Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Learning From Failure

One of the challenges of parenting is finding ways to safely let your child fail at something so that they learn, grow and improve from it.  When you and your child are surrounded by like-minded friends, those inevitable moments of failure can become wonderful experiences.

In April, all three of us tested for our next belts at our Victory Martial Arts school.  We each tested on different nights:  three nights and three tests, followed by a fourth night where we’d all stand together and tie on our new belts as a family.  Steph tested on Monday and passed, I tested Tuesday and passed, and our son tested on Wednesday.  He didn’t pass.  

He wasn’t alone, as several others failed as well.  Not to diminish what we were doing, testing this time was difficult for all of us.  Steph was working hard to gain and maintain the necessary skills while guarding against re-injuring her knee.  Training to pass her test while in the middle of physical therapy was a challenge.  Her perseverance showed though and she did fine in spite of some real difficulty and pain.  For Paul and I, this was our first training cycle and test as advanced students.  The standard required to be allowed to test is higher, and what’s required to pass the test is also more difficult.

At the end of the evening, our school’s director was fantastic with the kids who failed.  He took time to explain the role that failure plays in life.  It was a great teaching moment.  The kids who didn’t know how to learn from a failure had a glimpse within a very safe environment, how they could apply this experience and continue to grow toward success.  It was very special to see how the instructors and the parents came together to celebrate those who passed, and solidly encourage and support those who didn’t at the same time.  Let me be frank:  this is not a program that finds a reason for everyone to pass.  Everyone doesn’t get a new belt.  If you don’t meet the standard, you have the opportunity to train hard and try again next time.

What made this experience special was that while the kids who didn’t pass were still disappointed, they learned several important things:

First, they can and should be responsible for working to improve themselves for the next time, so they can try again.  Good instruction is provided, but as we know, that’s not all it takes.  Many of these kids knew as they were testing that they didn’t meet the standard to pass.  Some also felt that something outside of their control caused them to fail.  As adults and parents I trust we all know that this is how it is in life.  Sometimes you don’t prepare well enough.  Other times things happen that you don’t or can’t anticipate or control, and these things frustrate your best intentions and desires.  Even so, you can be the victim and blame everyone else, or you can work to overcome the obstacle.  Paul and so many others that night set out immediately to do better and not succumb to the temptation to blame someone or something else.  They strive to improve and perfect the things they can so that when the challenge comes, they’re best prepared to succeed…to win.

Second, there are journeys in life that are just as important as the intended goal at the end.  Running is one of those journeys.  The practice of martial arts is another.  Getting your next belt is always the goal.  Getting a black belt is certainly a goal that many view at THE goal, but working toward the black belt is where most of the learning happens.  Once you earn your black, there are additional degrees of progression.  The journey can end, but it can also continue beyond just earning a belt.  Even if you physically hit a point where the next belt is out of reach, the journey doesn’t have to stop.  The fit lifestyle and the challenges to maintain your health to the best of your ability can certainly continue.  Giving the benefit of your experiences, your wisdom, can (and should) continue as you help those who are at an earlier point in their journeys, or are struggling through something for the first time that you’ve dealt with many times before.  I believe the journey is really the adventure and the goal.  In the case of martial arts, the belts represent signposts or reminders from special points along the way.

Third, there’s still joy to be found in celebrating the successes of your friends and family.  Paul was clearly disappointed but he perked up quickly and continued to cheer for his friends.  At the end, he found as many friends as he could who passed and told them “good job”, gave high-fives and hugs.  As things calmed down though, some of his sadness returned and Steph and I had the pleasure to see him do something that many adults probably wouldn’t have.  He stepped outside with one of his best friends who also failed the test, sat on the curb, and these two amazing boys shed tears together as they comforted and encouraged one another.

What made this most special  for Steph and I was the Belting Ceremony.  Paul sat with us on the floor and participated as Steph and I tied our new belts on, even though he wasn’t receiving one himself.  He stood there with us, and each of us held an end and pulled together.  He told us several times he would never want to miss being there to celebrate with us and help us tie our belts on.  What a wonderful perspective coming from such a young man.

