Martial Arts Pedagogy, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The School

I wouldn’t call myself particularly good at martial arts; I’m out of shape and really just beginning to cultivate my understanding. What I have come to notice is the difference between the education taught in Taekwondo, which I did back in high school (2003-ish) and the Texas Karate Association (TKA) interpretation of Tangsoodo, which I study now.

Martial arts education is a very important tool for instilling discipline, confidence, and athletic skill in young children, as well as being a fantastic social and recreational activity for adults. This is on top of the self-defense and violence-mitigation skills taught in traditional schools of exceptional ethical merit, which I consider my school (The Five Rings Dojang) to be. I don’t agree with my instructor on everything, but I’m also not going to argue with him because of his experience. When I’m a fourth dan, I’ll start challenging his worldview.

The educational system I’m laying out here is based very much on the Five Rings Dojang, with some additions reflecting my background in philosophy. I wrote this primarily when I was restless one night and couldn’t sleep. I would like to see a national-level federation use these benchmarks and training techniques as a standard of achievement for their students. Standards in federations are important, as they allow anyone who views the certificates of promotion and rank to have confidence that the individual presenting those credentials is in fact of solid moral and athletic character. Always ask about lineage and affiliation kids, it’s important stuff.

So here is my school model. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Style: Soo Bahk Do/Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan; American Tang Soo Do (Mi Guk Kwan)

Lineage: TKA Tang Soo Do, Soo Bahk Do (H.C. Hwang)

Mission Statement: Cultivate students physically, ethically, and intellectually in Korean-American martial arts traditions.

Vision: Consistent, quality, and effective cultivators of mind, body, and spirit.

Mascot: The dog – Loyal, humble, and fiercely protective of loved ones and territory.

Geup Rank System (Color Belts)


Beginner: White Belt (10-9 geup)

Journeyman: Orange (8-6 geup)

Senior: Green (5-3 geup)

Aspirant: Red (2-1 geup)


Students will be required to complete readings in order to fully advance to the next grade. After reading the assigned book or watching the assigned film, the student will be given a prompt to write an essay about the work and its significance to martial arts. Younger students may skip the reading if they are unable to comprehend the material, or for some reason their parents do not want them learning about bushido, Buddhism, Taoism, or other semi-religious traditions that inform the martial arts tradition. If a student does not complete the academics, they will promote to a rank of significantly less autonomy and authority than those who have, and may not be able to participate in certain activities. Below is a proposed sample of readings.

10 – The Book of Five Rings

9 – The Tao of Jeet Kune Do

8 – The Art of War

7 – What got you here won’t get you there

6 – Seven Samurai

5 – The Art of Peace

4 – The Tao De Ching

3 – The Demon’s Sermon on Martial Arts

2 – The Unfettered Mind

1 – Student writes an original dissertation on martial arts tradition, practice, and education.

Cultural Knowledge:

Students will at each rank be required to learn at least 10 Korean terms, their hangeul and hanja writings, and their definitions.

10 – numbers

9 – names of hand techniques

8 – names of foot techniques

7 – names of martial art systems

6 – names of countries

5 – names of places, things, etc.

4 – names of influential masters

3 – names of influential texts

2 – 20 characters from the 1000 character classic

1 – 20 additional characters from the 1000 character classic

Student Instructor System

The major innovation this system has is a cradle-to-grave cultivation of martial arts instruction. Students of demonstrable maturity and intellect will be allowed to test for and achieve instructor qualifications, allowing them to mentor, coach, and lead other students in their training. While not given the same authority or autonomy as a dan holder (midnight blue belt), the student instructor is evaluated on their ability to conceptualize techniques, discover student needs and weaknesses, and develop training plans to bring other students to the highest standards. Below is a sample of the categories of students:

Junior Student. Has not completed assigned reading for their current rank. Insignia is a white belt with a color stripe corresponding to their current rank. Student is addressed by their first name and must respond formally to a full student of any rank.

Student: Has completed assigned reading for their current rank. Insignia is a solid color belt. May be addressed by their first name, or as seonbae/hubae as appropriate. Conduct unbecoming a martial artist will result in an ethics demotion to a junior student.

Instructor: Student has completed all previous requirements PLUS a tiered instructor course. Students may study beyond their current rank to retain currency. For instance, a 7th geup may have tested through the 3rd geup instructor curriculum satisfactorily, and will not need to re-test to that level. Insignia is a color belt with a single black stripe. Instructors are addressed as “Mr/Ms” or “seonsaeg/nim”

Evaluator: Student is recommended by peer instructors and dans to be able to supervise and coach other instructors. Recommended for students with prior experience who have completed instructor training. Minimum age 16 and senior level. Insignia is a color belt with two black stripes. EvaluatorsĀ are addressed as “Mr/Ms” or “seonsaeng/nim”

Poom: Student has not completed academics and instructor training, and is under the age of 14, but has tested successfully for 1st dan. Addressed as “Mr/Ms”

Yeong Dan: StudentĀ is under the age of 14 and has successfully tested for 1st dan (includes instructor upgrade). Student will be bowed to upon the beginning of class.

Dan: Has completed all requirements and is current on instructing and practice. Training area will be called to attention for all dan-holders, and they will be bowed to at the beginning of class. Addressed as Kyosanim or *last name* Dan.

Instructor Curriculum

8 – first aid, formalities, stretching, mechanics of basic techniques

7 – first aid, leadership, lineage and tradition

6 – CPR, nutrition, ethics

5 – injury prevention, muscle/bone groups, combat ethics, bunhae

4 – teaching first aid, mastery of beginner tier curriculum

3 – teaching injury prevention, teaching leadership principles, can explain ethical reasoning and lead a discussion on ethics, mastery of journeyman tier curriculum

2 – CPR instructor, can teach philosophical concepts and develop own ideas, master of senior student curriculum.

1 – Writes a paper on the importance of previously taught topics, and on martial pedagogy.

While complicated, I feel this program would really improve lives, especially of younger students. Adults could still participate in and achieve success and useful techniques for protecting and saving lives. What do y’all think? Does this sound feasible?

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