Seattle Soldier Earns Yellow Belt in Tae Kwon Do–in Iraq
Story by Staff Sgt. Constance A Oberg
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – Soldiers have been meeting at the Morale Welfare and Recreation building on Contingency Operating Base Speicher three nights a week to learn Tae Kwon Do, a modern martial art from Korea characterized by its fast, high spinning kicks.
Tae Kwon Do is a non-aggressive and ethical system of self defense. Training also involves a variety of techniques, to include punching, kicking, dodging, jumping, parrying and blocking.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Robert Carlson, first platoon leader for the 220th Transportation Company, 394th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Vernon, Conn., native, the instructor for the class, said he became interested in Tae Kwon Do after receiving a coupon for three free lessons from his father for Christmas.
Carlson has been involved in Tae Kwon Do for more than 19 years after taking the initial, free lessons. He attended private lessons at Master Hwang’s School of Tae Kwon Do. He is now sharing his passion for the sport with others.
“Billy Olundsen, my instructor for Tae Kwon Do, was very motivating and a little intimidating at first, but I received a lot of praise from him so I continued for many years,” said Carlson. “During high school, though, I was involved in a lot of sports and my academics took up a lot of my time, so I took time off for awhile from Tae Kwon Do, but went back in 2002 to get my black belt.”
In 2003 Carlson went with the Peace Corps to Mongolia to teach English, and he found himself teaching Tae Kwon Do to the students there. While there, the support that Carlson received from his former instructors had him wanting to continue to teach while serving overseas during his deployment.
Carlson is still receiving support from back home, which made the classes white-to -yellow belt ceremony possible.
“Master William Oulundson, a seven-degree black belt who has been teaching since 1980 and who also was my instructor, provided the yellow belts and the study guides for the students,” he said.
Spc. Vladislav Zinovyev, a motor transportation operator with the 220th transportation company, a native of Russia, said he wanted to take the class to do something different.
“Lt. Carlson suggested Tae Kwon Do, and I would like to keep the training up when I go back to the United States. Eventually I would like to be a policeman,” said Zinovyev.
Carlson said he feels that the soldiers can benefit both mentally and emotionally.
“It builds self confidence, it is a great way to learn self defense, and it is something these soldiers can take with them after they leave here,” added Carlson.
Both Spc. Jesse James Weber, with 1st Battalion, 27 Infantry Regiment, and a Richland Center, Wis., native, and Sgt. Jeff Lambert, and a counter intelligence specialist with the 141st Military Intelligence Battalion, and an Aurora, Colo., native, got involved with Tae Kwon Do because of the mental and physical disciple it provides.
“I always had an interest in martial arts; it is a good physical fitness program,” said Weber. “I plan on staying with martial arts after I get back to the States and attend college.”
Lambert agreed, stating he too wanted to learn martial arts, and that it has been a great way to pass the time on the deployment.
“One of the hardest things is having soldiers find ways to fill up their down time on a deployment; soldiers need something to take their mind off of being separated from their families, and I feel this helps relieve stress and gives them something to do to feel productive,” said Carlson.
So that is exactly what these three soldiers have been doing for six hours a week, focusing on sparring and learning formal patterns of movement.
“There is a certain number of movements that the students have to memorize and demonstrate,” said Carlson. “They also have to know certain one steps and sparing moves, and they need to demonstrate certain basic kicks and punches, a total of four each to move from white to yellow belt.”
According to Carlson, it takes two to three months for a white belt student to transition to a yellow belt. He feels that during that time it gives a student a lot of self confidence and discipline. It teaches commitment that hopefully they will take with them when they head back home.
“Discipline is the way of the enlightened warrior,” said Carlson. “Discipline is what separates people maturity wise, to be effective you have to discipline yourself and take a hard look at yourself, set your goals, decide what you want.”
Carlson said he feels some people use others to motivate and guide them; he encourages others to find some way to cultivate discipline in their lives, even if it is as simple as joining a class. Tae Kwon Do not only teaches commitment, but it keeps the body in good shape.