Hapkido and the Bonds of Friendship by Richard Hackworth
Looking back at my life and my involvement with various aspects of martial arts one thing has been consistent. That thing is that I have built some of my most prized friendships. More than just friends I consider these people my Hapkido family.
Over my years of participating in martial arts either as a competitor, coach, instructor, or parent, the people that I consider some of my closest friends I’ve met through my involvement in martial arts. To this day, my closest circle of friends includes mostly those Hapkido classmates from my Army years.
As a competitor, you spend countless hours on the mats or in competition situations and you share those experiences with only a handful of people — your teammates. You sweat together, fight with each other, compete for championship matches against one another, and sometimes angry at your coach together for what they’ve put you through.
As a coach the rewards are many. The satisfaction you get when everything comes together, and the students get the rewards for their hard work is like nothing else. Watching a student from your class or player on your school’s team, make an adjustment to their technique or to correct a mistake that you’ve counseled them over warms your heart, even if you don’t get credit for it.
If you work with them long enough, you get to watch your young students turn in to young adults. You watch your students turn from someone you’ve mentored to someone you consider a friend. One of my favorite things is to run in to an old student and see how they’re doing in life. Some of them are now grownups with children of their own.
When I need help with either a team-related problem or one in other parts of my life, sometimes the only people I feel comfortable talking to are other instructors that have shared similar experiences. We can share advice, discuss student, and parent issues, critique the recent performance of common referees, and share in each other’s success.
The relationships you make with parents through Hapkido oftentimes turn into deeper friendships, attending each other’s holiday parties, going to tournaments together, or even going with a whole group on vacation to Korea.
The amount of time that we all spend together when traveling to tournaments, sitting in the bleachers between matches or even winding down by the hotel pool helps us to identify similar qualities and interests in each other that help to form and strengthen those friendships.
As good as the friendships can be that you make through martial arts, there are also many friendships that have been soured or strained because of our involvement in martial arts.
When a student begins to think that his individual performance outweighs the importance of team chemistry, his teammates may hold their resentment for his newfound attitude against him both on and off the mats. When a group of teammates feel that they are the only ones that can make a difference on the outcome and keep the glory to themselves, the results can be devastating to the team.
There is plenty of opportunity for disagreement within a coaching or instructor staff that could lead to strained relationships. I can’t tell you how many times my assistants and I have butted heads. If we didn’t have a solid base in our friendship and respect for each other’s opinions, our friendships and potential working relationships may have ended a long time ago.
Then there’s the whole experience of having to make cuts. I used to have a mentor in business that told me “I’ve made a lot of bad hires in my time, but never a bad firing.”
The same could be said for selecting the competitors for your martial arts school’s team, except for the fact that you’re dealing with children and the effect your selection will have on their lives. The ever-present concern over the amount of competition time your child gets or the way the coach handles them in a difficult situation because of a mistake on the mat can lead to unfriendly confrontations between coach and parent.
In a small community like ours, the effect it has on our relationships can be felt in many ways. We can run into each other at parties, at Wal-Mart, at church, or at school. Our kids will stay friends whether they are on the same team; it’s the adults that can carry the lasting effects of these experiences into their relationships.
It’s the friendships that endure through those times that matter the most. A quote from Football player Peyton Manning really illustrates this for me. Peyton Manning was known for his competitiveness and fiery attitude on the field. When asked what he wanted people to remember about his career, he said, “I get asked a lot about my legacy. For me, it’s being a good teammate, having the respect of my teammates, having the respect of the coaches and players. That’s important to me.”
When you a part of a team, whether it’s martial arts or a team sport, there is nothing more important than those relationships you build on the fields of battle.
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