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Posted April 20, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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After-school special: Dojo's program teaches students respect, discipline, fitness

paperwork to the master
For students in Winchester's Tigerden after-school program, giving paperwork to the master requires some ceremony. Pictured are, from left, Austin McManaway, Brandon Corder, Calob German, Michael Bodamer and Master Jang Hyeon Lee. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Michael stretches
Michael stretches and grabs his toes during warm-ups. Dennis Grundman/Daily

run past
Timothy Lee, Seth German and Michael run past Lee. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Jake Gregg warms up
Jake Gregg is composed as he warms up. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Brandon gives out a shout
Brandon gives out a shout as he practices a punch. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By Garren Shipley -- gshipley@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Lots of after-school programs offer a snack and help with homework. Finding one that offers lessons about respect, honor and self-defense is somewhat more difficult.

But that's exactly what Tigerden, a recently opened martial arts school in Winchester, hopes to do.

The school, founded in 1996, operates eight different dojos across Northern Virginia. The Winchester location opened in September and has already enrolled about 90 students.

Tigerden has traditional offerings -- classes for youth and adults that teach taekwondo for self-defense and competition.

But the dojo also has an after-school program.

Instructors pick up children from school and take them back to the dojo for a snack and homework help, and a vigorous martial arts lesson.

The program "sounds like day care, but we are not day care at all," said Grand Master Sang Gu Kim, Tigerden's founder. "We try to run more like a service for people, they get taekwondo benefit."

Northern Virginia's hectic lifestyle -- two working parents with children involved in several after-school activities -- made the idea a perfect fit for the area.

"Parents so busy, after they finish their working, they have to bring to taekwondo studio, dance studios, gymnastics. So difficult to ride for each individual kid's activities," said Kim, a native of South Korea and a sixth-degree taekwondo black belt.

Television, computers and other indoor entertainment keep youngsters inside much more than their parents at the same age.

"It's like they're in a cage," he said.

Those in the program, though, get help moving from a structured, possibly stressful day at school back to their home life.

And they get some good exercise, Kim said. With modern lifestyles the way they are, they need it, too.

"Parents like it, students happy, we are happy, too."

That's abundantly clear during a recent visit to the dojo. Chip Turner, of Winchester, wore a broad smile as he watched his son, Jackson, work out with the rest of his class.

"He loves it, it's really good for him," Turner said, as Jackson charged back and forth across the mat, giving a hearty yell at each stopping point.

Not only has the schedule worked for the parents, "he's getting discipline," he said. "It's just worked out really good for us."

It might be an after-school program, but the martial arts elements shape all aspects of Tigerden's program, said the Winchester dojo's newest instructor, Master Jang Hyeon Lee.

"We always emphasize respect for the elders, respect for each other, and respect for the master," Lee said, in a heavy Korean accent. "Everything comes from discipline."

The lesson of respect is evident in the school.

On this afternoon, students bowed in respect to all adults in the room with a sharp "Hello, sir!" -- even the adults lurking around the back of the room taking notes.

That day's lesson was structured, but fast paced.

Stretching and calisthenics gave way to practice kicks and sparring, all set to a rapid techno beat with lots of smiles and encouragement.

That's by design, according to Lee.

Instructors are careful to teach the art as a sport and a way of life, rather than a way to be aggressive toward others.

"We not teach fighting, we teach how not to fight," Lee said. "We're not teaching argument. We're not teaching violence. We're teaching to make a better person, a more positive person."

Said simply, "first we give them respect, then we give them the fist," he said.

Program hours vary. For more information, call the Winchester Tigerden at 662-0044.

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