It took me a while to formulate a new topic to write about. I wrote a few different partial blogs, but nothing I wanted to post. Last night I was teaching and the idea for this topic came to me. I have watched plenty of Taekwondo students who have good technique, but do not know how to apply it or they can apply a technique, but they don’t know ‘why’ it works. I want my students to be able to ask, why, and to always want to dig deeper.

This brings me back to a topic I talked about earlier. When I teach I use the IDEA formula:

I) IDENTIFY the technique that you are teaching, such as back kick. This pre-frames the skill in your students’ minds and sets the expectation.

D) DEMONSTRATE the technique, whether it is the instructor or a student, give the students a visual representation. Have a student demonstrate back kick on a shield.

E) EXPLAIN the different aspects of the technique. This is where you talk through the details for the technique/ combination. For back kick, turning, not spinning and kicking straight back.

A) APPLICATION refers to how the technique is used in practical application, whether that is sparring or self defense. With offensive back kick, emphasizing its application in combinations, trapping and targeting the open side.

This is a model for introducing new drills, techniques and concepts to students. I want to dig into the last point of IDEA, the application. I am going to re-frame application as ‘always asking why.’ Rather than just how does a student apply a technique, it can go deeper to ask ‘why’ use technique over another.

I want to train my students to learn to ask why. When we work on a technique or drill, I want it to spark their curiosity. They need to not just learn how to do something, but they need to learn to dig deeper. As a teacher, Taekwondo is my medium, but personal development it the goal (I do want my kids to be good at Taekwondo). Part of the student’s personal development is developing a life long interest in learning. This is where the ‘why’ is important.

True mastery of a skill comes from not just being able to repeat it, but from being able to critically think about it’s application and how it fits into a larger puzzle. I have seen that students who can ask ‘why’ and think critically about application also tend to be more passionate. Now, I do not have research to say which comes first, the passion or the drive to know more, but I do that they often go hand in hand.

To cultivate this desire to know more, I often question my students. I will explain a drill or technique then ask my students why I chose this technique option vs. another option. If we are practicing slide back double kick (padachugi double) vs. fast kick, why choose this option instead of slide back round kick. I find asking them questions, even if they don’t know the answer and need to be led a bit, helps them to start thinking critically. I will then lead them to the answer that the double allows them to finish the counter by kicking their opponent on the open (belly) side, as it is a larger target, instead of the closed (back) side for the slide back round kick.

I will also give my students a number of defensive solutions to the same or similar attacks. Then after they have an opportunity to practice those defenses I will have the drill become more free form. I will have the attackers have the option of using any of the attacks we practiced and the defender has to apply the right counter in the moment. As we go through the process we will talk through why we choose these options. If the attacker can use a fast kick or cut kick, the defenders defenses will be similar (with some overlap), but the application of the defenses will be different. If the attacker uses a cut kick, but does not commit the longer defensive back kick is more applicable, rather than a exchanging back kick against an opponent that is attacking deep with a traditional fast kick.

Another way that I have my students learn to think critically is by giving them drills that are open ended. I will either give them an end result or an initial technique and have them find the rest of the solution. When your opponent is round kicking to your open side, I want you to find a defense that ends with a kick to their helmet. I then give them time to work through the drill.

The end goal of each of these methods to help the students think critically. In having them probe and ask ‘why’ it not only develops their mastery of Taekwondo, but it also helps their passion grow.