Peabody Taekwondo Center teaches respect and discipline

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
At the Peabody Taekwondo Center, discipline is not only taught, it’s emphasized and practiced on a weekly basis, thanks to martial arts instructor Juanita Richstatter.

“Taekwondo teaches respect for both yourself and others, and I believe it structures your life so you can make better life decisions,” Richstatter said. “It makes you a stronger person.”

Taekwondo, an ancient form of Korean self-defense, is characterized by fast, high and spinning kicks.

Richstatter began her martial arts career some 11 years ago with Karate before shifting her focus to Taekwondo.

Married to Jonathan and the mother of three grown sons, Richstatter initially took up the sport because of her children’s interest in the sport and her desire to spend quality time with them.

Although her children are now adults and struggle to find time to continue their martial-arts studies, Richstatter continues to expand her proficiency.

The competence of martial arts students, she said, is differentiated by the color of the belt they’ve earned and the number of stripes on each color.

“You start as a white belt and you go through several stages and you get a stripe for each one of those,” she said. “Then you have yellow, orange, green, purple, blue, brown, red and black.”

Under the tutelage of master instructor Raymond Salas in Newton, Richstatter has risen to the rank of black belt in the third degree.

“I still take classes and try to get over there at least a couple of times per month,” Richstatter. “I’ve studied under Mr. Salas for all 11 years I’ve done this, and he’s been doing it for 29 years.”

Salas is a fifth-degree black belt and studies under his own master instructor in Oklahoma, Todd Sexton.

“Todd just went to Korea for his seventh degree,” Richstatter said.

For the past eight years, Richstatter has been leading her own class in Peabody.

“To be an instructor, I have to go through a certification process with the master,” she said. “Every year we get together for a weekend and do two eight-hour days to learn more about our art and different nodules of its history.”

In the eight-year history of the Peabody Taekwondo Center, Richstatter has instructed about 80 students.

“I have students as young as 5 years old and I also have a gentleman who’s in his 40s,” she said. “Right now, I can have up to 12 students in one class, depending on what other activities they’re involved in.

“If there’s another sport they’re involved in, I encourage them to do that since they’re young,” she added. “They need that versatility to see where they excel.”

In an unusual instance, Richstatter advised a prospective student to wait before joining the class.

“He was too young and not able to focus,” she said. “They’re more disruptive to the class but I encouraged the parents to come back in six months or so.”

Students in Richstatter’s class participate for a variety of reasons, but many follow one common theme: discipline.

“Often times my students are signed up by their parents because of the discipline we have in our class,” she said. “They bring their kids to learn the ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ that we use in our class.

“We also bow and respect one another and the parents like that,” she said. “It really helps improve the students’ confidence as well.”

That respect has been evident at Peabody Elementary School, where Richstatter is employed as the secretary.

“Several of the teachers have noticed in their own classrooms that the respect (from Richstatter’s students) has definitely grown,” Richstatter said. “I think sometimes in our society, respect has been lost.”

Some students join the program to dissuade others from bullying them, but Richstatter said it’s important the students don’t take what they learn and use it to the detriment of others.

“We instill in our students that if they use their knowledge outside of our Taekwondo school-like here at school at recess-they’ll be reprimanded,” she said. “I tell them to defend themselves by trying to stay away from a fight. Just walk away.

“They’re quick enough now that they just need to move away from fights,” she added. “I’ve only had to talk to a couple of students about that, and those instances weren’t because they were trying to bully someone else. They just were showing others what they’ve learned.”

To that extent, Richstatter said students are periodically encouraged to invite friends to class “so we can show everything we’ve learned.”

Many of Richstatter’s older students have joined because of the physical-fitness benefit.

“They join because of the exercise and the stretching that’s involved,” she said. “This is really a great cardiovascular process because you kick high and use the same muscles as aerobics.”

All of her students, however, respect the values that Taekwondo represents.

“We have students who join to learn the art of Taekwondo,” Richstatter said. “To a degree, martial arts is based on physical strength, but we have children who we’re tying to train their minds as well as their bodies.”

Testing for belts and stripes is done once every two months at the Newton Taekwondo Center under the watchful eyes of master instructors Sexton and Salas.

“Students test to show their skill and that they’ve achieved what is required for the next rank,” Richstatter said. “Once you’ve achieved that next level, you move on to learn a new form and maybe a new technique while your overall abilities continue to grow.”

Students are judged on ability, self-defense, form of fighting, techniques, board breaking and weapons.

“Simply put, if they pass their skill level, they move on,” Richstatter said. “How fast they advance depends on their ability to learn.”

Although Richstatter is the instructor, classes often resemble a mentoring program as the older, more proficient students take the younger students under their wings.

“When we have students in the class that are at different levels, we start with basic techniques and grow from there,” she said. “The younger students really appreciate the older students treating them as equals.

“They’re all here for the purpose of getting better, and if some of them can help others, they certainly don’t have a problem doing that,” she added. “If the younger students watch closely, they learn and advance more quickly.”

Richstatter’s class is sanctioned by the National Kansas Taekwondo Centers and registered with the Korean Martial Arts.

Practices are held each Monday night at the Peabody American Legion with students from Peabody, Florence and sometimes Marion.

“The American Legion has been very, very cooperative with us in allowing us to use their facility,” Richstatter said.

Cost for participating is $10 per month, whether you attend every Monday or just once.

“We used to have it on Monday and Thursday, but there are just too many other activities at this time of year,” Richstatter said. “But even when we had it twice a week, the cost was still the same. I’m not in it for the money.”

Students under the guidance of Richstatter are advised to participate for about a month before purchasing their own dobak, or uniform.

“They need one before their first test,” Richstatter said. “There’s also a charge for testing and for each belt they earn.”

Certificates for each degree are signed and stamped by the master instructor.

“That certificate will be honored by any other Taekwondo school,” Richstatter said.

Richstatter also has led classes in self-defense for women as well as Arnis, the martial art of a cane.

Richstatter said benefits of Taekwondo are lifelong.

“I’ve had teachers tell me they’ve seen changes in children who have taken my class and become much more respectful,” she said.

“People who take the class really enjoy the friendships they gain. I encourage people because it’s a great exercise and can become a great family activity.”

For more information on Taekwondo classes, contact Richstatter at 620-983-2841 or by e-mail at juanitar@carrollsweb.com.

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