By Juliana Rose Nicole
Well fellow martial artists, I have made the transition from high school student to college student, and in doing so, I have left behind colorful Colorado, and made a new home in Missoula Montana (AKA the Zoo-Town). However as many similarities as there may be between the two places, there is one key difference I have become acutely aware of. There is no Mountain Academy of Martial Arts in Montana. There are many other dojangs and martial art schools (the presence of martial arts in Missoula is surprisingly extensive), however none of them are my beloved MAMA.
As it is only the second week of school, I haven’t gotten a chance to visit any of these other schools yet, however I have had a chance to practice on my own (6:30 AM forms practice, is that dedication or what?), however something was off during these practices.
At first I thought it was just the wet grass that gave my horse stances a high probability of turning into the splits. Or maybe it was the fact that I rarely got up so early in the morning at home, let alone to practice forms. And though I thought long and hard (no I wasn’t procrastinating doing my homework), I couldn’t quite figure out what it was that was off about my practice here.
And then, while talking to a fellow student about his dojang, he said something that turned on the proverbial light bulb. He likened the instructors in his dojang to a family. Bam. I realized what I had been missing from my solitary early morning practices, my MAMA.
In class, I could be with the people in my dojang. I could see them and hear them while they taught me and I taught them. For twelve years of my life I had always known that there were other people around doing the same thing I was. Even when I practiced at home, somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I could return to the dojang every week to practice with my peers.
In that moment of realization I felt very alone. I was in a place where there were plenty of people who knew Tae Kwon Do, but none of them knew MY Tae Kwon Do. They hadn’t been to the same classes I had and they didn’t learn from the same people.
But the next morning, when I went outside, kicked off my shoes, and proceeded to turn the bottoms of my socks green in the grass as I worked through all the forms, I realized something important. All the years I had spent working in a dojang and practicing with other people had had an impact on me I had never seen before.
When I adjusted my front stance, I thought of Mr. Barrow making his classes stand in perfect stances until our legs shook. I remembered all the times leading up to testing when one of the black belts would be telling me to watch my counter-hand here, or tighten my fist there. I could almost picture Grand Master Rankin at the front of the room during advanced class as we all plowed our way through the forms until we were in perfect unison.
These memories made me realize two things. One, I hadn’t left my dojang behind, not really. I carry my school in my art. Its traditions and teachings are in my mind and in my fists, and all I have to do to return to my Tae Kwon Do family is to get into a chumbi stance and take a deep breath before beginning echon chobu. The second thing I realized was exactly how important a dojang is to a martial artist.
Anyone can do a martial art, the kicks, the punches; they’re the easy part. But to really learn a martial art and be a martial artist, you need the collective experience of the dojang. The things you learn in class and from your instructors imbue a sense of importance and relevance to the art, they make the art something more than exercise.
So the moral of the story is this. The next time someone tells you “What the heck kind of stance is that?” don’t take it personally, take it with you, because one day when you think you’re alone, you’ll remember that moment and say “I know how this is supposed to go” and proceed to do the most amazing forms nobody else will ever see (because it’s 6:30 in the morning and normal people are still asleep).
By Juliana Rose Nichole