Chris Dillard feels fortunate to be teaching Taekwondo to children, since he wishes he had learned the martial art as a child.
Dillard, a 30-year-old Bellingham resident, briefly participated in the popular Korean martial art form in his early teen years, but he didn’t become fully involved until he was in his early 20s.
He quickly achieved black belt status with the Bellingham USTA and less than six years ago he was asked to consider teaching children 4- to 12-years old.
“I guess the masters saw in me something I did not yet see,” he says, recalling that he originally had no intention to become a martial arts instructor. Now Dillard, who is a second-degree black belt, teaches the programs for Little Tigers (4-6) and Children (7-12) and he loves it.
“We have about 100 participants 4 to 12,” he says. “We also have a dojang (studio) in Ferndale and Lynden and, in all, we have 10 from Lynden to Bellevue. We teach according to standards of the World Taekwondo Federation, which is based in South Korea.”
The 4- to 6-year-olds attend classes for half an hour twice a week and the 7- to 12-year-olds for 40 minutes twice a week. All who have achieved a black belt enter 50-minute classes. The studios operate year-round, including periods of testing days, except for the last two weeks of December, but participants are not prevented from going on family vacations or other activities.
“It typically takes a student three years to earn a black belt,” Dillard says, noting that the less time a student misses, the sooner he or she can move into the next rank.
We stress focus, listening and following directions. Our students learn discipline and courtesy, the mental and moral tenets.
Chris Dillard, Taekwondo instructor
In all, Little Tigers have six ranks. Children 7-12 (and adults) move through 13 ranks until earning their first black belt, which is the 14th rank.
“Taekwondo is about 90 percent feet and 10 percent hands,” Dillard says. “For students who have achieved a black belt, we teach Nunchaku, in which there is a weapon, which is two short sticks connected by a chain.”
Dillard says his primary goals involve teaching and stressing aspects of character and respect, beginning with the youngest children.
“The skills learned are not just physical skills,” he says. “We stress focus, listening and following directions. Our students learn discipline and courtesy, the mental and moral tenets. We want these to become habits and part of home life, part of social life, so children learn to be respectful to everyone.”
Dillard emphasizes that the skills learned in Taekwondo are limited to the dojang.
“I always remind children that they never use Taekwondo on school grounds or anywhere else except in our studio,” he says. “They only practice Taekwondo here.”
Parents become involved in the Five Stripe Program (colored stripes go with belts), in which participation is necessary in order to qualify for testing to move up a level. The program involves reading books, doing chores around the house (or farm, etc.), school progress, Taekwondo curriculum, behavior, and more.
TO LEARN MORE
The Bellingham studio is located at 1904 Iron St. For information on other studios and Taekwondo, go ustamartialarts.com or call 360-671-8629. Bellingham studio hours are Monday through Friday, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.