Friday, October 1, 2010

The Growing Pains of a Small Dojang

Growing pains.

They hurt – but it’s a good thing when they’re the result of high-class problems.

My young students experience mental and physical growing pains on a daily basis. The biggest physical growth spurts happen over the summer, when they literally grow in their sleep overnight. They complain that their feet hurt, their bones and muscles ache, and they’re tired a lot more than usual. I tell them that it’s a normal part of growing up, and remind them not to be too grumpy with and sassy to their parents. They usually oblige.

Sometimes martial arts schools have growth spurts, too.

Looking around the dojang mat yesterday, I realized that now that fall is here, I have a brand new crew of students. We have a huge influx of white belts who are uber excited and motivated to work hard learning Taekwondo.

Problem is there are A LOT of them.

During yesterday’s youth class, the white belts packed the mat with the more experienced upper belts, all of them forming a sea of white uniforms with rainbow-like colored belts around their waists. Everyone kihapped loud, perspired, and worked hard.

The energy was very powerful.

Almost too powerful.

Bordering on frenetic.

As we bowed out, I knew I needed to meditate on finding a solution to make the student-teacher ratio more manageable. The solution option that struck me immediately, though, freaked me out.

Today, I’ve got an eerie feeling lurking – with the customary “Twilight Zone” theme music playing in the background – because I now remember a dream I had years ago, before there was an inkling of an idea to run a martial arts school:

I am in the front office of my school when a tall, lanky, balding man walks in.

It’s early fall, or late summer. It’s not too hot. There’s a slight breeze, and the sun is shining brightly through our glass doors.

I am in full uniform, but class hasn’t started yet.

“Welcome. Can I help you?” I ask.

“Yes,” the man says. “I’d like to sign my daughter up for martial arts classes.”

“Well thank you for visiting our dojang,” I reply. “We’re filled to capacity right now and have a waiting list. You’re welcome to add your daughter’s name to the list, and as soon as a spot opens up, I’ll give you a call. Feel free to watch a class while you’re here.”

Wow. That’s what yesterday was about. We’ve hit our limit. And it’s definitely a high-class problem. While I hate to turn students away, I need to attentively teach the ones already on the mat.

It’s all about practicing Basic Rules to Live By No. 10: Respect your teachers and peers (classmates) at all times.

The disrespectful thing to do with my students is to pack them in like sardines – many schools actually think this is a GOOD thing – and not care whether they learn solid, quality martial arts.

But I DO care that they learn something. I do want to have a personal relationship with my students. I don’t want there to be so many that I can’t remember their or their parents’ names.

Since I’m not out to get rich off of teaching martial arts, I’m starting to get that it’s O.K. to have boundaries and limits regarding how many students I believe I can effectively teach at one time.

And that’s my growing pain for the day.

A high-class problem indeed.


  1. Wow, that's impressive to hear, though! I love our smaller school precisely because I get that individual attention, and I wouldn't trade that for a bigger school!

  2. Thanks for keeping that commitment to your current students. You are doing RIGHT! And staying true to your values.

  3. 5 is a magic number in our lives. It's half a decade. Hard to believe that Lacy's been there since almost the beginning. She's grown so much and we've appreciated your mentoring her so well all these years. Can't wait for tomorrow's new class.