When I was in elementary school, I had an awful temper. I was a baseball player at the Heard County Rec Center.
After a particularly angry outburst during a game, my coach mentioned that baseball was probably not for me and suggested that I find another sport to help teach me to control my anger and pass my time. Around this time, a new sport was offered at the rec: taekwondo.
I liked martial arts movies and fighting, like most children do, so my mom decided to sign me up. She hoped that I would learn self control and discipline from it.
So, at age 10, I started at Young’s Tae Kwon Do in Franklin, Georgia. It was awesome! The classes were fun, yet made me work hard. Mr. (Robert “Toby”) Young taught with a light-hearted but precise manner.
As I continued to progress in his class, we began to compete at tournaments. All was well until one particular competition. A sparring match was not being judged fairly and my anger got the best of me. I yelled some very rude things at the head judge, much to everyone’s surprise and Mr. Young’s embarrassment.
To have one of his students act so terribly at an important tournament like this one was bad for his school’s reputation. Although I clearly had a natural ability and was an adept martial artist, Mr. Young decided that I needed a break from his class in order to think about my mistakes and learn some humility.
After about six boring months, my mom got in contact with Mr. Young, asking if I could return to class. I apologized to him for acting the way that I had. I missed his class and wanted to return. I could hear the smile in his voice when he told me that I could come back.
Returning to class made me realize just how much I had missed it. I worked really hard, trying to earn Mr. Young’s respect back and to prove that I really wanted to be in his class.
I continued to progress and compete at tournaments, winning so many first places trophies that my mom didn’t know where to put them. My older sister saw how much I enjoyed it and decided to join class too.
My sister has always made great grades in school. Once she joined, Mr. Young’s weekly grade checks started to embarrass me: here’s my sister making straight A’s, while I’m getting B’s and C’s. I guess you could say that my competitive side kicked in and I started focusing more in school.
It didn’t take very long before I could proudly say that I was getting A’s and B’s too. Mr. Young noticed the change and began to entrust me with responsibilities in class. At first, it was just leading our stretch routine, but over time, he let me teach techniques and katas to the other students.
Eventually, we had to start taking Mr. Young’s classes in LaGrange instead of Franklin due to limited space. Because we were already familiar with Mr. Young’s teaching style and preferences, he allowed my sister and I to become his assistants. We would sometimes even teach class in his place to show that we were capable leaders.
We earned our black belts after Instructor Young felt that we had proven ourselves, as both leaders and martial artists. He guided us through the entire process, making us assess everything from students’ behavior to their physical abilities.
He told us that taekwondo is not only a physical art, it’s also a mental and emotional sport. In order to be a great martial artist, you have to know yourself — in every way. I learned discipline and self-control because he taught me about myself.
Soon after earning my black belt, I decided that I wanted to join the Marine Corps. Instructor Young had conditioned me, mentally and physically, and I was fully prepared to serve my country. I also decided to go to college to pursue my interest in engineering. The discipline that I learned from him taught me to focus on my school work and maintain a high GPA.
My successes thus far can all be attributed to Mr. Young’s teaching. He never gave up on me, even in my worst times. He could have kicked me out of his class and never looked back, but he is always genuinely concerned about every student he’s ever had.
He helped me throughout my childhood and puberty, teaching me how to cope with all of the changes that occur through growing up. He became my greatest mentor, and my father figure.
I’m so proud to call myself his student. He showed me how to be a mentor to others, in order to inspire future students in the way that he inspired me.
I have been Instructor Young’s student for 11 years. He’s my teacher, mentor, father, best friend and many other roles. I would not be the person that I am today without his guidance.
He inspires so many people, evident by the tight-knit TKD family that surrounds him. The charities that he has supported and the help within the community that he has provided are not acts of kindness, but rather they are side effects of his personality.
For everything that he has done for me, my family and so many others, this man is my hero.
Editor’s note: Clarification added in parenthesis.