Starting New

It’s hard starting something new, and even harder when you find out that everything you thought you already knew is wrong (or at least just slightly off). That’s what it was like leaving the White Tiger family and joining Hwang Yong in Cheltenham, England. I left American a 1st Dan thinking that my hands wouldn’t be up for much more Gumdo but went to check out the UK school to see how things were over here. I was not prepared for the infancy of Gumdo in the UK, nor was I ready for Master Limer’s very different instruction method, but most of all I was not ready to be at the very front of the class. We’d had maybe one or two instances where us color belts had been in the front during a seminar, but usually there was a comfortable two rows between me and having to do the starting call. Now I was the highest in the class under the Master, and I had to speak Korean commands that I didn’t confidently know how to say. I went from feeling like I was ready for anything and knew it all, to having no clue and having to politely decline doing what seemed like the simplest of curriculum because I didn’t know it. I was put at the front of a group of their senior belts and was leading what I thought would be easy gyukgum (fighting sword) drills, only to have blank faces staring back at me, though some tried to follow along regardless. They had no idea what I was doing and I had no idea why they didn’t know, what to me, was basic material. It quickly became clear that I couldn’t lead any of the classes beyond basics, and even that I ran differently (copying Master F). I was in deep water, floundering desperately to stay afloat. It didn’t get better, I just got to work. I stopped trying to do things my way and asked them to show me the their gyukgums, baldo chakgums (draw/scabbard), and forms. I am a student-teacher, in that order. Just because I am in the front, doesn’t mean I know everything, and often means I just know a bit more or differently than my students. That’s a hard lesson to learn, and it’s hard to let go of that need to have all the answers.

In my own school, I still apologize at least once per class for my inadequacies as a teacher, either because I’m still working on a thing and so tell them not to try and copy me, or because I slip into the US style, or I can’t remember the correct order for the UK curriculum. I hate being such an imperfect instructor for my orange and white belts, but I also love the feeling I get when I see them getting it. When I can watch them correcting themselves or each other, when they come and tell me how they stood in kimase (horse riding stance) during their lunch break or practiced their Korean counting to ten in the office so that they could be ready for class, so they can do better. I’m so proud of my original three students and how far they have come, and I love working with the new white belts, staring anew with them as they discover and hit the same problems we all have. That is what I love about instructing now, what makes it all worth it.

Starting in a new place, with new people, and new material is intimidating and stressful, but I made the choice not to let it stop me, and the encouragement that I had from Master F and the White Tiger family helped push me to keep going, work at it, and not give up. Yes, I really miss my belt-mates, the classes over here, feeling confident in my curriculum knowledge, and being surrounded by such encouraging and amazing people, but I have a new school now that needs me to be there, and I’m doing my best to create in Leicester the same family that I have here in Minnesota. The lessons I learned in Master F’s dojang (school), and working with everyone here shapes what I do, my attitude, and the environment I want to create in my own dojang. It is hard staring new, but I am not staring alone and that makes all the difference.

Author: Master Robert Frankovich

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