Probably the most common goal for new martial arts students, at least on some level, is the dream of earning a black belt. This may be because it seems like a cool/fun/awe-inspiring achievement based on preconceptions from pop culture, or it may be because they understand that a Dan rank is recognition of years of rigorous training, and they look forward to experiencing the challenges that the rank signifies.
Especially after the novelty of the early months or years of practice wears off, most people realize they actually have different goals, or at least additional goals. Some students earn the coveted black belt and wonder: now what? Others realize that they’ve grown to appreciate other dimensions of practice they weren’t initially aware of, or that they hadn’t previously identified or articulated.
This program has nothing to do with earning rank in our dojang. Although two of the areas of advanced study closely complement our physical curriculum, others won’t even indirectly contribute toward that end. All are for the curious, the dedicated, the ones who look beyond the basics and want to understand more than the how behind our practice, but also the why.
There are many Tae Kwon Do black belts in the world, not to mention practitioners holding Dan ranks (or the equivalent) in the myriad of other East Asian martial arts. Most of these advanced students have significant physical training and some degree of spiritual and cultural development. That said, very few do much more than pay lip service to East Asian culture where their practice originates.
Since its founding in Northampton in 1997, River Valley Tae Kwon Do has encouraged its students to explore the cultural, intellectual, and—for lack of a better term, the spiritual or philosophical—dimensions of martial arts practice. Over the years, we’ve offered the following activities:
- field trips to museums to view art and artifacts with East Asian martial arts themes
- a monthly reading group to discuss a wide range of martial arts-related books—such as spiritual texts from Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian traditions; biographies of important figures; martial arts myths and legends, histories of influential schools, and so forth
- an extensive reading list for students interested in further study
- field trips to spiritual places, such as the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies
This program connects the dots on these efforts and frames them in a way that can help bring our students together in more ways. We also hope it will attract the kind of serious people and lifelong learners who want to combine rigorous physical workouts with a meaningful cultural experience they can’t find elsewhere.