In the end, our son is learning how to deal with adversity and failure in a very safe and controlled environment.  With good instruction, support and encouragement from his family and friends, mixed with his own developing perseverance, he’ll continue down this path.  He’ll be a better martial artist for it.  I think as he applies what he’s learning to the rest of this life, he’ll be a better man.  By the way, watching him do things I’ve never did at his age makes me a better man too.  I’m so proud of my son!

That was in April.  Now it’s October.  We’ve tested twice since then, and next week is the next testing cycle.  So much has happened.  I’ll tell you the rest of the story in my next post.

 It’s great to be a dad!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Family Affair

As many of you know, Paul has been taking Tae Kwon Do for eight months now, and I’ve been training with him for the last six months.  Two months ago, Steph also joined us, making the practice of martial arts a family affair for us. 

Steph’s commitment has been amazing, especially since the beginning of her journey hasn’t been easy.  With bad hips and a bad knee, she found herself unintentionally on the floor several times, but she maintained her “yes I can” attitude and continued to train with the support and expert advice of her physical therapist.  Two months after she began, all three of us went through testing last week to advance in rank.

I need to mention the instructors and staff at Victory Martial Arts - Summerlin.  Without them, this journey toward black belt wouldn’t be possible for Steph or I.  Our son is young and strong, and like most kids, he’ll try anything with a little encouragement.  His mind is sharp and his body is able.  Training is to do something new is always challenging, but his body adapts and grows stronger.  Steph and I “enjoy” all the challenges of middle age, along with a few additional permanent bumps and bruises that always try to assert themselves.  The instructors at Victory Summerlin willingly accommodate us, always adjusting the training to allow older bodies the chance to grow strong and more able.  Somehow they do this without making things easier or cutting things out that others are expected to do.  Then when testing comes, we find ourselves accepting the challenge to do the forms and break the boards just like the young men and women!  Mr. DeSmith, Mr. Guerrero, Mr. Scott, Mrs. Garretson and Miss Bivens:  you inspire us, you keep us motivated, you train us hard, and because of you, we succeed.

Our instructors are like family, but there are others in our Victory family too.  Paul has a wonderful circle of friends he trains with:  some ahead of him in the program, some at the same level, and some coming up behind him.  These young men and women are amazing, and it’s a pleasure to watch them all grow together.  He also goes to school and church with some of these kids, making this circle of friends a part of his whole life.  The same is true for Steph and I as we’ve become close with several of the parents, many of whom have also joined their kids on the training mat (and adding to the ranks of what several of us at Victory, with tongue in cheek, call the “Senior Division”).  We struggle and sweat together in training, encourage each other and our kids, and love it when we find ourselves doing things we weren’t sure we could.  Then we socialize and celebrate together.  There are too many to call out here, but we love each and every one of you!

So the recent testing week was special for us.  After all three of us successfully tested, we sat together as a family and were called up to receive our new belts.  Then we stood in a circle of three, with a hand on the ends of each other’s belts, and at the appropriate time, we all pulled and tied our new belts on together as a family.

The journey continues now as Steph works toward replacing her orange belt with yellow, and Paul and I do the same, hoping to replace our cammo belts with green.  Yes we can!

It’s great to be a dad!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Busy with Belts

October through December were fun and full months for Paul and I!  Paul competed in his first tournament and both of us tested twice to advance to our next belts:  Paul went from orange to yellow and then cammo (recommended), and I went from white to orange, then to yellow.

The Las Vegas Inter-school Tournament

All four Victory Martial Arts schools in the Las Vegas valley came together for a city-wide tournament on October 18th.  With approximately 300 participants and four rings, it was a crowded blast!  Right after the tournament was announced, we asked Paul if he wanted to participate and with his nod of approval, we signed him up for two events:  traditional forms and traditional weapons, knowing these were two events he could perform well in, even if he was nervous.  The goal was for him to do something new, and build his confidence and self-esteem while having fun.  The morning of the tournament Paul went through an anticipated round of nerves, and we had to remind him we expected him to do what he committed to do.  Once he realized he wasn’t allowed to just back out, he began to relax.  Then after a few of his friends arrived, he shook off the nerves, found his confidence and was ready to compete.

