Q&A with Senior Master Taekwondo Instructor Tammy Lamberson
Senior Master Tammy Lamberson, a seventh-degree black belt, has been involved in Taekwondo for 47 years. Beginning in 2001, she began teaching Taekwondo classes at CAC’s Pleasant Valley Elementary campus. Over the past 18 years, she has taught hundreds of CAC students not only how to kick and punch, but how to live with courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and an indomitable spirit. We sat down with Master Tammy to find out more about her Taekwondo journey.
Master Tammy, when did you first get involved in the martial arts and Taekwondo specifically?
I was 12 years old and I told my parents that I wanted to take karate. The TV series Kung Fu had just come out, so that definitely sparked my interest. They told me I needed to think about it and that I could do ballet or dance or gymnastics. I didn’t want to do any of those – I wanted to do karate. So my mom told me to come back in one week and we would talk about it. One week later I came back and told her that I still wanted to do it. My mom – I think she was trying to see if I was serious about it – told me I needed to make all of the appointments and set everything up. That Monday I called her at work and said, “We have an appointment at 4:30 at the karate school.”
I had just started the 7th grade and I was little – probably 4’10” and weighed 60 pounds. I loved it from the first class I took. I started going to class, then I would get there at 4 o’clock in the afternoon to not leave until 9 o’clock at night. I started helping to teach class when I was a blue belt, and still 12 years old. By the time I was 13 I already knew what I was going to grow up and do.
That’s pretty incredible. What a blessing to have that experience so young! What inspired you to open your own studio and begin a career in instructing?
A lot of people go through their whole life without really knowing their purpose, but it’s always been very clear to me that this is where God wants me. He wants me teaching kids and adults.
I opened my first Taekwondo school in Benton, Arkansas, when I was 17 years old. I was still a senior in high school, so I would get out of school, go straight to Benton and teach my classes from 4:00 – 9:00 p.m. Leave there, come home and try to figure out how to get homework done.
I just loved it from the moment I walked on the floor and started learning how to kick and punch. It came really easily for me – I have a God-given, natural athletic ability and I worked really hard at it. Then, I had knee surgery and became a Christian when I was 19 and I began to understand that it wasn’t easy for some people. That’s when I learned how to modify my teaching and how to make it as easy as possible for someone to learn it the correct way. That way if they ever need to use it to protect themselves, they’ll be able to do it.
You’ve been involved in Taekwondo for about 47 years, which is really impressive. In your opinion, what is the best part of being a Taekwondo instructor? Why is it so important?
For me, it’s my way to give back. If I can help one person – make a difference in one person’s life – there’s no price tag on that.
Taekwondo is really great for kids who haven’t found their niche yet. Maybe they aren’t the typical athlete, or they aren’t interested in being in band or drama or choir. But they come in here and start learning how to punch and kick and suddenly they realize, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this.”
A lot of my students and adults begin class and are pretty introverted and timid. Then, they come here and realize that they are pretty good at it and that pulls them out of their shell. I’ve had numerous instructors over the years that used to be the timid kid in the back of the class, but they moved forward and their self-confidence was boosted and they became an instructor and started to give back.
If a kid is diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, the doctor will sometimes recommend Taekwondo or tennis or piano – an individual activity. In Taekwondo there’s a stripe system – and for people with ADD or ADHD, that reward system helps to motivate them. Those stripes keep the kids coming back for more.
And when I walk down the halls at the high school and they call out “Master Tammy, Master Tammy” to me…there’s no amount of money in the world that I can be paid that would be better than that feeling. A lot of the time they come up to me and tell me, “Hey I made the basketball team” or “I’m getting ready to go to college” or they’ll come back and tell me “I’m getting ready to get married” or “I’m about to join the service.” They came back to me to tell me what’s happening in their lives. For me, there’s no price tag on that because I know that I made a difference in someone’s life.
Honestly, kicking and punching is just about this much of my job. (She says, squinting and holding her thumb and pointer finger a half-inch apart.)
Taekwondo and Martial Arts, in general, are rooted in a lot of tradition. What are some traditions you and your students take part in?
We begin each class with a bow. When we bow, it’s a form of respect, like an American handshake. So, we start each class with a bow and then recite the Tenants of Taekwondo (courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit), which is the guide for how the students will conduct themselves in class. Then we bow again and start with the stretching. At the end of class, the older kids will say the student oath, which is how they are going to live their lives outside of class.
You began teaching Taekwondo at CAC’s PV Elementary campus in 2001 – 18 years ago – and hundreds of students have learned from you over the years. How did you get involved here?
When my son was four, he started PreK4 at the PV campus and went all the way to graduation. We were not church of Christ, but my Taekwondo school was right across the street from the PV campus, and a family whose son took taekwondo at my school told me about the campus inside the PV church of Christ. It was a blessing, and I always say that it was God putting us where we needed to be.
I was very involved – a room mother, pizza mom, coke and candy mom. Anything I could do. Then, when the PE teacher got pregnant and went on family leave, Mrs. Cruce asked if I would substitute teach. I told her yes, as long as I could teach them Taekwondo. The next year, we incorporated the 30-minute class once a week.
CAC is where my son got his foundation. The PV campus specifically laid all the groundwork for teaching him how to study. His foundation came from these teachers and this location.