Monday, August 21, 2006

The Path of a Martial Artist

My dedicated readers know that I am going back to school for my master’s degree in learnin’ young-ins. What most don’t know is that I am also studying Kenpo Karate. It’s something I always wanted to do, and I finally started in early middle school. I grew tired, you see, of getting picked on and feeling like a outcast. It’s not just the little fellers that get picked on, but the fat kids too fall prey to the packs of boys trolling for victims. My group of friends tended to be on the fringe of acceptance. We weren’t the true outcasts, but we weren’t really accepted either.

I didn’t tell my friends. I didn’t tell Charlie, my best friend. No one knew that I was taking martial arts. It’s just not something that I talked about. My parents were given strict instructions not to reveal my alter ego to anyone. In truth I shouldn’t have told them either. They ended up telling my friends. As talkative as I have always been, my martial arts has always been the one thing that I have kept pretty quiet.

I studied during high school and got pretty close to my black belt. Kenpo, unlike other arts, takes a minimum of five years to attain a black belt. If you really want that black belt, you have to work for it; a black belt factory it is not. As I progressed, I lost some weight, gained confidence and much to my surprise, I started to gain in popularity. Unfortunately for me, that newly found popularity was intoxicating for me. For once in my life, I was invited to parties with the cool kids, I was accepted, and I had a nice place in the hierarchy. It was good. My martial arts suffered my senior year as my priorities were on girls, partying and college.

I went to college, lived my life, graduated, got married and had a kid. When I moved back to Springfield I found my old martial arts instructor was teaching up here. So I started over, yes, I choose to start over, but it didn’t take me long to attain my original rank as a third degree brown belt (two belts away from black.) Over the past year, I’ve taken on more responsibility and with the support of our head instructor, started the children’s programming for our studio.

Teaching Kenpo affects my learning. I am a slow martial arts student because I have never really been an athletic person. This is the only sport-like activity that I ever felt comfortable with. Teaching has made the process slower, but I don’t mind. I’m in no hurry and I am not motivated by belt rank.

When I decided to go back to school, my wife and I decided that I was going to also focus on my own martial arts. I use my breaks from school to study Kenpo. After the summer semester was over, I had two weeks to prepare for my test. That’s hard to do when you are injured. Last Thursday I received my second degree brown belt (8th Kyu). I have one more brown belt and then it’s on to the black belt.

It’s confusing to most people. The assumption is that if you have a black belt, then you are an expert in marital arts. Real practitioners know better. Earning a first degree black belt is like getting your four year degree from an accredited college. The student now has a good base knowledge and the necessary skills. But that’s about it. The real learning takes place after the degree. And so it is with Karate. The low ranked black belt is really just starting to gain real martial arts knowledge. The path has really just begun.

It’s been a long path. I’m like the college student who never leaves. I’m really on the 10-year plan for black belt. That’s okay with me. I enjoy the learning much more than the rank.

So why am I talking about this now? I think it’s necessary. Many of my students start martial arts for the same reason as I did: a bully. The schools do little to protect children from bullies. When the trusted adults do not fulfill their duties as protectors, then the trust between children and adults is destroyed. I understand that. How does a boy go home, look his father in the eye and explain that his clothes are wet because they other boys at school filled balloons with urine and pelted him after school? Why should any child be subjected to a culture of fear at school? Bullying at school is not just a one time pushing or knocking books to the ground. It is a darker, more sinister series of events that systematically ostracizes a child from the social hierarchy. It can reach cruel levels even in elementary. I’ve seen it done to others and experience it myself.

Last year, my daughter brought home a flier from school about bullying. One of the suggestions if a bully takes your lunch money is to ask your parents for more money. Bullshit and bullshit again. That is no solution and the school counselor should be ashamed for creating an environment of victimization. Martial arts, true martial arts, is not about fighting. It is about self-defense. Self-defense is about learning how to protect ones self, but more importantly it is about confidence. Strong, confident children do not usually get bullied. Bullies seek out the weak and the fearful. I won’t stand for it. That starts with talking about it.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100% but let me share something I found

"..While many people believe bullies act tough in order to hide feelings of insecurity and self-loathing, in fact, bullies tend to be confident, with high self-esteem. They are generally physically aggressive, with pro-violence attitudes, and are typically hot-tempered, easily angered, and impulsive, with a low tolerance for frustration. Bullies have a strong need to dominate others and usually have little empathy for their targets. Male bullies are often physically bigger and stronger than their peers. Bullies tend to get in trouble more often, and to dislike and do more poorly in school than teens who do not bully others. They are also more likely to fight, drink, and smoke than their peers..'

--To prevent bullism from our family--

We have five kids have found that participation in sports or martial arts classes have helped our children build self-esteem, confidence, and the ability to defend themselves.We also Reaffirm to our kids, we will do everything to ensure thier safety.
This has worked so, far, but the schools and parents need to talk about it more and get more programs to help those kids that are bullies.
Take care-(Great blog!)
Devin Willis

meghann said...

Wow, Jack. I can't believe that counselor had the balls to send that flier out. Ask for more money? What if they punch you, should you scream and ask them to stop or do you just sit there and become their punching bag?

I just can't wait until my boy is off to school...

admin said...

Anonymous: Thanks for the link. I believe you are right. Many times a kid is picked on at home and that just flows downhill. Victim at home becomes perpetrator at school. Many vicitims are big sons-of-guns who have to fight at home to survive. A bully who fights a lot is dangerous and hard to deal with.

Meghann: This is why we started teaching children. They, more than anyone else, need solid self-defense skills. I teach two classes (all girls and all boys).

We specificially discuss bullies and how to react when you are bullied. Of course we always start with our words and minds before our fists. We teach techniques to get the teacher's attention without tattling. We teach how to react without it looking like you are fighting. Many times the victim, in an attempt to protect herself, is caught and punished.