Saturday, September 27, 2014

Victory Martial Arts - Leadership Program

Following up from my last post, Paul has taken another step in his development as a martial artist and in his growth as a young man.

Not long after Paul earned his Orange Belt, our Chief Instructor talked to Steph and I about placing him into the Victory Martial Arts leadership program based on the potential he shows in class.  Around that same time, there was a special demonstration and instructional event hosted by the Victory schools here in Las Vegas, featuring several senior black belts from Orlando, Florida (the home of Victory Martial Arts).  During that event, Paul also caught the eye of the visiting leaders and we consented to have them publicly invite him to enter the leadership program.

A week later, at our school, one of the Chief Instructors at our school announced in front of his friends that Paul had joined leadership.  He received a new belt representing his participation in the program (an Orange Belt with a gold stripe in place of the usual black stripe), and a new leadership uniform.  

Since then, he attends an additional 30 minute training session twice a week following the normal Beginner’s class.  It’s fantastic.  In these sessions he trails with the small group of other leadership students in a more difficult, but also more fun, class.  While the practical focus is on more advanced knowledge and discipline, more complex forms and additional weapons, the goal within the school is to develop these kids into martial arts leaders as they work toward black belt.  As Paul continues to advance in rank he’ll attend his usual training and leadership lessons, but he’ll also start help the instructors when they teach the beginners class.  He’ll directly apply what he’s learning as he helps other students.

The character traits taught and fostered through Victory Martial Arts are: Respect, Self Esteem, Communication, Discipline, Honesty and Belief. As important as these are in the practice of martial arts, it’s more significant that the knowledge and practical experience Victory provides for the kids is intended to directly translate into a positive attitude and a lifestyle of action in the child’s behavior and performance at home, in school and eventually in their jobs and all of life.  After only three months we already see these life skills carrying over into the Paul’s life at home and at school.  On a humorous note:  recently we were leaving a restaurant with Paul.  As we reached the door, he quickly turned back to face our server and the folks who work there and in a strong voice thanked them by proclaiming, “Goodbye Sir, Goodbye Ma’am!”, then stepped outside.  It was already habit to be courteous and show respect to those who had just helped (or in this case served) him.  Obviously this wasn't required ore expected but the habit carried outside the school.  We were amused and very proud at the same time.

This has been a great time striving toward a goal as father and son!  We’re less than a month away from testing again.  This time Paul will test for his Yellow Belt and I’ll test for my Orange.  And not too long from now, Steph is going to join us in the program too.  What an amazing addition to the things we do throughout the week to build and strengthen the bonds that tie us together as a family  through shared experiences, struggles, and striving together toward a goal.  In the process we’re also getting more fit, and we’re making some amazing new friends as a family!

It’s great to be a dad!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Our "Karate Kid"

Nine weeks ago my son began taking Taekwando lessons through an American Taekwando Association school called Victory Martial Arts—something he’s been asking to do for almost a year.  Steph and I kept putting it off simply because he’s been playing soccer for three years and at the end of each season he kept asking us to sign him up again.  At the end of last season, he told us he was tired of soccer and wanted to do something new, and asked to start martial arts instead of soccer.  So we signed him up!

As an athlete, I’ve been an “individual sports” kind of guy my whole life.  Maybe it’s fairer to say that I enjoy sports that I compete as an individual in.  Not that I’m not a team player or enjoy the community of team sports, but there’s something about how I’m wired that drew me to cross country running, and in High School, Kenpo karate.  While we encouraged Paul’s participation in soccer, there are all kinds of signs he’s wired the same way I am.  I wasn’t surprised when he grew tired of soccer and was even less surprised when he continued to ask to participate in martial arts.  (He also says he wants to run with me, but I haven’t convinced him to start yet.)

Steph and I are working the life-balance issues with Paul, just as all parents do with their kids.  We have a pretty stable routine that we believe best ensures he continues to do well in school (including getting his homework done in a disciplined manner), but not to squelch time during the week for him to participate in some form of physical activity (sports), and time to just play and fuel his imagination (LEGO, video games, etc.).  He knows school is always the priority, but we want him to have plenty of time to explore the other things that keep a life balanced/full/colorful.  In all these things, he has his circles of friends, and in most cases they overlap, creating a cool, common thread that connects all these major aspects of his life.

