Friday, April 07, 2006


I just spent a little surfing time lookat at the IU Taekwondo (TKD) Club page. It is sometimes amazing how many memories and old emotions can come welling up quite unexpectedly. And it is always a mixture of the good and the bad.

First, I laughed when I read this on the FAQ page: "Pre-tests are required for black belt candidates [...] to determine whether you are ready to test for promotion, or if you should wait." First, let me say that I was ready. I got solid scores on all parts of my exam, and I know that I earned my belt the day of that test. There is no doubt in my mind about that.

In my black belt class, there were 5 other students. I've never taken the time to think about who should and who should not have passed, but it was made clear to us that day that none of us would be getting our belts that day. The first part of the exam is made up of forms, also known as kata or poomse. Forms are set movements where you demonstrate your techniques. In our style, forms are critical. If you don't know your forms, you typically fail your test regardless of the rest of your techniques. If you nail your forms, you will most likely pass. I nailed my forms. 100% solid. There was one person who was asked to repeat one of them because of a mistake. The other 4 had to repeat multiple forms. You could sense a growing tension among the instructors, and they held a private meeting after the forms portion. We found out later that the meeting was on whether or not to allow us to continue. They decided to let us finish, but no belts would be awarded that day. Eventually, we did all get our black belts, but I couldn't help but laugh at the new pre-test requirement. I know that my class was a contributing factor to that.

Then, I looked around some more, and felt a resurgence of anger that I have not felt in a long time. Specifically, it came when I read this: "Mr. Thomas [...] has been a club instructor for since 1998." Well, yes and no. To recap the order of events, my black belt test was in Dec. 1997, and we were awarded them in Jan. 1998. Late spring 1998, the offer was made to Mr. Thomas and me to become co-instructors of the TKD club. The long-time instructor (who provided most of my training) had 2 small children and was finishing up his Ph.D. thesis. He had a lot of other priorities and did a lot of flip-flopping regarding whether or not he could commit. The 1997-1998 school year, he was rarely available. Shortly after Mr. Thomas and I were selected to become instructors for fall 1998, a flurry of emails were exchanged on a discussion list until the list had to be shut down by the head of the martial arts department.

Mr. Thomas had made a comment about "when Mike and I are instructors," and my old teacher began a series of attacks on our qualifications. And when I say, "our," I mean that almost all of those attacks were aimed at me. They were baseless, as people who knew me pointed out. Yet, they were more than that. There were also attacks that were personal in nature and completely inappropriate. To make it even worse, there were people on this list who did not know me (they were alums of the IU TKD program and had schools of their own), but were close to my old instructor. Needless to say, my reputation in their eyes was tarnished, and they made it clear that they would not have been happy to work with Mr. Thomas and me as the club instructors. To this day, I cannot fathom all of the motivations of my old instructor. There had long been a turf war between him and the head of the martial arts department. Perhaps I was simply caught up in the middle of those politics. Regardless, I have never felt as betrayed as I did when I read those emails.

The resolution of all of this was the department head stepped in and took ownership of the club. Mr. Thomas and I became relegated to assistant instructor status. I wish I could say that we went on to prove my old instructor wrong. But the truth is, the damage had already been done.

I've always had struggles with confidence. As I worked toward and earned my black belt, I was turning the tide. I knew that my techniques were good. I knew that I could teach well. I knew that others learned from what I said, because I saw it as their abilities improved. And to have my old instructor, a man whom I deeply respected and admired, turn around and discredit everything that I had accomplished was devastating. I did well as an assistant instructor, but I had lost my enthusiasm for it. That was fall of 1998. By spring of 1999, I was gone. That was the semester that I dropped all of my classes. That was the time when I really began to understand that I had a problem with my self-esteem.

I wish I could say I've fixed the problem. Sure, I've made corrections. And as I've matured, I've come to be more accepting of my flaws and know that I don't have to be perfect in everything I try. But that doesn't mean I don't struggle almost daily with issues of self-worth.

As I said at the beginning, it's amazing how all of this can come to the surface in such unexpected ways. Similarly, it's astounding how something as simple as email can have such unintended consequences.


At 9:24 PM, Blogger ~M~ said...

Great posts, both of these--lots of very genuine and raw emotion, and both very relatable, or at least ones with which I can empathize on some level. Welcome back to the blogosphere--it was, of course, worth the wait.

And for what it's worth, I still think you're an incredibly intelligent, intriguing, open-minded, warm individual, and I know you exuded that to many others during our IU years. So if you ever need someone to remind you of some reasons why you, of all people, needn't have low self-esteem, give me a call. ;-)


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