Mastering physical and mental discipline with martial arts

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

DRACUT– Master Roger Rodriguez doesn’t teach his students just any type of tae kwon do. He teaches them the form taught at the Kukkiwon, the world tae kwon do headquarters in Seoul, South Korea.

“I’m a perfectionist,” said Rodriguez, who operates Dracut Martial Arts International. “And I love to teach it right.”

Rodriguez started his training in his native Panama in 1971. He came to the United States in 1988 with the idea of teaching tae kwon do, and opened his first school in Wilmington in 1993. He moved to Dracut in 1996 and opened Dracut Martial Arts International.

The Kukkiwon, which was established in 1972, serves as the issuing organization for tae kwon do dan rank — the black-belt degree system — for the World Tae Kwon Do Federation, the international federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

In Korean, tae means foot, kwon means hand and do is art. Together tae kwon do is the Korean art of self-defense.

Rodriguez, a seventh-degree black belt, teaches his 380 students straight from the Kukkiwon manual, which features his trainer, Grand Master Jung Hoe Ku.

“If you mention him in tae kwon do,” Rodriguez said. “It’s like mentioning Michael Jordan in basketball.”

Ku has his own school in Woburn, Ku’s Olympic Tae Kwon Do. Rodriguez trains Ku’s students in demonstration techniques every Saturday.

At his own school, Rodriguez believes in different training forums for children, teenagers and adults.

Children focus on developing coordination, respect and discipline. Teenagers continue to focus on discipline and respectful behavior with a more focused training in tae kwon do. For adults, it’s more a form of strengthening exercises and relaxation techniques.

Once a student reaches the level of black belt, they train together, regardless of age, on Tuesday nights.

Robin Trudel of Dracut was looking for an activity for his daughter initially when he happened upon the program.

“When I first started looking into martial arts, I had no idea what I was looking for,” said Trudel. “I wasn’t really interested in tae kwon do. After I met Master Roger, I didn’t care what he (taught). It could have been tae kwon do basket weaving and I still would have enrolled my daughter.”

Trudel and his daughter Kathleen are both first-degree black belts and train together at Dracut Martial Arts International.

“It’s our father-daughter time,” Trudel said. “I’m not sure who said it first, but the family that kicks together sticks together.”

Trudel, 40, has been training for the past five years, while his 15-year-old daughter has nearly seven years experience.

Both appreciate the training and discipline they have learned from Rodriguez. “He’s a lot more than just a teacher,” Kathleen Trudel said. “He’s family and that’s what we’ve all become here, family.”

Trudel said Dracut Martial Arts International offers four things not all schools offer — history, accountability, research and training.

“Everyone in our school knows not only the Kukkiwon history, but Master Roger’s history as well,” Trudel said. “Every student has met Master Roger’s grand master. Most martial art schools in the area don’t have that type of up-and-down accountability.”

As Rodriguez said, “I am dedicated to teaching my knowledge to the people in the Dracut area.”