I’m pretty sure Paul doesn’t know just how thrilled I am that he’s involved in martial arts.  As I’ve watched him these past couple months, I’m remembering and reliving the thrill, challenges, pain, and excitement of learning and doing new things physically and seeing the tangible achievements (mental and physical focus, balance, confidence, etc.), especially represented by working hard and advancing to the next belt.  This past week, Paul tested for the first time and moved from White Belt to Orange Belt.  He was more nervous than I think I’ve seen him be about anything.  Steph and I worked through it with him as best we could.  Most of the time both of us were at every practice since he joined the school, and one of us was always there.  We were his champions, his encouragers, his cheerleaders when he practiced at home and during lessons.  As with so many things in life though, we can’t do this for him.  When testing time came, he had to take the test and perform the necessary elements in front of other White, Orange and Yellow Belts…and the Black Belts.  Yes, the Chief Instructor has the Black Belts test on the same evening as the junior belts.  The Black Belts were amazing examples for the young martial artists, and the advanced students also championed and cheered the new students as they took these first steps toward earning their own Black Belts.  Even with all the encouragement and practice, several of those testing to advance in the junior belts didn’t pass.  Some of the Black Belts didn’t pass either.  In this they became amazing examples to the lesser experienced athletes.  The parents were well represented at testing too—for the White Belts testing for the first time, all the way up to the Black Belts testing for the next degree!  It warmed my heart to see the amazing turnout by the parents and even other friends, many of whom brought signs and noise-makers to encourage the kids and adult students.

Paul worked through his nervousness and did amazing with his forms (with and without his weapon).  He struggled with board breaking though—the event we knew he was the most nervous about.  Along with several others, on his final attempt he broke his board and the crowd went wild, for Paul and every other athlete who tried so hard!

So, Paul has begun a new adventure in his life:  the practice of martial arts and the pursuit of a Black Belt.  But wait, there’s more.  As I mentioned, I participated in martial arts (over 30 years ago!).  This week I’m going to begin to train again, in a new style and with my son at the same school—Dad and Lad, racing each other toward a Black Belt.  And by racing I mean encouraging each other.  Paul’s excited about this, and so am I.  And since he’s a full training cycle and one belt ahead of me, I’m having fun pointing out that in this this thing we’re doing, he’s beating dad.  He’s already getting used to hearing me say, with a huge grin on my face and a high-five:  “don’t let me catch you, son!”

As always, it’s great to be a dad!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Grand Canyon!

The Grand Canyon really doesn’t need an explanation—the name says it all.  You stand at the edge and look, and it’s self-evident why it’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  A week ago Steph and I, along with her parents, took our son to see the Grand Canyon for the first time.  What an experience.  As we walked up to the rim, his reaction was priceless!

We didn’t descent from the rim during the trip, but you can’t help but admire the views whether it’s your first visit or not.  The scale of the Canyon is almost inconceivable.  One of the best things about the trip itself was the US National Park Service’s “Junior Ranger” program.  When we checked in at the Visitor’s Center, they provided me a book for him with a number of educational requirements that had to be met to earn a Junior Ranger certificate and badge.  Needless to say, Paul was excited as we showed him the book.  Activities were based on the age of the child and broken into categories named after different animals.  For his age, he had to attend at least one presentation by a Ranger, write and draw what he learned from the presentation, and complete four other tasks oriented toward focusing a child his age on aspects of nature and the Canyon itself.  We ended up attending two Ranger presentations.

