ATA FAQ: No more ATA threads to be posted after this:
I promised this awhile ago and then I got sick and busy. Thanks to one of our local ATA instructor he has put together a FAQ. Please do not troll this thread.
About the author:
Shu2jack is a 3rd degree black belt certified instructor in the ATA with 14 years in the organization. He has attended ATA instructor certification camps in various regions, has competed in ATA “national” tournaments, and has had the opportunity to visit many ATA schools and see a great number of ATA students and competitors.
What is the ATA?
The ATA (American Taekwondo Association) is one of the largest TKD organizations in the United States. Along with its affiliates, the WTTU and STF, the ATA’s style of Taekwondo, “Songahm”, can be found in countries around the world.
How long does it take earn a black belt in the ATA?
1 ½ to 2 years on average.
What are the requirements for rank advancement?
Depending on a student’s rank a combination of forms, one-steps, no-contact sparring, and board breaks are required for promotion. Individual schools are free to have additional requirements for rank promotion. From my experience a weapon form or weapon drills are a typical additional requirement at black belt and high color belt ranks.
ATA has a CAMO belt!?
According to some of the instructors who were present when the rank was introduced, there are two reasons for the camo belt. One is because of philosophy. The other reason for the belt is because no one offered a better color when H.U. Lee asked his skeptical students for a different idea.
What weapons does the ATA teach?
Stick (single and double), nunchuck (single and double), bo staff, kama, cane, tri-sectional staff, and - in the near future - the sword (though I am not sure what type of sword it will be). When it comes to weapon material, typically only forms and drills are required. It does appear that the ATA will be introducing a stick fighting division to their tournament competition, though no details have been released yet. (more information on this division is expected to be released at our Spring Nationals tournament in Feb. 2008)
Does the ATA teach other things, like grappling, self-defense, gun & knife defense?
Through their “protech” program, the ATA does offer additional programs for school owners to add to their schools. Typically an instructor will attend a one or two day seminar on a topic (such as ground fighting), become “certified” in the material, and is then free to teach that material to his/her students. A common, and very valid, criticism of these additional programs is that 2 days is not enough time to become proficient in the material. I personally have found some of the material to be sub-par, or even dangerous to the student. For example, some of the knife defense drills I have seen have the “defender” letting go of the attacker’s knife hand to deliver more strikes, rather than continuing to control the knife hand while delivering strikes or disarming the attacker.
Some ATA instructors have experience in other martial arts, such as judo or kali, and teach that material to students, but material is separate from that the ATA as a whole offers.
How soon can students start sparring?
Students are allowed to free spar at tournaments when they reach camo belt, around 6 months of training. Some instructors allow students to spar under close supervision at yellow belt.
What gear is required to spar?
Foot gear, hand gear, head gear, chest protector, mouth piece, and a jock strap (for males). For tournament competition, a face mask is also required.
What are the rules of sparring?
No strikes to the back or below the belt. No hand strikes to the head. No trips, sweeps, grappling, knee or elbow strikes. We have “excessive contact” rules. Contact does not need to be made to score a point, but black belts are allowed to make “moderate contact” (Enough to leave bruises). The competitors are stopped every time a judge wants to award a point or penalty.
So it is a glorified game of tag?
Yes. “Excessive contact” rules discourage competitors from throwing techniques with any amount of real power. Allowing little or no contact to score a point, and stopping the match right after a point is scored, often reduces matches to who can touch the other guy the fastest. You can watch videos of ATA sparring matches on YouTube to get a better idea.
So ATAers only practice point sparring in the classroom?
In the classroom instructors strictly enforce the “excessive contact” rules for children, usually more so than what would be found at a tournament. Most adults in the ATA are parents of students and/or are not interested in learning how to fight, and most students do spar like how they would at a tournament.
In most ATA schools I have visited, there are a select number of adult black belts (usually males) who are interested in “mixing things up”. The contact level is higher and sparring is continuous. After sparring a few times under Olympic rules outside the ATA, I feel that the sparring for some of our adult black belts is more “physical”. ATAers tend to use their hands more than Olympic sparrers and ATA chest protectors are not as thick as Olympic sparrers.
I also have the pleasure to have a gentleman from outside the ATA spar on our sparring nights. After class hours we spar with a bit of clinch work, sweeps, hand punching, and limited ground fighting. However, this is after class hours and not common in ATA schools. The vast majority of students spar strictly under competition rules, with a small number simply raising the contact level and going non-stop. Students that regularly spar outside ATA sparring rules (in an ATA school) are a very small minority.
