I wish to thank Grand Master Pablo Trajtenberg, Acting President of the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF), for inviting me to review the “Taekwon-Do Kids Development Program” (TKD Program) and the Study Book developed by the ITF to teach the TKD Program. As Professor of Psychology and Instructor of Taekwon-Do, I am pleased and honoured to accept his kind invitation. I am doing this review in memory of Grand Master Trân Triêu Quân who died in an earthquake in January 2010. At the time, he was President of the ITF. He was also my Taekwon-Do Instructor. I had the privilege of working closely with him over many years on several projects related to Taekwon-Do, including the development an ITF program for teaching the DO.
As stated in the Encyclopaedia of Taekwon-Do (1987, vol. 1, p. 88), the ultimate goal of Taekwon-Do is to help to build a better world in which humanity, justice, morality, wisdom, freedom, peace and harmony will prevail. To achieve its goal, Taekwon-Do emphasizes the development of physical health and moral character. For General Choi Hong Hi, the Founder of Taekwon-Do, physical and moral training are two indivisible parts of the study of Taekwon-Do. In his last publication, entitled Moral Guide Book (2000), he wrote:
“…the only way one can truly achieve the status as a man of Taekwon-Do is to go beyond the technical aspect and establish a lifestyle based on a solid code of morality. In fact, all the years of hard training will be nothing but a waste of time if not accompanied by modesty and propriety which are the very essence of Oriental philosophy.” (p. 9).
The building of a better society depends of the quality of its citizens. The children of today are the citizens of tomorrow. Our best hope for the building of a better society is to prepare today’s children to become tomorrow’s citizens. It is important to start at an early age.
The Taekwon-Do Kids Development Program (TKD Program) is a teaching program designed to further the physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, and moral development of children as young as 3 or 4 years up to the ages of 6 or 7 years. It is grounded in the Taekwon-Do system of self-defence. The lessons, lasting anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes consist of activities (e.g., games, role-playing, exercises, discussions, stories) designed to provide young children with opportunities to develop life skills (e.g., independence/autonomy, organization skills, teamwork, leadership, obedience, sense of responsibility), cognitive skills (e.g., memory, attention, concentration), social skills (e.g., politeness, assertiveness), moral character (e.g., respect and caring for others, integrity, fairness, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit), pre-requisite skills for learning Taekwon-Do techniques (e.g., balance, body movement, rhythm, hand-eye coordination), and basic Taekwon-Do skills (e.g., stances, blocks, hand attacks, kicks). The teaching program also provides information and guidance about how to keep physically fit and healthy (exercises, hygiene, nutrition). Another part of the program, which is not part of the main syllabus, provides information to increase the awareness of potential dangers (whether they involve things or people) and teaches children how to respond to emergencies and potentially dangerous situations.
The TKD Program has six levels. The beginner starts as a “level 1” student. Once students have completed the TKD Program, they receive a graduation certificate. Graduates of the TKD Program can enter the mainstream junior Taekwon-Do class as an 8th Kup/yellow belt.
Before taking a grading exam, students must complete various assessments in class and at home. Each time a student completes a segment of assessments, the instructor stamps the student’s “Assessment Record Card.” Once students have completed all the assessment tasks for their level, they are allowed to take the grading. Grading is conducted by an official TKD Program grading examiner. Once students have successfully passed the grading exam, they are promoted to the next level and receive a new stripe on their white belt.
The TKD Program is a powerful teaching programme. It uses a structured system of goals and rewards to develop and maintain students’ motivation. The TKD Program reward system ensures that all students, whatever their ability level, have the opportunity to be rewarded for being involved with the Taekwon-Do development process. The rewards come in the form of awards.
What is rewarded is behaviour and personal achievement: attending lessons (Attendance Award), trying hard (Good Effort Award), making progress (Good Progress Award), and completing stages of the TKD Program (Grade Awards). Special Award badges are used to reward achievement with respect to the part of the syllabus focussing on the topic of danger (Danger Awareness Award, Stranger Awareness Award, and Bullying Awareness Award).
Characters are used in the TKD Program to capture children’s attention and facilitate learning. There are five of them. Each one represents one of the five Tenets of Taekwon-Do: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control, and Indomitable Spirit. Each character also has a name and physical features representing a different culture or ethnic group (European or North American, Oriental, Arabic or Indian, Latin, and African). The name of each character has been chosen to have a meaning that is coherent with the tenet it represents. As three of the characters are male and two are female, children of both genders can identify with the TKD Program. Stories and cartoon strips are used not only to reveal the strength of each character, but also to show that the characters are strongest when they work as a team to help each other.
Instructors are provided with everything they need to teach the program: an instructor’s manual, badges, stickers, Student Assessment Record cards (used by students to kept track of their achievements), Student Record cards (used by the instructors as a database to follow the progress of their students), lesson planning models and sheets, and an official stamp (used by instructors to stamp students’ assessment record sheets in their Study Book).
An important feature of the TKD program is the Study Book, which has been written to help students further their learning, and to help parents/guardians understand the contents of the TKD Program. Naturally, as some of the contents may be too difficult for young children to understand by themselves, parents/guardians are encouraged to read the book and explain the contents to their child.
The Study Book is exceptionally well-done. Students are provided with everything they need to learn the contents of the TKD Program: instructions, educational information, examples, advices, exercises, stories, cartoons, diagrams, forms, record sheets, and so on. The material for each lesson or topic is well-organised and easy to find. All the proposed activities (e.g., games, role-playing, exercises, discussions, stories, cartoon strips) are clearly described and come with easy to follow step-by-step instructions. Illustrations are used to facilitate understanding and learning.
Several other elements also make the Study Book both readable and fun to read for young children. Those include the choice of fonts (type and size) for the text, the writing style (clear, specific and adapted to age level), the illustrations (meaningful and colourful), and the overall design and layout of the book. Students will be eager to read the Study Book and complete all the tasks required for being allowed to take a grading exam and be promoted to the next program level.
Be it in terms of content or methods, the TKD Program has all the ingredients and components to yield benefits that will be carried over into home and school or nursery life. The Study Book is an important feature of the TKD Program and deserves high praise for the quality of its content, organisation, design, layout, writing style, text and illustrations. As a psychologist, I consider the Study Book to be appropriate for young children and safe to use with them under the supervision and guidance of an instructor trained to teach the TKD Program.
I am very demanding when it comes to teaching programmes. I strive for excellence when I teach and I expect nothing less from those who prepare today’s children to become tomorrow’s citizens. Honestly speaking, I cannot think of a better programme than the TKD Program to further the physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, and moral development of young children worldwide. It is that good. I highly recommend it with the companion Study Book.
Doctor Janel Gauthier, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, Laval University, Canada
Secretary-General of the International Association of Applied Psychology
ITF Black Belt, 4th degree
Former Chair of the ITF Committee on Ethics and Discipline