Nguyen School-Community Ed partnership provides impactful experiences
Youth and Adult classes go beyond techniques and teach a way of life
Tae: to kick or to strike with the foot.
Kwon: fist or to strike with the hand.
Do: discipline or art/the way of.
Martial arts classes have long been a popular activity for children and adults alike. There are a wide variety of businesses and schools dedicated to different styles, levels or belts for students to achieve and many different skills to learn. For members of the District 191 community, a partnership between One91 Community Education and the Nguyen School of Tae Kwon Do provides a truly exceptional experience.
Nam and An are brothers who grew up in the district after their parents immigrated to the area from Vietnam in the 1970s. Nam graduated from Burnsville High School in 1994 and got a degree from the University of Minnesota in computer science, but martial arts always played an important role in his life.
Beginning karate when he was seven years old, Nam went on to achieve his black belt in karate, black sash in kung fu and black belt in tae kwon do. Nam studied tae kwon do under instructor David Lee who, in 1998, handed over the reins of his school to the Nguyen brothers.
“Our program is affiliated with the World Tae Kwon Do Federation in South Korea, so anyone who gets a black belt in our program will be recognized as a black belt anywhere in the world,” said Nam. “We have a team of instructors who have earned their black belts that help to run classes and it really is a supportive environment to learn.”
Classes take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Sky Oaks Elementary with options for youth beginners as well as youth advanced and adults. Students come in all ages. Students as young as four can participate and one woman who wanted to learn alongside her grandchild was 75. Classes start at the beginning of the school year and go through mid June and are broken up into sessions of eight classes, with each class only costing eight dollars.
One91 Community Education Enrichment and Marketing Coordinator Jennifer Green works to provide opportunities for community members to gain new skills, talents, and social experiences through experiential learning, right in their own school district.
“We seek instructors who are experts in a subject, who have a desire to share their passions with the community,” said Jennifer. “The Nguyens are invested in building strong connections and empowering their community through martial arts. They have grown and evolved as instructors and proven themselves to be valuable partners for over two decades.”
Community Education was established over 50 years ago in Minnesota on a concept of the “lighted schoolhouse,” which provides access to a valuable community resource (schools) after the school day has ended. District One91 Community Education's mission aligns with that of the district and is set up to promote learning as a lifelong pursuit. Enrichment and educational opportunities are provided for people at every age who are ready to blaze their own path.
“We keep the price reasonable to take away barriers to participate,” said Nam. “Tae kwon do is not only a good exercise program but it teaches self defense and the five tenets that you live by: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. We teach our students that life isn’t fair and that sometimes you’re going to get hurt, but you have to get back up.”
Classes fill up quickly and typically have a waiting list. Students have some time to connect with one another at the beginning of each session and then work on techniques, skills and exercises to improve their skills. When it comes time to test for a color belt, students have to demonstrate techniques as well as successfully complete a board break, which can be frustrating.
“They get three attempts and if they can’t break the board, they have to retest in the future,” said Nam. “Some students feel like they are failing but I keep encouraging them, we practice, and when they can come back and break the board, they are so excited. Seeing that feeling of accomplishment is why we teach.”
Some people think martial arts teaches aggression or fighting, but the truth is that the teaching involves having students control their emotions, control their words, learn how to accept defeat and how to learn from mistakes. Students are often able to achieve their black belt in about four years of consistent work with a very intense test that includes breaking boards and bricks as well as an essay about what they have learned.
The students who stick with the program become more than just a class, they become a community. Parents share that the sense of community even extends to those watching the class and that students of all ages get a lot from Master Nam and his team.
“My eight year old started last spring and he really likes the class,” said Nicole Rohrbraugh. “We have attended another private tae kwon do school and we didn’t feel like they were teaching properly and it was more expensive. They make it really fun for the kids so they can burn energy and learn a lot.”
Henry Page is a parent who has participated in the adult program in the past whose six year old son has been participating for two years. His son often reminds him that since Henry has only earned his white belt, he actually outranks his dad.
“Looking at my son, the progression he and the other students have made is so impressive,” said Henry. “I can see a lot of change and a lot of focus, maturity and discipline. “Master Nam is warm and flexible and supports all students. The crew is diverse and amazing and it gives me a burning desire to return to the class and earn my black belt.”
Participation helps to form strong bonds of friendship for participants of any age and bigger important life concepts are ultimately part of the class.
“Socialization, networking and creating friendships are fundamental to social emotional growth, health and development,” said Henry. “This class gives kids a sense of belonging and confidence because they belong to a community that grows progress in important things like honesty, listening, discipline and focus. It’s like snow, it falls soft but it sinks deep.”
Adult learners also get a lot of the program. Through tae kwon do, participants of any age can improve their endurance and flexibility, build strength and relieve stress. A unique type of exercise, the class involves warm ups, forms, breath control as well as self defense strategies and what to do in certain situations.
“It’s all about confidence,” said Nam. “I want to support all of my students and be a mentor to them so I am often a reference and happily write letters of support about what I have seen in them.”
There are many benefits to lifelong learning through programs like One91 Community Education. Classes provide fun and engaging, hands-on experiences in a casual learning environment to get an introduction to a new topic or skill that often exercises the mind and body, increases social connections, and connects participants to others who share a common interest.
“As a highly diverse community, we also invite people to come together across differences, encouraging folks to develop an understanding or common ground on a topic they may not be familiar or comfortable with,” said Jennifer. “ Studies indicate that lifelong learning supports healthy aging, which in turn is a benefit to the whole community.”
Nam isn’t just an instructor for community ed, he and his family have also taken classes including swimming, First Aid/CPR and Fly Fishing. Nam and the other instructors continue to learn new updates on techniques and the proper way to execute and teach forms. He says that as long as he can kick, he will teach.
“One91 Community Education has all these awesome classes and to continue learning is good for the brain and the mind,” said Nam. “I love it so much and will keep going as long as my body allows me to. My son is a purple belt now and working towards his black belt, maybe someday I can hand the school over to him.”