I keep hearing that ATA students suck. Is this true?
An ATA student who meets the minimum requirements for promotion is under-trained and lacks skill in self-defense or fighting. “Standard” rank tests do not include any self-defense and the sparring is no-contact. The rank tests also follow the ATA’s philosophy that anyone can become a black belt, thus promotion is often based on personal improvement rather than actual skill. Some ATA schools do not even have examinations for rank. Instead, they hold “graduations” where students are virtually guaranteed to advance. Some ATA schools keep classes to 30 minutes (40 or 45 minutes if you upgrade!). 30 minutes leaves very little, if any, time for physical conditioning. Often 30 minutes is spent preparing students for their next testing or tournament.
Again, each ATA school is individually owned and operated. I have been to a number of schools who have additional requirements for promotion, train their students on more than just rank requirements, and physically condition their students. Finding a good ATA school requires finding a head instructor who requires students to be more than what ATA HQ requires.
So how does one become an instructor in the ATA?
While the program is constantly changing, the ATA does have an instructor certification program that any ATA student must complete if they are to become a certified ATA instructor. Some of the requirements to become a fully certified instructor are; a minimum 300 hours teaching, a criminal back ground check, knowledge of class management skills, a short teaching demonstration, adult and child CPR certified, completing a “youth protection” program, and being tested on color belt forms and one-steps. There are 3 “levels” on the road to becoming a fully certified instructor, and a student most compete the requirements at each level before being a fully certified instructor.
I hear that your instructors also suck.
Refer to the question asking about our students sucking. Take a poorly trained student, and then make him or her an instructor. In the recent past, some instructor camps have been of low quality. At one ATA instructor camp in Virginia I attended, only I and one other person in my group of 28 knew all the color belt forms. At the end of camp, everyone in my group passed to the next level. When I brought that up to another ATA master in an online discussion, he mentioned they could pass because knowing color material was not required to pass to the next instructor level.
At another camp, this time to become a fully certified instructor, we had several campers who failed the “physical skills” portion of their test because they were punching and kicking wrong in the color belt forms. Some black belts were punching with bent wrists and other “white belt” issues. The campers that failed were told exactly why they failed, given time to practice the forms some more, then allowed to retest….and pass.
It has been 3 years since I last attended a certification camp, and since then the ATA has made changes to their instructor program. Knowledge of color belt forms are now required at every level and, from what I hear, campers are being failed with no retries at camp. I will be attending another instructor camp in Feb. 2008 to recertify and get a chance to see things have improved.
So does the ATA just not care about their quality issues?
The issue is not about caring, the issue is that our HQ has given their schools too much leeway. In the Twin Cities area (where I now live), 3 different ATA schools have completely different curriculum. One school uses “block” teaching (a method where all students of certain groups learn the same material no matter their rank), promotes students by only half-ranks, and teaches half-forms. Another school teaches the curriculum as it was originally taught, has a competent instructor to teach grappling, and has good workouts. Yet another school doesn’t teach forms unless their students “upgrade” their membership. This is just in one metro area. Of course, in certain areas where a high ranking master controls most of the schools, poor instruction will be found in almost all the schools.
So would you recommend an ATA school?
As I have frequently mentioned, each ATA school is individually owned and operated. Quality varies and it is a good idea to do some research on the school (or any other martial art school) before joining.
That said, it depends on your goals. If you are looking to become a ring fighter or learn a “hard-core” art, you will probably not find an ATA school to teach what you are looking for. If you are looking for a family activity or something to get little Johnny into, an ATA school is worth considering.
I recommend the ATA to those with physical or slight mental disabilities. Many professionals in the medical field recommend martial arts training to help kids with disabilities and the ATA does a great job working with children. The ATA also has “special ability” competition divisions at tournaments. I have been to “open” martial art tournaments and, in my experiences, have found the ATA to have one of the most positive and supportive competition environments I have seen.
I have been blunt on the quality of ATA training and some of the issues plaguing the organization. I wanted to write up a fair and unbiased FAQ on the organization, and, in fairness, it needs to be mentioned that the ATA is starting to make changes in the organization to improve their quality issues. Changes such as physical fitness tests, stricter requirements for instructor certification, and a tournament sparring division for weapons are coming soon. It also seems that changes to our sparring rules, changes to how students are graded for rank testings, and other changes may be on the horizon.