Local Martial Arts Academy Focuses on Fitness and Character

Originally developed in Korea, taekwondo is a form of martial arts now practiced all over the world. The term is a hybrid of the Korean words for foot, fist and “the way of” respectively, so it literally translates to “the way of the foot and the fist.” Though it’s characterized by its fast-paced series of kicks, punches and spins, the sport also exists to develop the moral character of its practitioners, young and old alike.

That philosophy certainly rings true at Edina’s newest martial arts studio, Chang’s Yong-In Martial Arts that opened just over a year ago. Owner and grand master Chang is relatively new to Minn.—he moved here from South Korea a little under three years ago—but he’s no stranger to the world of taekwondo. With nearly 40 years of experience, a master’s degree and several national championships to his name, Chang opened the studio as a means of sharing his love for the sport with the broader Edina community.

Beyond kicking and splitting boards, Chang and his team of instructors want to instill good character within their pupils. “We’re trying to give them adequate training in tae kwon do, but the number one priority is discipline,” master Chi says. On the walls near the studio’s entrance hang a set of posters detailing rules for students to follow. Among them are “be a good son or daughter to your parents,” “be loyal to your friends,” “use good judgment before killing any living thing” and “always finish what you have started.”

“We teach them to build their confidence and to not give up, but we also emphasize that if it weren’t for their parents, they wouldn’t be here,” says master Jung. “So, we’re also teaching them how to show respect to others and to show gratefulness for what you have and this moment and today.”

Though children and teenagers make up the bulk of the students at Chang’s, there are plenty of adults in the crowd as well. Gisselle Niles says she’s there most weekday evenings and Saturday mornings. Her son Marcus initially inspired her to pursue the martial arts practice. “I’ve always loved different types of exercise, but it was mainly him. I wanted to find something that would keep him entertained but also to form friendships and get good exercise,” she says.

The two of them participate in the family class together. Niles says it’s been great for bonding—not only between the two of them but between other class participants as well. And, of course, it’s terrific exercise. “The instructors work everybody really hard. It’s definitely a full body workout,” she says.

In addition to exercise, Niles has also found taekwondo class to be a source of important life lessons—for both her and her son. “As an adult, you have high expectations for yourself, so when you get into the class, you want to do it perfectly, and you get frustrated when you’re not there,” she says. “Then you see the kids, and they’re trying and having fun and laughing and what-not, and you think, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ But then grand master says, ‘Remember, small! Small, Giselle, small!’ You have to make progress little by little.”