by: Miss Petra (“Dr. P.”)
originally published on 7 April 2014
As black belts in Taekwondo, we are expected to teach novice and junior-ranking students. We teach not only the necessary skills of the art that need to be mastered in order to progress from one belt level to the next, we also teach what it means to live Taekwondo, by following what our student oath asks us to do.
We can do that by (a) talking to them and explaining the different skills, techniques, patterns or the tenets of Taekwondo to them, by (b) role-modeling what they need to do, which ranges from demonstrating various kicks or patterns to them and by acting in a manner that is in accordance with the tenets of Taekwondo, and/or by (c) being mentors to those who are new to our martial art or junior in rank.
While our role as a teacher might be pretty fairly easily defined by simply teaching them how to do their patterns, kicks, and apply different techniques, our role as a mentor would be a little bit more involved and complex.
Mentoring involves three major components. First, a mentor should offer advice to those who are less experienced (Merriam-Webster, n.d) to achieve good results and outcomes, which in the case of Taekwondo, would mean prepare and guide students towards a successful test and subsequent promotion. Second, the mentor and his or her mentee(s) should have a respectful relationship between or personal connection with each other that is guided by a set of values that are shared (Tokar, 2013). Finally, mentor should have certain qualities or characteristics (Murrell, 2007) that makes them a good mentor for junior ranking Taekwondo students.
How can black belts who teach can become good mentors to those that want to learn what we already know and what qualities should they have? Here are some thoughts:
1. Self-reflection about one’s own development as a Taekwondo student during the long journey towards earning a black belt. Think about how you as a Taekwondo student have learned and developed over time, not just as an athlete but also as a person as you over time learned not only more and more about the increasingly more difficult skills but also the tenets of Taekwondo. Think about how instructors have guided you and what they have done to make their students successful over time and what has helped you or not helped you in the process of your own learning. Doing so also allows the mentor to better understand his or her own struggles or difficulties during the learning process and thus might enable mentors to better guide others while we accompany them during their journey.
2. Be a role model and set a good example for others in your interactions with them, meaning, live the tenets of Taekwondo, otherwise mentors could loose credibility. Interactions with others should reflect the values of Taekwondo.
3. Think about the possible assumptions that novice or junior ranking students might have about various degrees of black belts. They might think that black belts are perfect and have reached the final destination or that black belts know everything. As most black belts will know, they are still and continue to be students of the art and still learning.
4. Be understanding and realistic about of where junior ranking students “are” in their development as martial artists and with that their level of skill development. All black belts were white belts at one point, which is important to remember, especially with novice students, who are really blank slates regarding their knowledge about Taekwondo and who have a lot to learn.
5. Be aware that the environment in a dojang is very different from most environments that individuals find themselves in and that novice students will need some time to adjust. Also be aware that novice students, besides having to learn Taekwondo techniques, also have to learn about the structure of their dojangs, what is expected of them and what manners they should display.
6. Be caring and compassionate (Roesner, 2012) about what might be happening in the lives of those mentored. For example, if a younger student might be distracted or can’t focus, it does not automatically mean that they are disrespectful towards those who teach them. They might be something else happening in their lives that contributes to that, for example, they might be bullied in school, they might be upset that a parent is not watching them, their parents might be arguing, they might have a sick relative or a deployed parent. Mentors can ask questions in such a situation and offer some words of encouragement to help the student move forward.
7. Listen and be willing to learn as this might help mentors better understand how students learn or what different learning styles their mentees have or how to adapt their mentoring and teaching style for different students or situations. Doing so also shows respect towards those that are entrusted to us and it shows that we are taking them seriously.
8. Offer encouragement when students have a hard time or difficulty practicing a skill. Again, talk to them briefly; be attentive by observing them to determine where they need help. Some students might need more help with patterns while others might need more help applying a particular technique into their sparring style.
9. Demonstrate patience when mentoring Taekwondo students. For example, black belts know their patterns possibly to the point that they can “narrate” them to others or possible do them blindfolded or in their sleep. However, black belts should not forget that what we expect others to do might not happen the on the first try, and that it might require them to explain the difference between a walking stance and a sitting stance multiple times. Being patient is particularly important to younger or new students, who are still adjusting to the routines of the dojang and who also might need more time to internalize what they are learning.
10. Don’t forget to encourage students along the way and believing in them that they can do “it,” whether it is learning a new kick or a new pattern. Doing so will help them build confidence in their own ability and will install a belief and attitude that they can overcome difficulties they might experience! The best of that is, they might be carrying such a can-do attitude into their schools and circle of friends as well!
11. Praise students when they do well, yet critique when necessary. But do critique in a manner that is constructive and not destructive in nature. I personally prefer the “sandwich” approach (putting the “bad” in the middle of the “good for a lack of better words), by first telling them what they did well, followed by what needs to improve and how to do that, followed by saying something about their strength combined with encouragement.
12. Enjoy the moment of teaching and mentoring novice and junior ranking students, because it is not only a great opportunity to pass on knowledge, values, and traditions; it is also a wonderful opportunity to be allowed to in someone’s life to make a difference by helping to instill a willingness to overcome difficulties.
13. Continue to reflect about one’s own previous experiences and the continued development as a black belt student of Taekwondo, teacher and mentor … because black belts are and continue to be students of the art.
Mentor. (n.d.) Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mentor
Murrell, A. J. (2007). Five steps for effective mentoring relationships. The Kaitz Quarterly, 1(1). Retrieved from: http://nl.walterkaitz.org/FiveStepsInMentoring_Murrell.pdf
Roesner, P. M. (2012) Beyond the dojang: A phenomenological perspective on transferring the virtues of Taekwondo into daily life. Ann Arbor, MI: Proquest
Tokar, S. (2013). What makes a good mentor? Retrieved from: https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/01/13390/study-examines-qualities-good-and-bad-mentoring-relationships