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Apr15FriWith its innovative taekwondo club, Toronto's Yorkwoods Community Church is teaching kids discipline and faith. April 15, 2016 by Ken Ramstead
The second floor of Yorkwoods Community Church, located northwest of Toronto's city centre, is a beehive of activity on a recent Saturday afternoon. Normally used for everything from band practice to after-school activities, the room has been cleared and mats have been laid down.
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A dozen white-suited kids have paired off with instructors and are practising how to fall correctly, how to strike and flip an opponent, and the correct way to take down an assailant.
The kids then assemble and watch attentively as Grandmaster John Ko, the head instructor, shows one young girl how to break away from an attacker.
“No matter how strong the other person is, everyone has weak spots that you can exploit,” Ko explains. “The fingers, the ears….”
He then demonstrates to her what she should do if an assailant tries to grab her. “Exhale. Make your body and mind relax,” he instructs her gently. “Focus, proper posture, eye contact.”
At first, the girl is hesitant but, after a couple of tries, succeeds in executing the move. She grins triumphantly as the class breaks into applause.
“Remember,” admonishes Ko. “This is for self-protection only! It is not to be used to bully. It is to be used to learn responsibility, set goals and achieve them. Know when to say no and how to say no strong enough to let others know you mean it.”
Discipline and Respect
The genesis of the taekwondo club dates back to late 2013, when Lieutenant Thomas Yoo was appointed to Yorkwoods Community Church. “As I looked at our congregation, located in one of the most multicultural and multi-ethnic communities in Toronto, I wondered what kind of ministry would be most effective and practical, especially for our young people.”
He thought back to his days as a youth in his native South Korea.
Why not taekwondo? he asked himself. Developed during the 1940s and 1950s by various Korean martial artists, taekwondo has become popular the world over.
Lieutenant Yoo saw it as a way to bring parents and their children together, as well as a way to instill discipline and respect for non-violence. Lieutenant Yoo realized he'd need at least one or two instructors to teach the classes, as well as uniforms, equipment and other paraphernalia.
He approached John Ko, a respected taekwondo grandmaster who has his own studio. Without hesitation, the local businessman offered himself and what resources he had at his disposal.
Word of the new initiative spread throughout the church and the surrounding community, and soon Yorkwoods Taekwondo Club had more than 25 kids and adults enrolled in its Saturday-afternoon class.
Each class begins with a prayer by Lieutenant Yoo. After that, instructors and students get down to business. Limbering-up calisthenics and a warm-up run are followed by the class splitting into groups, each headed by an instructor. Each group is put through their paces as various holds, strikes, throwing and falling techniques are mastered. At the end of the class, one of the instructors offers up a short testimony followed by a closing prayer by Lieutenant Yoo.
“A Beautiful Combination”
Yorkwoods Taekwondo Club has been enthusiastically embraced by the community. It has been the centrepiece of many church festivities and the club has even travelled to various tournaments.
“The taekwondo club is the best thing about Saturdays,” says Oliver Kamara, the outreatch ministry sergeant. “My kids and I love the family environment.
“It's a beautiful combination,” he continues. “On Saturdays, the fellowship and hard work of the club attend to our physical needs, while our spiritual needs are met on Sunday at church.”
Lieutenant Yoo finds that taekwondo and Christianity are perfectly matched. “Taekwondo preaches humility, honour, respect for others and discipline. It fits with discipleship, which is at the core of our faith.” Lieutenant Yoo is hoping to expand the church's taekwondo club. “It's no coincidence that so many of our newest church members attend,” he says. “In fact, all of our newly enrolled junior soldiers are from our taekwondo classes, as are four of the six senior soldiers enrolled. This impacts not just our church but our entire community.”