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Odd Jobs: Taming tiny tigers proves to be tough work

Odd Jobs: Taming tiny tigers proves to be tough work

Dreaming of that perfect job? At Hockman’s Tae Kwon Do, 21 Conely Road, that job belongs to Mike Witt.

I arrive at 2 p.m. Wednesday, when his day starts. Sounds perfect so far, right? Witt, a fourth-degree black belt, has agreed to show me what it takes to be a tae kwon do instructor.

Because I earned my black belt two-and-a-half years ago, it’s easy for me to get a glimpse inside Witt’s world. In order to be an instructor, you must earn a black belt and be a continuing student in good standing. It takes two to three years to become a certified instructor.

The first orders of business: Check for new phone messages, return calls, sweep the floors, and do the daily chores there won’t be time for during classes. I sweep the red and blue mats lining the gym floor. Witt calls this is his meditation time because sweeping allows him to relax.

Witt lets me skip the cleaning of the boys’ bathroom. After all, this is “Odd Jobs,” not “Dirty Jobs.” He sets me up at his computer revising the Introductory Program Flyer, filling in the August birthdays and addressing birthday cards. This is the creative side of the job, designing notices, flyers, class schedules and even T-shirts.
“Variety is definitely the plus side of the job,” Witt says. “I’m never bored.”

Witt earns a base salary, plus commission. Hockman’s also employs two part-time employees, Sue Galloway, the kickboxing instructor, and Rebecca Schnell, a student instructor. Part-time employees earn an hourly wage between $9 and $15.

Schnell arrives at 4 p.m., just before the evening students. The lobby fills up fast. She and Jeff Hockman, the owner, take the first class.

Witt and I teach the Tiny Tigers, ages 3 to 7.
“The Tigers require a lot of energy,” Witt says.

The class starts with students lining up from highest belt rank to lowest, facing the instructor. We all recite, “To be a good person: knowledge in the mind, honesty in the heart, strength in the body and make good friends” and then growl like tigers. I fumble through the accompanying hand gestures, painfully aware of the lobby full of grown-ups watching me growl.

Next Witt discusses the coloring sheet. Each child is given a sheet with a letter, an animal and a message. For every colored sheet a student turns in, he or she receives a star. This week’s lesson is about exhibiting good behavior.

Running through a series of exercises, the students knock a pad off and then perform a front kick, knocking the bag over. Witt reminds them to “kihap” (yell) and punch the bag like they are breaking through a brick wall. My job is to retrieve the top pad and set the bag upright. I discover quickly that if the perfect job is one that keeps you fit, this is definitely it. Witt cautions the students to never actually punch a brick wall.

After exercises, the students grab a quick drink and work on their forms. Tiny Tigers learn each form in halves, with each move sung to a song. I’m singing in front of 3-year-olds, “That’s the white belt form you see / Aren’t you really proud of me?” No hand gestures to fumble this time, thank goodness.

The last part of class is a game. Tonight the Tiny Tigers get down on all fours and chase Witt around the floor like tigers. Witt is part teacher, part clown and part superhero. They never lay a hand on him. Next it’s my turn. They catch me four times. I think the whole pack would have taken me down if not for Witt calling an end to the class. We bow out, and the students are dismissed.

This routine repeats three times, each time with higher ranking, more confident, faster students. I’m worn out. After Tiny Tigers, there is a break during which we man the phones, answer parent questions and finish paperwork. It’s just enough time to catch your breath. The last class of the evening is Black Belts and Beyond.

The black belt students spar for 30 minutes. Witt calls out various moves for the students to practice. Short of a sore throat, now and again, it is a lot easier than the Tiny Tigers. If a student’s sparring partner drops out, Witt takes the partner’s place until he or she returns. He doesn’t wear the protective head and chest pads the students wear. There is no need; it’s rare to see a strike land on Witt.
By 8:30 p.m., classes are over. The only thing left is to lock up and go home. Unlike me, Witt is not wilting. He truly loves the many facets of his job. I’m convinced. I can’t think of anything that makes a job more perfect.

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