Just for kicks; Teacher balances teaching and Taekwondo

Bertha Cazares

After bowing down to a partner and shaking their hand, the real action begins. She bends at the knees to get into sparring position, looking at the opponent to try and decipher their next move. If she’s quick enough, she’ll land the first kick on her opponent.

Originally from Santa Rosa, Nicole Graydon, Redwood’s newest Physical Education (PE) teacher, started practicing Taekwondo at the age of 11.

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Graydon, who is a fifth-degree black belt, can perform about 95 moves in the sport, compared to the 18 moves taught at white belt,the lowest level.

“I’ve been doing Taekwondo 20 years now. It’s always been a safe haven for people especially at the studio I train at. It’s just a great outlet, if I don’t go I kinda seem like a crazy person,” Graydon said.

Graydon takes a keen interest in Taekwondo but she also has trained in other martial arts practices such as Judo, Tai Chi and Shotokan Karate. The difference between each art is its methods of defense. Taekwondo focuses on kicking and punching.

In addition to her talent in martial arts, Graydon always knew she wanted to be a teacher. However, she felt that the traditional classroom setting wasn’t for her.

“I cannot sit still in a classroom, and the standards that we get to teach in PE translate to the teaching of Taekwondo,” Graydon said. “It’s really grounding. All the tenants are about respect and integrity—basically just being a good person and helping others.”

Graydon started at Redwood the first day of second semester and teaches tenth grade classes. According to her co-worker Ryan Lloyd, who also teaches PE, Graydon has been a positive asset to the department.

“She’s bringing in some fresh approaches and it’s good to have someone to bounce ideas off, so we’re pleased with her addition,” Lloyd said.

Graydon’s diverse background in martial arts fosters her ability to dominate in physical education units such as self defense. While taking a Sexual Harassment & Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP), Graydon learned Haganah, the Israeli army’s method of self defense. She integrates Haganah into the PE self defense unit with her students.  

According to sophomore Gianna Panzardi, Graydon’s nuanced teaching methods set her apart from other teachers.

“She incorporates a lot of her personal experiences and stories into her teaching. It’s not just, ‘you have to do this for PE.’ She tells us a story and tells us how we can apply things to real life,” Panzardi said. “She’s really relatable, easy to talk to and approachable.”

Graydon had been competing in Taekwondo since she was a yellow belt, which she earned six months after she starting the sport. She stopped four years ago when she began teaching full time and coaching badminton and volleyball, which dominated her life.

According to Graydon, there are nine color belts and nine black belts starting at white in the American Taekwondo Association. The colors then continue with orange, yellow, camouflage, green, purple, blue, brown, red, recommended black belt and then black belt. The colored belts are the foundation of the sport. An athlete is still considered a beginner until the time they’re a fourth-degree black belt.

Obtaining a black belt is considered a high achievement in the Taekwondo world. Despite the title, women still face gender discrimination at this competitive level.

“I had one family in particular where their son was allowed to learn martial arts from me but their daughter wasn’t because their daughter wasn’t allowed to do martial arts,” Graydon said.

Other instances that Graydon has noticed in regards to sexism were bigger mens’ sparring fights being aired on television while the women’s matches weren’t.

“In the American Taekwondo Association (ATA), the fourth and fifth-degree men’s ring would get on ESPN 3 but not the women’s ring,” Graydon said. “It’s a culturally ingrained thing. It’s women’s athletics. It’s always a battle.”