I find myself on the eve of my son’s black belt test. Just a few short hours from now we will know if he will have it in him to concentrate and remember what he’s learned these past few months, or if he will chuck it all for daydreaming and lack of focus. Black belt?! Did I say black belt? Ah! No! I mean his YELLOW belt! What I believe I meant to say was that my son’s testing for his yellow belt (only one step up from his white) is as stressful for this mommy as if he were testing for his black belt! And to think I have so many more testings to go through before I get used to the butterflies and anxiousness I have been feeling during his past few weeks of training.
I had always wondered why my mother was such a nervous wreck during my many horse shows as a child. There were times when the only thing that held her watching (and holding her breath) in the stands were he fingers wrapped around the metal bleachers. There was always a sense of relief after any big show that I never understood. I usually took the shows in stride. Did my best and tried to have ‘fun’ like I was taught. Winning was great, but coming out of the experience enjoying it was supposed to be the point of it all right?
Now I’m living the other side. The parent side. Not only have I invested endless money and time into this child’s Karate classes, but I’ve also gotten a taste of my child’s success. I’ve watched him practice at home, seen him improve in class and in school and am so darn proud of that little boy for how far he’s come! Now the pressure is on and I want him to know it!
Jonah knows how important advancing to yellow belt is as well. He knows because he’s had a taste of what he can accomplish and I believe he feels the push to finalize this part of his training. Moving on to a yellow belt opens up a whole new world of training and discipline that he loves so much. To fail and stay a white belt for a month longer would be frustrating and disappointing. I know he feels this and I know he is aware of what is at stake and I believe he will raise to the occasion and pass this darn test!
Last week in Karate class the kids who were eligible to test for a new belt were put through pre-testing to check for readiness. This just happened to be the day that Jonah had had very little sleep the previous night and I also found out the following day that he had eaten next to nothing the entire day! He was lazy, distracted and had very poor technique. His instructor was noticeably frustrated with him and I felt like burying my head under my chair until it was all over. I wonder how many moms run screaming out of the room because their kid is doing horrible during a pre-test?! I choose to stay put. Good choice 😉
We all knew he could do much better including himself and he did not qualify to test for his yellow belt that afternoon. That mini failure sparked all sorts of feelings in his father and myself, but we harnessed our reaction of dismay and disappointment and turned it into a teaching moment. We explained the importance of that entire class to which Jonah replied, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that class was so important?’ And that was the point at which he began to take on ownership of something that was his. He realized through that moment that he was in control of his success or his failure. He’s never had that responsibility before.
We worked the next two days on respect, being sharp in his moves and talked a lot about focusing on his instructor. The thought passed through my mind so many times of how difficult it must be for such a distractible little boy to be reminded over and over to focus and pay attention when in class. And this is what happened.
Due to the holiday weekend, we had to take him to a Friday afternoon class that was not his normal time. It was a small class with mostly white belts and my kid was on fire. He listened to every instruction, moved quickly, had good technique and got to re-test for his readiness to test for his yellow belt. He did so much better and got the okay to test!!! But even better… as class was finishing up, the instructor pulled out a handful of medals and proceeded to tell the class that because of their excellent focus and discipline that afternoon, that he was awarding them each with a medal of discipline! Jonah’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor!
That reward could not have come at a better time. It was a direct correlation between an award and Jonah’s attentive behavior and obvious change in attitude and focus that caused him to earn something very, very special. And he knows this. That’s the best part. He apologized to me later for having poor focus previously and I explained to him that had he not learned what poor focus was he would have never been rewarded for proper focus. Lesson learned and rewarded!
We started Jonah in Karate right before spring break in March of 2014. He had been asking to start for about six months prior to that and after collecting enough funds from our tax return, he was able to begin. He loved it as soon as he slipped on his oversized uniform. He carried an ear to ear grin the entire time during first few lessons and is still the kid with the loudest kiaps and ‘yes sir’s’. Concentration is not his strong point, but there has been great improvement there as well.
Jonah has been able to push his body and his mind in class and because of the success and self esteem he’s achieved in Karate, his school life has also improved remarkably. I came into Jonah’s classroom mid April, shortly after class had begun, to drop something off and his teacher greeted me with a look of surprise and wonder. She told me, ‘Jonah has decided to sit at a group table. He made that choice on his own. I’ve been trying to encourage him to sit with his group all year!’ This was HUGE! At the beginning of the school year, Jonah was too overwhelmed socially, that he opted to sit in his own chair at his own desk, segregated from the other kids. His level of interacting with them included fighting with them, pushing and shoving them and watching them from the outside. He didn’t know kid’s names and didn’t really care to. The day he choose to sit at his group table he started making connections with his classmates. He now remembers the majority of his classmates names! Plays with a few of them at recess and carries on normal kid conversations! Are you kidding me?? My heart is full to see these changes! I no longer get reports from his teacher about Jonah’s playground mishaps with other kids. I don’t hear from any teachers about Jonah’s poor choices. Now, I do have to admit that there are a handful of circumstances and people that have been instrumental in these changes in my son. These things I intend to elaborate on when I have time to collect more thoughts, but the start of it all began with his involvement in karate and I know in my heart that it has and will develop skills in him that will carry him far into his future.
There is no magic trick that will help every kid in the same way. Kids like Jonah need something to latch on to. It’s different for every one of them because every one of them is different. Karate works for Jonah. It’s the first real thing he’s ever had to ‘own’ all by himself. It’s his level of commitment and discipline that allows him to advance and as he advances he becomes more and more driven to succeed. And when we are driven to succeed, we figure out how to get to where we want to be the fastest way possible. To see this skill developing in Jonah blows me away. I have doubted so many, many times in his short life if he would ever really succeed. If he’d ever connect socially or emotionally with others. And here we are, at the end of his 1st grade school year, after a lot of patience and tears and notes from the school. Here I am seeing the fruit of our labor and loving the positive change.
Yes, he will succeed at something. He will succeed at many things. And I am ever so thankful for the handful of people who have sacrificed themselves to look into Jonah’s world and learn Jonah’s language. We are already able to steer him in a direction that is leading to abundant life. Will he earn his yellow belt when he tests on Friday? I believe he will. And I promise to sit and suffer in quiet agony and breath a silent sigh of relief when it’s over 😉