Tag Archives: martial arts

So many times, it happens too fast

The master told four-year-old Benjamin that if he learned “The Easy Way is No Way,” he could get a tiger patch for his tae kwon do uniform.  “The Easy Way is No Way” is a set of principles that the children must learn before becoming a yellow belt.  Zach – almost six – won his tiger patch awhile ago, as he started tae kwon do before Benjamin did, and he has since gotten a yellow belt.

Benjamin took that handout home, determined to learn every single word on the sheet.  He learned the first item immediately: the Five Benefits of Tae Kwon Do.  However, he wasn’t quite ready with the rest of the sheet when he had his next lesson.  No matter, we go twice a week.  He knew it all by the following lesson.

Which he missed because he was sick.

We kept practicing.  He belted out, “Discipline, sir! Focus, sir! Self-control, sir! Confidence, sir! Respect, sir!” with gusto.  He was ready.

I told the master to go ahead and test him.  This was a proud moment for me, watching my little boy who had tried so hard, with so much heart, stand up and be proud of himself.

The masters lined my two boys up together.

“What are the benefits of tae kwon do?”

Zach’s hand shot up.  “Discipline, sir! Respect, sir! Self-control, sir! Focus, sir! Respect, sir!”  The master gave it to him anyway.  Then he turned to Benjamin.

Benjamin stood flummoxed.  He had just heard Zachary do it wrong, but Zachary is his older brother, and thereby by definition never wrong.  He couldn’t do it.

“Why are you the best student?”

Zach’s hand shot up.  He fumbled it, not quite remembering the words.  Benjamin, slower to raise his hand but knowing the answer, couldn’t do it when his turn finally came.

I fought the urge to jump up and run onto the mat. It is important not to show up the masters.  But they were doing it wrong!  They were supposed to be testing Benjamin, and they were letting Zach answer every question first.  And he was fucking it up for his brother, for once not on purpose.

“What must you tell your parents every day?”

Zach’s hand shot up.  Benjamin started looking around at the ceiling.  My heart sank.

“I give you chance next time,” the master told them as they finished up, and the boys came running off the mat.

“Please,” I begged, “ask Ben again without Zach.  He knows it all.  He just got confused because his brother got it wrong.”  Unfortunately, he speaks mostly Korean and I speak absolutely no Korean, so we weren’t getting very far.

I haven’t been able to sleep the last couple of nights.

I watched Ben at the library magic show.  He was focused.  He was having a ball.  He would have loved to have been the volunteer.  But every time the magician asked, he was the only kid who didn’t put his hand up.  It was as though he didn’t quite register that he should raise his hand.  Ben’s best buddy was right next to him, and that child’s hand went up every time, along with every other kid in the room.  Except Benjamin’s.  Somehow, he is slower than children his same age.

He is a very, very smart child.  He is imaginative and incredibly verbal and has the most amazing building ability.  He has remarkable scissor skills. He is adding numbers together.  But he responds more slowly than his peers and from what I’ve seen in the last week, sometimes he gives up altogether because he is slower.  He won’t show it on his face – he has too much bravado to get upset about it… outwardly.  But that kind of continual defeat is going to wear him down.

I don’t know what to do.  I suspect a very mild processing issue, and I guess we should look into early intervention.

But first things first – tomorrow when we go to tae kwon do, I’m going to make sure they test him by himself.  He has earned that damned tiger patch.

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.