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Through my Taekwondo training I've learned how to defend myself, but as a Leadership student, I also received advanced lessons with traditional weapons. I never imagined that using something as simple as a Bo Staff could be so empowering! Although I hope I never have to defend myself against an attacker, I now have the confidence and ability to do so.
–Christina Morales, Brown Belt, 18 years old


From ATA World Volume 20, Number 2 – Summer 2013

By Sarah Asp Olson | Illustrations by Shaw Nielsen

Can you picture a dragon boat? It’s a long wooden boat filled with people all working toward a common goal. They’re a team, and to get where they’re going, they have to be kind and respectful to each other, as well as share good times and help each other through hard times.

Now imagine that boat and all of the people on it represent you and the people in your life. Just like each member of a dragon boat team, each of the relationships in your life – from parents to teachers to friends at school – requires care and attention to function properly.

“Relationship starts with relate,” says Senior Master Nominee Leland Brandon, owner of Brandon’s ATA Black Belt Academy in Henderson, Nev. “If you can relate [to those around you], you create a vessel that carries you together wherever you want to go. Once you have learned to build your own ship to be ATA Strong, you will join forces with others and change the world, one Black Belt relationship at a time.”


Life Skill: Goals for Relationships

Relationships matter – and improving them will improve who you are as a leader, an athlete, and a human being. Are relationships moving your boat along, or stalling it out in the water? What can you do to improve them?

Parents and Siblings:

In a dragon boat, the “engine room” represents the people who sit in the center of the ship – they’re the ones with the most weight and most strength. They keep it stable and strong.

Strong bonds with your parents and siblings are your engine room. They provide strength and stability to you when you’re a kid, and even when you’re an adult. Just like the engine room in a dragon boat, a strong family bond will provide a firm foundation and help uphold every other relationship you build throughout your lifetime.

Few in the ATA know this better than Senior Master Nominee Kelli Shoup, who runs Karate for Kids in Darien, Ill., with her mom, Senior Master Patti Barnum.

“My mom and I have a super strong relationship and we always have,” says Shoup, who has four children of her own. “As long as you have a good relationship [with a parent], you’ll be able to help each other through tough times and the easy times, too. You’re always going to be there for each other.”

Staying tight with family members, especially your parents, isn’t always easy. There are times when you think parents are just trying to spoil your fun. In these moments, it’s helpful to remember that more than anyone else in your life, your parents want what is best for you.

Says Master Nominee Scott Murphy, a father of two who owns Canton ATA Martial Arts in Canton, Ga., “[It] may not be what you want to hear at the time, but kids need to understand we are trying to help and not trying to steer them into more trouble.”

Siblings, too, provide a backbone as you sail forward in life. You may argue from time to time, but creating a solid bond with your siblings and staying loyal to them will reap great rewards – like support and lifelong friendship—as you grow up together.

Life Skill: Loyalty

Do your part to be a good team member in the engine room yourself by participating in family activities, like meals and game nights, and having as much fun together as you can. Check your attitude to make sure your words and actions are building up rather than breaking down. And be willing to help your parents and siblings when they need it.

ATA Instructors, Teachers, and Coaches:

The leaders who paddle in front of a dragon boat are responsible for keeping it on track and setting the pace. Without them, you’d float aimlessly wherever the wind blew and never reach your goals – maybe never even imagine goals. Trusted adults – like ATA instructors, teachers, and coaches – can greatly influence the course of your life and can help steer you in the right direction, motivate you to get there faster, and provide guidance as caring adults that have been there.

“The most important thing in building a relationship is being a good role model for the kids and being there to help them if they’re having trouble,” says Shoup. “I came from a divorce situation, so if kids are going through a divorce, I open my arms to them. I want them to be able to feel comfortable saying ‘I need help.’”

Life Skill: Respect

Learn from the seniors in your life. It may be tempting to jump on the bandwagon and make fun of those in charge or disregard what they say, but remember: They will guide and motivate you – if you let them.

Advice and help – plus vision and motivation – from ATA instructors, teachers, and coaches is invaluable. But it only works if you are willing to receive help and communicate to the adults you respect how they can best help you.

“[Kids] need to let their instructors know what their goals are,” says Murphy. “They should be setting goals on their own, but then communicate that so the instructors will know what is important to this particular person.”

