“Tori Perdue! Third attempt Sir!” The judge yelled. For me, the testing stopped and the world started to move in slow motion. I may be the chief instructor and I may have to run the testing, but first and foremost I am a parent. At this moment, I was just a dad with a little girl who was trying yet again to pass testing. At our school, as like many others, at higher ranks breaking is required to pass to the next level. This was her fourth attempt at this rank. All of her other setbacks had been for her breaking and we had become preoccupied with getting her over this hurdle.
In the slow motion world which occurs when your adrenaline kicks in, I saw Tori bow. She looked at the wood and the second she picked up her leg, I knew she wasn’t going to break it. Little things told me that it wasn’t going to happen. Her eyes closed. Her knee didn’t chamber well enough and her spacing was all wrong. She wasn’t determined to break it. She was just hoping to. Unfortunately, hope is rarely sufficient.
Sure enough, the next sound I heard was a soft THUD of her kick hitting the board but the board not breaking. She looked at the board with a stunned expression. She composed herself, bowed out, and shook the hands of her holders as she collected the boards and made her way to the side to watch the others attempt to break their stations. She was so dignified. No tears. No drama. She sat down next to one of her friends that tried to console her. At that point I had to look away and deal with the rest of testing. I knew she was upset. But I didn’t realize how upset until much later.
After testing, we have a tradition of going out and celebrate/commiserate the results with the instructors and students, just like we do after tournaments. While outcomes of the day matter to everyone, what matters more is the comrade and spending time together reliving the night’s events. Tori was fine all evening and laughed and joked with the other kids that were there. I was surprised how she was taking it in stride.
Later, as I tucked he into bed and kissed her on the forehead she asked, “Papa, are you still proud of me?” If you had listened very carefully at that moment, you would have heard my heart rip in half. Now, at bed time, she showed that she was, indeed, hurting on the inside.
“Honey, of course I am! Your form was awesome and gets better every time I see it! The combinations you did sparring were incredible and I saw that wicked hit you just shook off. You rocked tonight.” I said.
“But I didn’t break my wood! AGAIN!” she said with clear frustration in her tone.
“I know, but you will.”
“I don’t know.” She said. Of course she would doubt herself in this moment. Who wouldn’t?
“I do. You are too awesome to let something like a little piece of wood stop you. I am proud of you not because I love you, I am proud of you because you are awesome. You’ll get it. It’s just a matter of time. It’s not ‘IF’ you are going to break your wood. It is a matter of ‘WHEN’ you will break it.”
There was silence for a while then she said. “Ok. Good night Papa.”
“Love you!” I said as I went to leave.
“Love you too Papa.”
Whether it is physically, socially or academically, there is nothing more frustrating for a parent than to watch your child struggle. As a father, I know this all too well. But if we, as parents, don’t let them struggle, how will they grow to take on the challenges they will face later in life? Much of life, after all, can only be learned by trial and error. It is one of the things I love most about martial arts training for kids. Parents CAN’T do it for them or even help them. (Parents that try, by the way, usually do more harm than good.) The kids have to do it on their own.
Because they must do it on their own, they grow stronger spiritually and emotionally. That is why lessons learned in martial arts is so transferable to everyday life, especially for kids. Their success is absolutely determined by their own efforts. Not their parents or other teammates; just their own actions. Does this mean they will struggle? Of course they will. I hope they will. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be special. But can they do it? Of course they can! And they will. Just like I told Tori, it isn’t a matter of IF, it is a matter of WHEN!
Parents, I know it is hard. But I can tell you both as a parent and an instructor, these little setbacks they have today will have huge benefits in the future! Just like I tell the students, I NEVER promised you it would be easy. I promised you it would be WORTH IT! And sometimes, as a parent I can honestly say, it is harder on us than them.
Two months later, I heard the familiar call again. “Tori Perdue, First Attempt SIR!” I looked up and again the world seemed to slow down. This time, there was a different look in her eyes. She wasn’t hoping the wood break; she had more determination in her eyes than I had ever seen before. In a matter of seconds, it was all over and all of her stations were broken on the first attempt. As she bounced with excitement to bow out, she was beaming. She looked at me and gave big thumbs up and a smile. After the testing was over, I told Tori “I am so proud of you!” She looked up with a big smile and said, “I know! You told me so!”
I had to smile. She listened? I never thought my kids listened to ANYTHING I had to say!