Connection through sparring: Autistic young adult finds confidence, concentration in taekwondo
Photo: Deb Silverthorn Ben Ackerman (center) testing for his second-degree black belt in taekwondo, with Master H.P. Ahn (left center)

By Deb Silverthorn

The pride and confidence that Benjamin Ackerman wears matches his second-degree black belt (Second Dan) just fine.
Taekwondo started for Benjamin as a fitness and confidence-building activity eight years ago, but it has become an abiding passion.
Benjamin, a high-functioning young adult with autism, attends classes three or more times per week and he now, after more than 700 classes, has a powerful repertoire of roundhouse, axe, side-kicks, spinning back-kicks and a 360-degree tornado enabling him to split two 1-inch boards with his hands or feet.
Regular sparring with other and more advanced classmates has added to his strength, agility and concentration.
As a black belt, Benjamin also became an assistant teacher of classes to more junior students.
“He never wants to miss a class. He’s become very fit and his confidence is much improved,” said his mother, Melissa. “No other activities have had the same impact on Benjamin and we can’t imagine what his life would have been like if he hadn’t taken taekwondo with Master Ahn.”
As Benjamin says, “I really respect how Master Ahn appreciates his students and pushes us to do new things. He really knows what we need. It takes me a while to learn the forms but once I do, I remember them. I used to go see other students’ belt tests and film and review them so I could study the forms and commands.”
“Taekwondo isn’t about kicking and punching or fighting. What I teach is the discipline and confidence to walk away from a negative moment. I teach self-discipline and self-esteem,” said Master Ahn, whose Ahn’s Tae Kwon Do Institute is at the northwest corner of Frankford and Hillcrest in North Dallas. “For Benjamin, our program has been incredible. I’ve watched him grow into a very special and very wonderful young man. I really couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Master Ahn’s father was one of the first Koreans to bring the sport to the United States, first to Fort Bliss to work with military special forces on a U.S. Army sponsored visa, and then to Dallas in 1968, where eventually his classes grew to seven studios.
Master Ahn remembers studying taekwondo with his father at the age of four and he has been teaching for over 30 years.
“What I do improves the quality of life for many people and every day proves that to be true,” he said. “The physical confidence provides mental and personal confidence, which carry over into our academic, business, and social relationships of our lives. Ours is a very structured program and my students learn to trust their instincts.
“Benjamin is one of many who have bloomed and who now take constructive chances. I have taught him step by step how to teach and to show his students by example how hard he trains. He definitely appreciates others looking up to him.”
Indeed students look up to Benjamin and in inspiring “his” students, he too is inspired. “Parents say their kids like working with me and love my classes,” said a proud Benjamin.
Benjamin never needs to be reminded about class or to prepare; he takes taekwondo very seriously and his parents are thrilled with his success.
“The focus and concentration that Benjamin has learned has given him a great sense of pride in himself. Master Ahn has been a most important mentor for Benjamin both in and out of the studio too,” Melissa said. “Master Ahn ‘gets’ him and Benjamin has learned to better regulate his emotions and he’s become very strong.”
In addition to taekwondo, Benjamin has participated in a basketball group with Derek Handler at Fitness For Kids, in Yavneh Academy’s special edition Points for Peace tournament, and in a social skills group with his speech therapist Julie Spaight and several other young adults. While at Shepton High School, Benjamin was the recipient of the Principal’s Award as “The Voice of Shepton,” for his skill and reliability as the daily announcer.
Benjamin has worked as a class assistant in the summer school program at Harrington Elementary and he is back for a second summer as a counselor at the JCC’s Camp Chai.
Benjamin’s hobbies include watching American Idol, America’s Got Talent, Project Runway, Chopped, weather-related news stories, and collecting comic books and VHS movies. He is a student at the Adult Transition Services Program at Plano West Senior High; a highlight of Benjamin’s time at Plano West was a visit and the opportunity to be on-air with WFAA meteorologist Pete Delkus.
Benjamin, the son of Melissa and Baer Ackerman, brother to Emily, and grandson of Jean and Bob Weinfeld, enjoys spending time visiting his grandparents and other residents at The Legacy at Willow Bend.
“I hope Benjamin never needs to use the tools he’s learned from Master Ahn but if he does, look out world! Benjamin’s accomplishments are remarkable and so good for him,” said his grandfather, with whom Benjamin loves to “hang out.”
“Benjamin calls us every morning and every night just to kibitz, always telling us about what he’s doing. We love the excitement he has and, while we couldn’t be more proud of Benjamin, more importantly, Benjamin couldn’t be more proud of himself.”

Leave a Reply