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Kids, Martial Arts, and Life Lessons (Part 2)

What I have learned? I should not have waited so long, but more importantly, I should have been communicating with him all along that he would get back into the swing of things as soon as his eyes were strengthened. His therapist was such a gem—he taught him to ride a bike again, to tie his shoes, and to be able to see all the triggers that he had learned to avoid being so uncomfortable. Although the battle was won, the war will go on for his whole life. His self-talk in those twelve months became so negative that he rewired much of who he was before the issue started. Because I did not know why he was digressing and believed it to be 100 percent behavioral, I could not have been a worse enemy. Although I did not try to be negative or mean in any way, he knew I was disappointed and as frustrated as he was. It has been a process for me to understand that there was nothing I could have done differently but my compassion for children, in general, has grown beyond anything I could imagine. To seek understanding before I jump to my own conclusions is the greatest piece of wisdom I took from the circumstance. It was not until after the experience that I realized I should have looked at this situation as any lesson in mastery. How many concert pianists tell of hating to practice their scales, or brilliant leaders who despised school, or Olympic athletes who did not want to do drills every day, as children? There are countless stories of them telling how they were glad for an adult who helped them stay the course even in the midst of their pleas to quit. I do not regret the lesson I learned and I hope that someday he will also be thankful for the diligence I expect from him. Every time he speaks of goals, his black belt is in the top three—he wants it. Now, he just needs to believe he can earn it.

With our allowing him to quit, our older daughter also started vying for a similar break. I was exhausted from the whole trial and did not really say she could stop doing class but in my distraction, she did. I was much quicker on the uptake this time around. Although she did not have any good reason to stop, there was an even more rewarding lesson in store for me. After only a couple of months, I realized that I was doing a great disservice to her by not ensuring she saw this goal through. I know this all may read as ridiculously militant, because really our society has become famous at tasting a little of everything and never mastering anything. We had decided early on that our children would learn to finish any endeavor to the end, within reason. It just so happens that a first degree black belt takes almost five years, so this journey has been chalk full of triumph and trial. As she started coming back into class I saw her trying to find her place, her confidence and it was truly difficult for her to settle in and feel good. Our master instructor is really gifted, but at well over six feet and rather imposing, she would crumple under his attention. He never raised his voice or intimidated her at all, but her hypersensitivity at being noticed in any capacity would get the best of her. She would immediately drop to the floor in a huddle and cry at the smallest of instruction. I would pick her up in her pill bug pose and place her on a chair to the side. Several weeks of this transpired before he had the brilliance, whether planned or not, to take my four kids with him and one other boy for an entire day of fun. At our next class, she was transformed. Later I asked what had changed her mind and she told me in her little six-year-old voice, “Well, he’s just a dad ... and he’s funny.” That was that, her shyness and insecurity was gone. She is still very sensitive at ten but everyday her confidence and resolve strengthens. She told me recently that she looks at her black belt—that hangs on the wall, waiting for her to test for it—everyday and that it makes her feel like anything is possible.

As for the son I have yet to mention, he has always been laserbeam-focused on the idea of a black belt and any other goal for that matter. But his struggle is of the opposite from what I have written thus far. He is very capable and naturally athletic. He can work half as hard and still get very good results. For two years, he simply went through the motions in his training and “appeared” to be better than many students. I would have to put him behind my sight line in class just so I would not become frustrated at his lack of effort. I knew he could really do a great job if he would actually care to. His gross motor skills excelled very early, maybe too early in some cases. He was dropping into a full size half pipe on his skateboard and competing in competitions at just barely five years old. He learned to snowboard, ride a bike, ski, swim, mountain board, rock climb, and swim all in one year. Yet he could not write his name, would not learn to read, and did not want to conform to any system we put in place. He was a free spirit who wanted to explore, run, jump, and hang from cliff faces. Applying himself to anything that was not his idea was not in his plans. He raked lawns until he got just enough money for a certain purchase, then switched gears and wanted to learn to play guitar, then juggle, then yoyo, then gymnastics, then hip-hop dancing, then acting and so on. He was quickly becoming a jack-of-all-trades, but not really learning anything fully. Then, one day in class, he noticed a woman student who always worked far beyond the average student. She had always been there, but this day was different for him. He absorbed her effort, he modeled her movements, and he transformed overnight. From that very day, he has fully put his all into every class. He matured that afternoon into a student of Taekwondo, into a person who wants to master his art.

These years striving toward what has seemed impossible at times, been overwhelming others and completely fruitful the majority of time, have shown me the importance of mastery. If I had to sum myself up, I know I am a jumbled combination of all of my children. I am stubborn and willful but full of joy like my youngest daughter. I am easily frustrated and overwhelmed but unhurt by what others think of me like my oldest son. I am hyper-vigilant and a perfectionist but willing to help anyone like my oldest daughter. I am reckless and lazy with my potential but truly loving like my youngest son. What has Taekwondo really taught me? It’s taught me to see people clearly, to love my children and others for exactly how they were created and to absolutely give my all in every situation, because when I leave here, I want to have exhausted every cell in my body, to have lived this life to its fullest.

(Part 1) | Part 2

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