The first full day we were there Paul selected a presentation about fossils.  At the appointed time, we met with Ranger Mike and took a short walk from the Bright Angel Trailhead to a large fossil bed, probably less than a half mile away.  Along the way we stopped and sat on the rim while Ranger Mike talked about the geologic history of the Canyon and how it formed, the rock types present in the Canyon, and why we’re able to find so many fossils today.  Then everyone was up and walking again and in just a few minutes we were standing in the fossil bed.  Ranger Mike described the five types of fossils we could find, then made it clear to the kids that all of them would find and see an example of all of them.  The parents all seemed just as interested as their kids, but we had a moment of levity when Ranger Mike told the kids, “as our time goes on, if we haven’t seen a particular kind of fossil, you might want to look where the Ranger is standing.”  Kids were excited to know they’d get a hint; parents were happy that our guide wouldn’t let the lesson go too long.  The kids had great eyes though and within about 15 minutes everyone had seen all five fossil types.

At the end, Paul had to answer several questions in his book detailing what he had learned and present it to Ranger Mike to check.  Since Paul had already completed the other tasks, Ranger Mike signed his certificate and presented him his Junior Ranger badge.  Paul was thrilled!

The next day we attended a second presentation on the California Condor with Ranger Ty.  It was as well-done as the fossil class.  We gathered again near the Bright Angel Trailhead at the time of day that the California Condors are known to return to their nests after a day of scavenging.  It was amazing to hear how there were only 22 (or so) of these amazing birds at one point after the population had all but disappeared primarily due to toxins in their food supply.  Through a captive breeding program there are now approximately 400 birds total, spread across several locations, but primarily living in the Grand Canyon.  While they’re still endangered, all the indications are they’re  moving confidently toward eventual removal from the list of endangered species.  Ranger Ty taught the kids (and adults!) how to tell the difference between the California Condor, the Turkey Vulture and the Raven, all three of which are present in the Canyon.  He talked about the history of these birds and used kids to show us just how big they are,standing about four feet tall with a 9-10 foot wing span!  He also explained the breeding and tagging program as well as the role of the Rangers in public outreach to help reduce the toxins that get into the Condor’s food.  Sure enough, while we sat and listened we had the privilege of seeing two California Condors!

To make it all even cooler, just by walking around in and near our campsite, Paul was able to see a make and female Elk, several lizards, squirrels, and a variety of small birds.  He also made friends with a boy with a family camping next to us and ended up putting more miles on his bike in a weekend than he’s put on there the entire rest of the time he’s had a bike.

It was a wonderful weekend of rest, education, and fun for all of us!  I have no doubt Paul will remember his first visit to the Grand Canyon for the rest of his life.

It’s great to be a dad!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Realizing Your Mortality

Readers:  this post covers a heavier issue than usual.  I hope it’s useful to you now or at some point regarding how you may address the issue of mortality with your kid(s) or young people that you might have the opportunity to mentor.  

Early this month my son woke up crying in the middle of the night.  When Steph and I went to his room, he said he dreamt he was “buried in the ground under dirt before it was his time to die.”  He went on to say through his tears, “I don’t want to grow up and die.”  It’s important here to point out this wasn’t a horror movie kind of dream.  He wasn’t buried alive or anything like that.  He said he saw himself as if he was buried after he had died and clearly knew what had happened.

My son turns seven in February.  When I was a child, not much older than he is now, I also became aware of my own mortality.  I can’t recall anything in particular that could have triggered this realization, but I remember there were two related things that struck me heavily at that point in my young life.

First, I realized I was growing older, and as that continued, I would lose interest in the things that I liked to play with and do as a child.  It was obvious to me because I never saw any adults (my parents included) playing with anything I liked to play with or frankly doing anything I thought was fun at that young age.  That made me sad because from my young perspective I had some cool stuff and did some pretty fun things!  Everything about life was an adventure and I never wanted it to end.  But I could see movement toward a time when I wouldn’t enjoy these things.

I think the second revelation was a result of the first. I realized someday I would grow old enough that life as I understood it would end:  I would die.  I think it’s important to say I don’t remember knowing anyone who had died, or even being aware of anyone actually dying, but the simple logic of my young mind allowed me to put the pieces together.  This had a real impact on my life for several years to follow, as I wrestled with what it all meant.  Honestly, outwardly I was a regular kid, but inside I was distracted by my own mortality.

