Spousal Separation in the Martial Arts

“So… who’s the master at home?”

This is a playful question I get asked more frequently than I’d like to admit.

A byproduct, I suppose, when you’re married to one of your instructors.

What I probably get asked more, though, is the follow-up to the above question: “How do you guys do it? Like, how are you both so professional at Taekwondo class? Some people don’t even know you’re married!”

It’s true. There’s actually a funny story that illustrates perfectly just how professional we are, but perhaps I can share that anecdote another day.

So. How do we do it, then? How is it we are able to separate so successfully in the martial arts? And, beyond that, how do we separate at home? How do we separate our personal lives from our professional TKD lives?

He was my instructor first.

Myself and Fred during a semester testing.

Long before he was Fred, he was Master Forsberg. (There was even a short point in time where I knew him as a Mr. Forsberg and this BLOWS the minds of the colored belts and younger black belts…)

I’m talking like, a decade. Almost a decade. He was a black belt long before I even had an inkling of interest in Martial Arts, and I think mathematically, it works out like, he’s got 14 or 15 MORE years of Taekwondo than I do.

Because he was my instructor first, it’s almost like it’s a default mode for us. Once we get into uniform, I mean, we’re friendly, we’re friends, but it’s like, an instant switch for us. In fact, it’s kinda nice to have that whole instructor-student relationship to fall back on. If I get mad at him in class, I’m mad because he’s my instructor, not because he’s my husband. Once the class is done, I move on from it. I can use the class as an avenue to have those feelings and not have it bleed over into our personal lives.

We also did set a precedent right when we started dating to maintain the utmost level of professionalism. The reason? I didn’t want a single soul to think that I was able to “get away with something” because I’m sleeping with an instructor. Perception is reality and all it would take is one toxic person to think “oh well, she gets to do that because she’s sleeping with Master Forsberg” and the whole system would begin to crumble from the inside.

During his classes, in particular, my etiquette is ON POINT. I am the first one with “yes, sir.” I always make sure I raise my hand and bow and ask questions politely. I always make sure I don’t talk when he’s giving instructions (this is hard for me in general, doesn’t matter who’s teaching. I’m loquacious, what can I say?) And I’m the first one to give eyeballs to the younger ranks if they are goofing off. If I slip up in my protocol, others will too. And again, it’s a snowball effect and all it takes is one person to think I’m doing something silly because he’s my husband.

There was even a point in time where we debated whether or not I was going to change my name at TKD class BECAUSE of this perception. Fred likes hearing “Mrs. Forsberg” around the studio though, even though it’s still kinda weird for me.

There was, in fact, ONE time where a Master black belt (not an instructor) made some passing comment to me about “well, just because he’s your boyfriend…” and I was so livid. Because, in actuality, I didn’t do anything wrong, it was just this one master’s old-school mindset for a rule I didn’t even know existed – something about not sitting in a chair at a tournament when the center referee was standing up and talking to the competitors? Fred was the center ref, I sat my ass in a chair and like, organized the medals on the table or something and this master had a beef about me sitting there and DARED to say “well, just because he’s your boyfriend.”

Ooooh, I was pissed. It happened years ago and it still sets my teeth on edge.

Bottom line: Fred was my instructor first, and that helps us maintain a level of professionalism in Martial Arts.

Also: seriously, teaching TKD is our JOB. At a job, you maintain professionalism. If you and your spouse work together in the same office, you aren’t snuggling together in a cubicle, sitting on each other’s laps, or slapping each other’s asses when you walk by in the hall, or kissing each other at every turn.

Seriously. Seriously.

We Get Rank Under Different Instructors

We actually get rank under different instructors, so that also gives us another level of separation. Not only do we not share instructors, but because Fred and I TECHNICALLY belong to different schools, he has absolutely no bearing on my rank. If we were both part of the same school with the same instructor, he might have a little say in my rank.

But. He doesn’t.

So no one can ever look at me and think that I only have my rank because I’m married to the instructor.

Ya, no. You’re an idiot. Go fact-check yourself before you start spreading covfefe like that around.

Rank Doesn’t Exist at Home

The next probably “big” question I get asked following how we separate in class, is how we separate at home.

TL:DR – Rank doesn’t exist in our house.

He’s not coming home and strutting his stuff and being all like “I’m a Fifth Degree Black Belt and whatever you say about martial arts is WRONG because you’re only a Second Degree.”

I’d probably divorce him if he did that. Hell, probably wouldn’t have even started dating him if he was that arrogant.

Rank doesn’t exist in our house. At home, we are just two martial artists who share an equal amount of love for the art and it actually spurs a lot of intellectual conversations, debates, and rants. Our pillow talk (don’t laugh) is like, 50% about martial arts. There have LITERALLY been times where we are in bed or watching a movie and I turn and look at him and say “So… in my pattern…” or “Wait… do you remember when X happened in class?” Or vice versa and he says something to me about something martial arts related.

Never during any of our conversations or our practice sessions has he ever said to me “Your thoughts don’t count because you aren’t the same rank as me.”

And because he’s never mansplained to me about martial arts, or patronized me, or made condescending remarks, I reach out and ask for his opinion a lot. A LOT. He is a wonderful resource for me; he has an answer for everything because he’s been around the martial arts community for so long. I can bounce grievances and ideas off of him and he can tell me with experience like: “Don’t let that bother you, it’s just how it is.”

I can rant to him at home in a way I’m not allowed to rant as a second degree black belt in front of even some of my other black belt/master FRIENDS. I save up my frustrations from class and then when we are out of uniform and in the car, I can unload over him like: “DID YOU SEE THAT SHIT?” And his perspective as a master instructor with decades of experiences allows him to validate what I’m saying. Is that something worth feeling frustrated about? Is this something I need to work on a point of personal growth? Or is it something I need to just let go?

And I trust his wisdom.

Bottom line, really – he doesn’t bring rank home. He doesn’t make it hard.

I’ll derail for a second to share a perfect example of this. There was an instance in class a couple of years ago where I did something that was misconstrued as “disrespectful” by another instructor. The Head of the School took Fred aside and asked if Fred would address it with me at home.

What did Fred say? He said no. He didn’t feel comfortable doing that, it wasn’t his place because he wasn’t the Head Instructor, and that he didn’t bring rank home with him like that. #HusbandWin

I can’t say for certain what I would’ve thought if he’d decided to address this “issue” with me at home – but I can at least say that I would’ve been upset and it would’ve potentially made for some toxicity at home. So kudos to Fred for doing the right thing and not bringing rank home.

That’s just it though; we aren’t interested in breeding toxicity in both the studio and our home.

And, frankly, we don’t make it hard. It’s not difficult because we don’t make it difficult. I check my shit at the studio door and make sure I’m a student first. He checks his shit at the home door and makes certain that he’s a husband first.

It’s that easy.

I repeat: it’s that easy.

Now, as for who’s the master at home? Well.

You can decide.

Peace, love, kamsahamnida.


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Jessica (Penname: Jesachi) is a 2nd Degree Black Belt in Traditional Tae Kwon Do. English/Special Educator in Middle School by day, Martial Artist by night. Some of her passions include: writing/blogging, self-care, TKD, nerdy pursuits, feminism, arts, and spending time with her 5th Degree Black Belt husband. Check out her personal blog at teakdstudio.wordpress.com
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