A Living Example of Community Service, Laura Kristek Nurtures a Martial Arts Community at Kilmer Elementary

Every child is listening. Every face is turned toward the teacher. I have never seen a class more clearly excited about doing Taekwon-Do. Their instructor, Laura Kristek, is a nationally certified Special Education instructor at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Chicago. After a full day of teaching, when the last buzzer sounds, she races to the gym to set up and change, becoming a Taekwon-Do instructor.

At the heart of Taekwon-do, is the junior-senior relationship. Just as we are nurtured by our instructor and senior students, we help and guide our juniors. Even now as I talk to her, the senior belts are leading their juniors in warm-ups.

“Charyot (attention), Kyong Ye (bow)” The children all face the flags and bow in to begin class. Asked why she likes Taekwon-Do, she talks about her personal relationship with it. “I know when I’ve been neglecting Taekwon-Do. I know when I’ve been giving it time. See, rewards take work.” She doesn’t talk about herself very much before segueing back to the children. “I like to give the kids opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

She really enjoys teaching at Kilmer because of the amazing administration, staff, and fellow teachers, but she admits it’s not always easy. “We’re challenged with needing to be flexible. It’s all very dynamic.”

Ms. Kristek’s love of teaching and Taekwon-do is reflected in her students. They literally can’t wait to do Taekwon-do. It’s easy to believe that studying this martial art helps these kids. I was more surprised though when she said “These kids are so well behaved. I am told there are some who have significant discipline problems outside of this class, but they’re so responsive here, I didn’t know.”

She returns to the idea of having a personal relationship with Taekwon-Do. “When I don’t do it, I miss it, like I would miss a person.”

I observe one girl’s spirit as she punches a bag, I don’t doubt these kids would miss it, too.”

As class comes to a close, the children face the flags again to bow and then face Ms. Kristek herself.

“Charyot, Kyong Ye”

Rachel Jacobs is a freelance writer, mother and First Degree Black Belt in Taekwon-do.

The Health Benefits of Taekwon-do by Tessa Fischer, M.D.

Taekwon-do as practiced at Connelly’s Academy is an ancient art that brings health benefits to the body, mind and spirit of the contemporary practitioner. I have been studying for 24 years and, at age 66, I hope to continue for at least 10 years or more, to be limited only by serious injury or illness.

Although a very vigorous form of aerobic exercise, from the beginning, students are taught and encouraged to keep themselves and their fellow students safe. On the physical level, this means techniques that avoid injury, including non-contact sparring and proper form. If proper form and timing are attended to, students are unlikely to suffer joint injuries, fractures or serious contusions. As a female student, I really appreciate this attention to safety.

The vigor of repeated and careful techniques also builds strength and stamina. Part of every technique involves attention to breathing, another factor that contributes to health. Working in groups and with partners also encourages us to persevere in our practice. There is another component known as reaction force, which helps to balance and strengthen technique by a principle of equal and opposite movement.

From a mental health point of view, Taekwon-do practice which embodies the tenets of courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and the indomitable spirit, encourages focus, concentration and attention. The tenets carry into everyday life in ways that I have found extremely useful in many areas and with many challenges.

Kicking, punching, blocking, and vocalizing to focus power are also great stress relievers.

Leadership is encouraged among all students, and is defined not by age or gender, but by experience with the practice. Accordingly, many of our “seniors” are young people. The community around the academy is extremely supportive and kind. For me, part of the attraction is seeing students progress for years, become friends with one another, mature and go on to achieve their goals in education, arts, music, martial arts and careers.

Finally, spiritual strength can be nurtured and enhanced by the practice. Without any particular religious connection, the process of attempting, progressing and then demonstrating proficiency is spiritually elating, if not enlightening. Ask any student who has accomplished a board break or mastered his/her high pattern.

There is also a brief meditation and breathing session at the end of each class. Students are encouraged to center themselves throughout the class, particularly as basic techniques are practiced.

Class, like other spirit-soothing places, is an opportunity to leave our outside lives behind for a brief time.

To sum this up, I would strongly encourage anyone who has an interest to try a class. Join your friends or family members or try it alone. You will always be welcome.