They say it takes a village to raise a child.
It also takes one to run a taekwondo school.
This month marks the completion of six years for Oakmont Martial Arts under the leadership of fourth-degree Black Belts, school owners, and chief instructors Karyn Graff and Scott Weston. The school has grown considerably from that starting point.
“Six years ago, there were twenty-five cards in the rack, and one of them was mine,” said Mr. Weston. “This entire class,” he waves at the adult class, “comprised twenty-five percent of the school.”
Today there are over two hundred active students. That’s a lot of growth.
Figuring out why goes beyond the popularity of martial arts, or taekwondo, or parents wanting kids to learn disciple and self-defense, or adults wanting fitness. It comes down to people. And not just the instructors – everybody associated with the school.
Oakmont Martial Arts is more than a taekwondo school. It’s a community. It starts with the instructors, of course. Following Ms. Graff’s and Mr. Weston’s lead, every instructor is invested in the success of every student. And they know that success looks different from everyone. Not every person will have a twelve-inch vertical on a jump. And that’s okay. And it’s not about how fast you move through the ranks. Everyone moves at a different speed.
Instead, every student is encouraged to do his or her personal best. And if a student can do something today that she couldn’t do yesterday, last week, last month, or last year – that’s success. Not just forms, and kicks either. Learning life skills such as discipline, focus, and respect are celebrated too.
But the sense of community goes beyond the instructors to the students – and their families. Students support each other, encouraging each other at class and at testings. Just listen to the students at a testing when a person goes for that third, and final, board break attempt. The noise is pretty intense. Break it, and the crowd goes wild. Don’t break it, and there’s plenty of support. The outpouring of support is also there for no-changes. “You’ll get it next time.” Young students who have no-changed are comforted by other students. “You’ve got this, just keep practing.”
During classes, parents line the wall to watch, or gather in the parents’ room to observe and share stories. After her recent testing, third-degree Black Belt and instructor Cyndl Hale wrote a card reminding parents to never underestimate the value of standing at that wall, because it shows parents are invested in the kids’ instruction. It shows community.
Speaking of those third-degree testings, Oakmont Martial Arts has gained quite a reputation for enthusiasm and support. When third-degree, and chief instructor, Peter Kingsley tested at Chief Master Caruso’s, the Oakmont crew brought an unprecedented level of enthusiasm to the normally staid testing, and a smile to the Chief Master’s face. Every attendee wore a T-shirt, yelled and cheered for familiar faces, not just Mr. Kingsley, but Mr. Craig Bailey, who has guest judged at testings and others. For third-degree Black Belt Kathy Humes, the crowd waved flags. For Ms. Hale, there were headbands.
And signs. Don’t forget the signs. Allegedly, the Oakmont crew’s sense of community has been remarked on by Chief Master Caruson to his own school.
Last summer, Oakmont Martial Arts hosted its first summer picnic. Most, if not all, families turned up for at least part of the day to enjoy games and a Monster truck provided by Bob Grill.
But what about when work is required? It can’t all be signs and T-shirts and fun. But the sense of community is even in the work.
In April, the school was closed for spring break – a working break, as renovations were made to school facilities, including new mirrors, a replacement for the “blue wall,” and painting. Ms. Graff and Mr. Weston put in a lot of effort. But they weren’t alone.
A veritable laundry list of students and parents showed up to help – with everything from demolition of the blue wall, construction of the new one, and painting. “Either people really wanted to paint, or they really wanted to get rid of the red and blue,” said Ms. Graff.
What other organization combines teaching taekwondo with tutoring math, teaching Photoshop, or advice in photography? Community. This is not just Ms. Graff’s and Mr. Weston’s school, it’s OUR school.
Because it’s not just what you learn that makes a place special, it’s whom you get to learn it with.
A software technical writer by day, Mary Sutton is the mother of two teens and has been making her living with words for over ten years. She is the author of the Hero’s Sword middle-grade fantasy series, writing as M.E. Sutton, and The Laurel Highlands Mysteries police-procedural series, writing as Liz Milliron. Visit her online at www.marysuttonauthor.com.