Little man

            Even though they gave him the smallest size, we could probably fit an entire other child in Zachary’s karate uniform.  He is petite for a four-year-old.  So, we roll the bottoms, we roll the tops, and the sensei wraps that belt around his waist several times, pulling in all the extra fabric on his jacket.  But, despite his stature, for a half-hour on Mondays, Zachary walks taller than I have ever seen him before.

            The first two lessons, he felt awkward, unsure of how to relate to a male teacher and insecure about using his body this way.  The words were uncomfortable for him.  As a result, he was disrespectful and silly.  It was frustrating for me, because we had paid in advance; it was frustrating for his sensei; and it was frustrating for Zach, who wanted to be good but was protecting himself by intentionally mispronouncing the words.

            When you have a highly sensitive child, you get used to worrying about social situations and new experiences.  You cannot protect that child, so you are grateful for every talented teacher who comes down the pike.  Zachary has been fortunate to have had gifted preschool teachers, both in London and here in Los Angeles. 

            And he has one again in Sensei Kirk.  He is the right blend of humor and business, allowing Zach to be silly but keeping him serious about learning.  Martial arts studios are denizens of earnest geeks, men and women who take pride in their sport and the rituals that surround it.  Our dojo is no exception.  It is a world unto itself, and, while karate may have little social capital in the larger world, those who have immersed themselves in this life are cool within their own microcosm. 

            It is all one could ask for one’s child.

            The focus is learning respect.  Respect for the teacher, respect for the art, and respect for one’s ability and body.  Hard work and obedience are rewarded.  And all Zach wants is the reward of his sensei’s opprobrium.  As soon as he starts to slip, Sensei Kirk brings him back, reminding him that he will not get a little plastic ninja if he does not take his lesson seriously.  And the child wants that ninja.

            On Wednesdays, we go to group lessons, and Zach refuses to participate.  He is shy and nervous about this strange group of kids, and Sensei Sam is slowly moving him into the room.  But, on Mondays, Zach is focused as he practices half-moons and blocks.  He remembers everything from the previous lesson and tries hard to learn what Sensei Kirk is teaching.

            At the end of every lesson, Zach kneels again with his sensei.  His body looks so small and serious bent over there on the floor.  But what he is learning will make his back straighter.

22 responses to “Little man

  1. oh, 4 is so young for karate! I’m impressed at how well it sounds like he’s doing. You’ll be amazed at the progress he makes, at the confidence and pride it gives him. Glad to hear you’ve both found this.

  2. I loved martial arts and was so sad when I had to drop it due to cost concerns.

    I’m convinced it’s a perfect way for many children, especially sensitive children, to learn those important lessons of respect, control and hard work. The structure is amazing, once you adapt to it.

    It sounds like Zach has found another wonderful place that’s perfect for him. Yay!

  3. I think it’s great that you found something that works so well for him. In time, I’m sure he’ll excel in the group as well. Karate builds confidence.

  4. This is fantastic. I have to say, I didn’t start taking martial arts until I was an adult, and even THEN I was amazed at the impact it had on me, emotionally. I imagine it can only do great things for kids who get started early.

  5. That is SO cool! Good for Zach! 🙂

  6. I am really happy to hear of Zach’s experience in his karate class.

    We haven’t figured out a physical activity that will work well for our highly-sensitive guy (soccer, even totally noncompetetive soccer, was a disater). We are trying to stick with one out-of-school activity only. He’s been taking violin lessons for seven months & even though it’s complicated & tough– his stick-to-it-ness with that instrument has been remarkable. We’re lucky that his violin teacher really GETS him so that of course, totally makes it work. But we want him to be running and jumping and burning up energy. Right now traditional sports do not look like his thing and that’s fine. But something else, perhaps?

  7. This is the perfect activity for a child like Zach. And especially since he has a good teacher. We finally realized this would be good for my oldest son, and it was. But he was already in his teens by then.

  8. Very cool. I’m so glad he has a good teacher.

  9. That’s great! My son started at four, but then he got tired of going twice a week, and we stopped. Now that he’s eight, he’s decided he wants to start up again. I’m glad.

    I spent years in the martial arts, got my black belt, and I still do a lot of the moves for exercise. It can be lifelong fun!

  10. Discipline and confidence and a slightly wider world – wonderful that he’s found that!

  11. My 16 year old grandson Sean is a black belt on the national karate team. He’s had virtually no other sources of discipline in his life, but karate has given him a quiet confidence and the knowledge that he can achieve much by applying himself diligently. His sensei must be a true master

    Think of what Zach may become, with the advantages of loving parents and a patient karate master!

  12. we keep talking about getting MQ into karate.

  13. oh this made me all teary!

  14. I’m a fan of anything that can give a kid more confidence. Walk tall, Zach…

  15. This sounds so good for Zach. I think it’s great when sensitive children learn to protect themselves and to channel their unruly energies into a discipline. Such good ways to feel less vulnerable in the world.

  16. Great description too. That sensitive sensei makes all the difference.

  17. Thanks for this info! My son is 4 and I have been wondering about enrolling him for Karate this year as he needs to learn to be more self assertive. I did Karate for many years but when I was alot older – nice to know 4 year olds can do it too at such a young age.

  18. A good teacher definitely makes all the difference. I still think fondly of my favorite teachers.

  19. I feel lucky to have found a similar situation here for my boys. The oldest is extremely sensitive, yet after 2 years of karate he is holding his own in a green belt class in which his 7 y/o body is the smallest among highschool students and even adults. My normally out-of-sorts child has a quiet confidence there that I hope will translate to other places in the future.

  20. i love the image of him standing with respect for himself and for the applied discipline of patience and strength he has been cultivating.

    i wonder if there are karate lessons here?

  21. That’s amazing. I’ve often thought of enrolling my four year old in something similar – he is identical to your son. Sensitive (he is our “spirited” child) and very small for his age. I’m so inspired by reading this that I think I will research martial arts in our city and see what I can come up with!!

  22. Pingback: Readiness « Wheels on the bus