I don’t talk about it often in this blog, but it’s not something I hide either: I’m a Christian and as a result, I hold to the hope hope that when life in this body ends, I don’t simply cease to exist.  I wasn’t brought up this way though, nor did I experience anything akin to a conversion at that young age when I wrestled with the concept of death.  I mention this because as a child in what was practically an unchurched family, my parents didn’t have anything to offer me in the form of an explanation or context—not from a Christian point of view, or any other.  Life was just life.  Apparently you live, and then you die.  End of story.  

I remember at the point the frailty of life gelled in my mind, I was sick with a cold—a cold and nothing more.  But I was sick and as a result, a bit miserable.  In the middle of the night (like my son), and not directly related to being sick, I became aware enough of mortality that I sought the comfort of my parents.  I went into their room and as they comforted me I expressed to them my realization that I would die someday.  Looking back it was a bit of a funny moment, but when I told my mom I knew I was going to die and that it was disturbing me, she responded in an attempt to comfort me by saying, “you’re okay, you’re not going to die, you only have a cold.”  She didn’t understand that I wasn’t talking about having a cold, nor was I worried I’d die from it.  I can’t be critical.  What parent comforting a young child with a cold would ever think the issue at hand was actually the realization that death is a part of life.  I didn’t try to explain my struggle any further, they ultimately calmed me down, and sleep visited me again thanks to a soft back rub and the tiredness associated with the middle of the night.

Thoughts of the reality of my own mortality burdened me though for several years to follow, stealing some of the enjoyment from many of the things that were a part of my life.  It was a nagging preoccupation.  That brings me back to my son.  I remember struggling with the same thing and have worked to encourage his concerns by offering hope that there’s more to life than just life in the bodies he sees.

My son’s struggle with this issue does differ from mine in an important way :  he’s definitely aware of two deaths.  I blogged about losing my dad in August 2012.  My son was old enough to be very aware of what was happening as we visited my dad when he passed away, then during the memorial service in the days to follow, and finally when we interred him at Arlington National Cemetery a few months later in December.  Much less significant, but every bit as much real, we had to put our cat down just before we traveled to Arlington.  My son loved the cat and I’m sure he’ll always consider him his first pet.  

Although these things happened over a year ago, Paul has continued to talk about it regularly.  Not in a bad way, but it’s clear he’s continued to wrestle with mortality, and it seemed to come together in some way when he had his dream.  Since then I’ve worked to encourage him based on my own beliefs, and he seems to be handling it well.  One of the recurring discussions we have when he makes me aware he’s thinking about these things is that while we believe life goes on after our bodies die, it’s okay to be sad when we lose someone here.  It’s okay that we’re sad because we can’t see them like we used to any longer.  It’s also okay that we remember those we love who have preceded us in death.  And as a Christian, we can take comfort in the hope we’ll see our loved ones and friends again some day.  For those reading this who hold an orthodox or reformed Christian view, I’m sure you’re wondering how I’m dealing with the teaching that in death, everyone doesn’t go to Heaven.  I’m doing my best to be careful not to say (or imply) that everyone goes, but I’m also being careful not to lead my son down the path where I shatter any hope.  He’s not ready to have that larger and much more heady discussion just yet.  For now and for him:  all the hope I can offer a child with the stage set for the deeper discussion later.

We often hear the word “closure” associated with the passing of a loved one.  A year later, with all the understanding I can muster after losing dad, I think I’m mostly there.  Not completely, but mostly.  A way I describe where I am in the healing process: the open wound is closed and a scar is forming, but it’s still very tender.  Some days I think my son is farther along than I am; other days I’m convinced he’s not.  I do my best to understand all of this from his young perspective, not to make too much or too little of it all, keep it in perspective, and just be his loving (and living) dad.  My own childhood struggle with the matter of mortality certainly helps me with this.  I know this though:  it’s a privilege to be my son’s dad, and to be by his side as he continues to wrestle with it all.  There aren’t words to explain how special it is to be the man he turns to for explanation and comfort, to share what he’s thinking, and to cry and laugh with about anything and everything.  I get to watch him grow!

It’s great to be a dad!