Giana Gonzalez of Lawrence throws a punch during at taekwondo camp July 20, 2011. (Photo by Samantha Sciarrotta.)
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Lawrence resident Isabella Martinez tries to perfect a move. (Photo by Samantha Sciarrotta.)
Qeyon Smith, of Lawrence, enjoys an exercise on the floor July 20, 2011. (Photo by Samantha Sciarrotta.)

At World KM TaeKwonDo in Lawrence, the learning experience is about more than just the martial art.

Taekwondo originated in Korea, so the instructors at World KM want their students to be familiar with several aspects of the country’s culture. That way, they can gain a better understanding of exactly what it is they’re learning when it comes to taekwondo. That same philosophy is applied to the studio’s summer camp, where the children do much more than just practice taekwondo.

Throughout each day at the camp, students take part in a wide variety of activities, including arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, Korean lessons, a quiet period reserved for reading, and, of course, taekwondo lessons.

“We believe that during the summer, if children are not actively involved with learning, they’ll forget a lot of the things that they learned during the school year,” manager Lisa Shin said. “What we offer is not only physical activity. We try to help them build mentally, as well.”

The children often start the day doing an offsite activity such as bowling, swimming at the YMCA or walking in the park. Some days, they take special trips to places like ice rinks, water parks and museums. Many students, including Isabella Martinez and Elijah Rivers, said that these trips are their favorite part of camp.

These trips allow the children to broaden their horizons and leave the studio for a few hours, which Shin says is often an initial concern for some parents.

“They come in inquiring about the summer camp and ask us ‘What will they do here?’ because it’s only one small building,” she said. “We try to plan trips that are fun, but also trips that are educational, as well.” Many students enjoy both the fun and serious aspects of camp. Suraj Kura said that his favorite part of camp is learning Korean, but one of his favorite memories of camp comes from a very different experience.

“We were on a trip once, and a second-degree black belt hit us with water balloons,” he said, “and I loved it!”

When the children come back to World KM after a trip, they take part in the daily taekwondo lesson. All of the children, regardless of age, participate in the class as a group.

Shin says that each camp participant, ranging in age from 5 to 12, is placed with all the others during lessons because students from each age group have something to teach the others.

“We help our older kids learn to help the younger members of the family, and then the younger children learn to respect the older members,” she said.

Taekwondo means “the way of the hand and foot” in Korean. It was first designed primarily for self defense, and it employs a combination of flexibility, movement, strength and a mental understanding of the body’s capabilities.

“You get to learn so many things, like self defense,” Rivers said.

They start off by doing basic warmup exercises, followed by reviews of various positions and kicking and punching techniques.

These lessons aren’t just about the physical aspects of taekwondo, though. Each lesson involves counting, reciting phrases and singing songs in Korean.

“It is cultural awareness of Korea and how it relates to America,” instructor CJ Lee said.

Lee said that the Korean ideals the children learn transcend beyond the taekwondo lesson and even the camp. For example, before students enter the studio, they must give their respects to the Korean and American flags, master instructors, high-ranking belt members and elders.

At the summer camp and World KM as a whole, the goal is to have all students be well-rounded and aware of their surroundings. They relate Korean customs to their native American ones in order to create a relationship between the two.

“We believe in helping children learn different cultures, and since taekwondo is a martial art from Korea, we teach them,” Shin said. “We want to build their knowledge of the whole culture instead of just taekwondo.”