Tim Synder started learning Taekwondo when he was 15 years old. His love for martial arts stems from the way it helped him develop his confidence and self-esteem. As Snyder grew up, he battled with dyslexia and often struggled in school. Because of this, his confidence was low, and because it was the 1960s, little research had been done about dyslexia.
“One of my parents’ siblings had told them that they had read an article that people who struggle with dyslexia, if they did martial arts, it builds their confidence,” Snyder said.
At the time, his cousin ran a Taekwondo class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Snyder ended up making a commute from his hometown in Hickman to Lincoln twice every week for class.
After he reached brown belt — the belt one step below the highest level in most martial arts — Snyder taught his first Taekwondo class.
Now a 10th degree black belt and one of the most qualified instructors in the country, Synder owns Sei Shin Kan Karate in downtown Lincoln, and is teaching the new generation of martial arts lovers how to build their own confidence, self-esteem and integrate martial arts philosophies into their daily lives.
Primarily used for self-defense, Taekwondo originated in Korea. It falls under the category of martial arts, which have been around since the dawn of time. Literally meaning “way of the hand and foot,” Taekwondo (태권도) is a specialized form of martial arts developed by Koreans after World War II.
Martial arts schools called kwans opened up after the war ended and were taught by teachers who had background knowledge of Japanese and Chinese martial arts. Because of the Japanese repression, Korea’s native martial arts disciplines such as Taekkyeon were lost. However, the end of the war heralded a new era, and Taekwondo was born. No one creator is attributed to inventing Taekwondo; rather, the birth of Taekwondo is credited to “the Nine Kwans.” This refers to the five original kwans and the additional four kwans that opened after the end of World War II.
Like many other martial arts forms, they often vary depending on which branch is practicing the discipline. Taekwondo also has its own form of guidelines, which take the form of tenets. The five tenets of Taekwondo are: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit.
“The Korean peninsula was divided into three different kingdoms, and eventually modern-day Taekwondo came out of some of the different fighting styles of those regions,” said Snyder, who has been teaching and practicing martial arts for over 50 years.
A forceful body slam to the ground will harm anyone, but for those practicing Taekwondo, it’s just another day at the gym. Breaking boards, long nights of practice and body slams are all part of a night’s work for UNL’s Taekwondo sport club, which practices Tuesday and Thursday from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Those who have practiced Taekwondo originally joined for several different reasons, but they all gleaned similar benefits from the sport. Taekwondo has as much a philosophical connection as it does physical. Wesley Chong, a UNL junior biochemistry major, pinpoints several different areas Taekwondo helps him mentally and physically.
“I joined Taekwondo because my parents thought I had too much energy,” Chong said. “It [built] great stamina and strength.”
Taekwondo’s fast-paced combat style requires a quick response time, which for Chong spills over to academic life. Memorization plays a big part in Chong’s STEM major, and through Taekwondo, he learned the skills for pattern recognition.
“I’ve learned discipline, time management and I’m able to think faster on my feet,” Chong said.
In addition, Chong also said Taekwondo was a major confidence-booster for him. During Chong’s middle school years, he stood taller than most of the other children around him, so he was often pitted against opponents who were much older than him as well. Because of this, Chong often prepared differently and strategized differently in order to match his opponents.
“I had to think more strategically, because not only was I taller than most people, but I was kind of thinner,” Chong said. “I think by practicing that, that also helped build my confidence and discipline within myself.”
Similarly to Chong, UNL student Molly Storm also gained confidence and had her share of hardships when joining Taekwondo. However, her debut into Taekwondo was vastly different from Chong’s, and being a female presented its own set of challenges.
“The main reason I do it is because of family for me,” Storm said. “I grew up doing it. My parents met actually through Taekwondo.”
In addition to Storm’s immediate family, she also considers those around her who do Taekwondo her family as well — whether they’re blood-related or not. A large chunk of Storm’s enjoyment is the community around her. Since joining the sport club two years ago, Storm grew from feeling like an outsider to closely bonding with them.
“They have definitely grown to become my family,” Storm said. “I would definitely do anything for them, whatsoever.”
For Storm, Taekwondo goes further than just this social and familial aspect. Her confidence-boost comes from Taekwondo’s defensive properties; like all martial arts, Taekwondo can be used as a self-defense sport.
“Just knowing that I know how I can defend myself from certain situations gives me more confidence to be able to go out in certain situations,” Storm said. “I feel more confident about walking out in public.”
Taekwondo also gave Storm social confidence. She was a shy kid growing up, and through Taekwondo, she met and connected with people through a shared activity. Storm also gained the skills to express herself and now she is an instructor for the Taekwondo club.
Throughout Storm’s many years in Taekwondo, she has also seen a lot of changes both culturally and the community she grew up with.
“The gender biases definitely changed,” Storm said, adding that there were times she was told that she “can’t do that” or “you hit like a girl,” and that she needed the instructions simplified because she was a female.
“I made it my goal to prove them wrong,” Storm said. “Now, I like to make sure the girls are held to the same standards as the guys at the UNL club. Kind of proving that we can do the same exact stuff guys can do and sometimes better.”
During Storm’s adolescent years, she said it took her a while to turn that negativity into something positive for her. In addition to being compared to the males in Taekwondo, she was also compared to her mother since her parents owned the Taekwondo school where she was from. She especially felt like she couldn’t live up to the standards placed on her and rather than letting her resolve be tainted by the negativity she experienced, Storm changed that into something motivating instead.
“One day something clicked in me,” Storm said. “I’m not going to take this anymore. I don’t deserve to be treated like this.”