shoulders above us.”
“They’ve already learned exactly the same lessons that we learned, after almost failing our first assessments in university.”
The Academic Excellence program aims to build on these strengths, providing some assistance with the maths and science curriculum, but also prioritising the kids’ ability to “learn how to learn”.
The Ranks believe that by developing their own learning style throughout the program, children can a develop a sustainable approach for long-term academic success.
As the key motto of the program states: “Teach you how to fish, rather than giving you the fish.”
Dr Rank knows the importance of this approach better than most, having personally persevered through the challenges of dyslexia in school.
“I wasn’t really an excellent student to begin with,” she recalls.
“I'm dyslexic, so I think I learned to read and write when I was eight and a half. I was a very late bloomer.
“I want people to know that [nailing your] studies is completely achievable. You don't have to be really smart, you just need the study skills.”
The schedule and structure of the pilot program has been adapted over the last few months, centring around “formalised Saturday ‘catch ups’,” as Dr Rank puts it.
“We do more structured sessions on Saturday afternoons with a group of children, and on the days where our son Ziggy trains, my husband and I will set up camp at the club.
“On those days, basically any kid who needs help with assignments can come and sit down with us… So we're hoping that will help kick things off and get kids a bit more hands on with their assignments.
“We mainly cover maths and science because it looks like these kids, due to Covid, have some gaps in their knowledge, which has made their foundations not as strong as we'd like, and they're starting to struggle at lower to middle secondary school.”
There is already great enthusiasm for the program throughout ONE Taekwondo, which has provided a heartening glimpse into the family-oriented nature of the club.
Dr Rank says it has always been a supportive and inclusive environment, mainly thanks to the friendly atmosphere created by the club’s Head Coach, Master Yong H. Hur, and senior members.
“Everybody in the club knows someone, or someone who knows the right person, and people at ONE Taekwondo tend to be quite willing to lend a hand.
“Master Hur is very good at connecting people, so if someone needs a bit of help here, and there, he will point them in the right direction.
“We've seen a few generations of kids coming through at the club, and he's always put the person first. They set their dreams and goals, and we do our best as a community to help them achieve them.
“It’s the age-old cliché isn’t it, that it takes a village to raise a child. This is our village, our family, so we try to do our best for the kids.”
Tapping into the connections of this village has allowed the Ranks to draw on the expertise of other specialists, giving the kids a leg up across subjects they do not specialise in.
“We've got friends who have agreed to be our network partners. For instance, if someone has questions about coding, we've got someone who is a Professor of Robotics who can give a hand online.”
While commercial tuition centres help kids to earn results through constant repetition of the syllabus, the Ranks hope that their initiative will help the kids become much more independent learners. This will be especially important for students who need to maintain their education whilst competing overseas.
“As these kids grow a bit older and they hit the later part of high school, you hear them talking about having to choose between sport and studies, but you don’t have to. You can do both quite easily in high school, university and beyond.
“If we get them ahead, or if we set a strong foundation and teach them how to learn… We're hoping that this will help them to see that for themselves, and not just find a balance, but do well at both.
“I'm hoping that in about six to 12 months, 18 months at the most, they'll be quite independent learners. So even if they travel for taekwondo tournaments and you have to pull them out of school for three months at a time or something, they can continue to learn at their own pace.”
But the most simple and powerful message the Ranks would like students to take from the program is that with the right approach, they can achieve anything they put their minds to.
“One of the nine-year-olds at the club actually said, ‘hey Mum, when I grow up, I want to be a doctor’, and the Mum said ‘why?’ She pointed at me and said, ‘doesn't look too hard’.
“That's great, that's exactly what I want the kids to see. It's not hard, you can do this.”
Melbourne will host the next Kukkiwon courses in late September. The Kukkiwon International Master Course and Kukkiwon Poom / Dan Examiners course are available for members and non-members.