You may not have close relationships with all the adults in your life, but seeking out the guidance and support of trusted adults who share your family’s values can put you on the path to achieving any goal you can imagine in Taekwondo and in life.

Life Skill: Loyalty

Solid friendships are based on being consistent from one situation to the next. If you stick to your principles and values, true friends will reveal themselves. True friends will grow to trust and respect you. They will know they can rely on you no matter the situation.


The back paddlers come in all shapes and sizes, but if you’re in a fast and efficient dragon boat, you’ll find the strongest paddlers there. In your relationships with others, the friends you will have over the course of your life will be a diverse group – with different interests and roles – but the stronger you can make each other, the more successful you will all be.

Some friends will be constants, paddling next to you strongly and consistently. These friends will stick with you through thick and thin and remain loyal, especially in the face of adversity. Other friends may be strong at certain periods of time or in certain situations. Seek them out when you need specific help. Some friends are strong for just a season – perhaps to carry you through a hard time. Friends like these can help spur you on toward your goals through encouragement or even healthy competition, and can give you a boost when you’re down or prod you forward when you’re stuck in a rut.

You can probably imagine yourself in these roles too, helping a diverse group of friends move their boat – even some with whom you may respectfully disagree with sometimes. But for those friends you think of as your constant paddlers, sharing common interests and values is key.

“With friends, the important thing is that you have people who are on the right path in life because then you’ll ultimately end up going [down] the right path,” says Shoup. “Also, if you have similar interests, it makes the relationship even stronger.”

Over the course of your life, you’re going to make friends of every stripe and color, but one thing remains the same: to have good friends, you need to be a good friend.

“One of the big things that we always try to teach in class is that we never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life,” says Murphy. “Part of having a good relationship or being a good friend is to build each other up.” ATA

The ebbs and flows of relationships may play out visibly on the playground, but learning to develop healthy, lasting relationships isn’t child’s play. Kids look at you, grownups, to model excellent behavior with others. How can you be better?


With Your Kids:

Research on child development has shown that everything from self-confidence to the ability to control aggression is tied to early healthy relationships. Nurture the parent-child bond with unconditional love and appropriate boundaries.


With Your Friends:

Strong adult friendships have been linked to everything from lower stress levels to overall life satisfaction. Maintain old friendships through electronic or face-to-face interactions. Then, get out of your rut and make a new friend. It’s not always easy, but a good place to start is your dojahng, where you’ll find like-minded adults.


With Your Spouse:

Healthy communication and respectful behavior is key, both for the health of your relationship and for what you model for children and others. “There’s always another set of eyes on us,” says Master Nominee Scott Murphy, who runs his ATA-licensed school with his wife. “If we set the right example in the way that we treat each other, then that’s what we can hope to expect from that next generation coming through because we modeled it the right way.”


Senior Master Nominee Leland Brandon heads Kidz Matter – a nonprofit program teaching life skills to students in 27 elementary schools across seven states. He has modified ATA’s class management skills for instructors to create principles for strengthening the parent-child bond. Here are nine of them:

Set a mood and tone that is appropriate for the situation.
Find a way to make all interactions positive.
Use a personal approach.
Set direct goals with clear expectations.
Be thoughtful about verbal and non-verbal communication.
Reinforce positive behavior.
Give specific praise and make it realistic.
Give positive correction rather than criticism.
Promote personal victory for every activity.


Dragon boats foster strong relationships that can only be built through teamwork. A typical dragon boat is designed for 22 team members, and some can hold nearly 50. Teams that communicate and move together toward a common goal will almost always beat a stronger, less coordinated team in the race toward the finish line.


Racing dragon boats has been a part of Korean culture for thousands of years. But it is becoming an international spectacle – it’s the fastest growing water sport in the world!

In the United States, there are hundreds of dragon boat racing clubs. Turkey celebrates the sport with a 6,000-participant race. In Canada, there’s even a smartphone app for racing. In fact, more than 50 countries across the globe participate in dragon boat races, clubs, organizations, and festivals.

In Korea, specifically, dragon boat racing is widely associated with the Gangneung Danoje Festival, also known as the Dano Festival. This annual event begins on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar (usually the beginning of summer) and is the largest festival in the country. It is a celebration of community spirit, of a new growing season, and of summer fun. Get on board!