Since this was his first tournament, everything about it was new.  Paul had to line up with the other beginner kids he was grouped to compete with (and without Steph and I).  This refueled a few nerves but by that point his enthusiasm and confidence was in control.  As his line walked in, they announced them and directed them to their ring.  Steph, her parents and I had seats at Paul’s ring and the competition began.

He performed his empty handed form as well as he’s ever done it, and made us proud. He did a great job entering and leaving the mat, and showed all the proper respect to the judges.  After completing his form, he sat and cheered for his friends, then prepared to do his traditional weapons form with the Jahng Bong (Bo Staff).  Even though it wasn’t the weapon he was currently training with, Paul chose to use it because he was already comfortable with the form and most other competitors would probably be using the current weapon (the baton-like Bahng Mahng Ee), allowing him to stand out a bit.  As it turned out, he was the only one in his group using the Jahng Bong and he stood out in a good way.

The first real surprise came when the first in his group was called up to perform with her weapon.  Like Paul, she was prepared to perform a trained set of moves (a traditional form).  When she was ready, the center judge told her, “you have 30 seconds…begin!”  She completed her form comfortably in 10-15 seconds and waited at the end for the next command from the judge, only to hear him say, “you still have 15 seconds…keep going!”  It was clear at this point that whatever the kids were going to do, they had to fill the time (or the remaining time) with a creative weapons performance.  It was a surprise for parents and kids alike, but  she didn't miss a beat and finished strong.  I looked at Paul to see if the change was going to trouble him, but he remained excited and confident—I honestly wasn’t sure if he didn’t realize there was a change, or was confident enough not to be bothered by it.  Steph and I had no idea what he would do once he took the mat.  He could perform his traditional form a couple times, traditional form once, then some creative moves, or just wing the whole thing and perform creatively for 30 second.  He did the latter and it looked like it was his plan all along, and his score for this was higher than his empty-handed form!

At this point, he was done with his events and could relax, continue to cheer for his friends and enjoy the rest of the day.  The next event that followed was board breaking and before we knew it, Paul was signaling us and silently mouthing, “I want to break boards!”  So much for the earlier nerves and a lack of confidence!  Since we didn’t register him for board breaking, he wasn’t able to perform, but I suspect he will during the next tournament!  Sometime about mid afternoon, we headed home and that evening he slept like a rock.

Belt Testing and Ceremonies

On October 21st I tested for the opportunity to move from white to orange.  It was an exciting time for me after training for two months.  As mentioned in an earlier post, resuming martial arts training after over 30 years is exciting and quite a challenge.  The mind remembers, but a 50 year old body doesn’t behave quite like the mind may want it to.  The training is challenging and fun and this is a deliberate first step in my own journey toward black belt—a chance to finish what I started so long ago.  I passed my test and what made it most special was having Steph and Paul there cheering me on, and Paul holding up a totally cool sign he made to motivate me.

Two days later it was Paul’s turn.  Steph, her parents and I were there to cheer him on.  With a sign we made for him, and a cowbell to make some noise, we watched our young man approach the challenge as a totally different guy than two months prior when he tested for his orange belt.  With several more months of training under his belt, being selected for the Leadership Program, and being bolstered by the experience of the tournament, he was completely confident.  (When he tested for orange belt, it was quite an effort to keep him calm and cut through his worry.)  He tested very well and passed without any issues.  We’re definitely proud that he’s continuing to advance and enjoy martial arts, but we’re most proud of him for the incredible amount of confidence he’s gained since he began.

The Belting Ceremony (Graduation) was fun and well done as always.  With the school decorated and students in clean, white uniforms, Paul and I were called up at the appropriate times to receive our belts.  Then family members were allowed to join the students on the floor to help remove the old belts and tie on the new.  Stephanie joined Paul and I and with our new belts loosely tied around our waists, Paul and I held one end of each other’s belts and Steph held the other two ends.  When the time came, we all pulled and tightened the new belts!  With the ceremony over, the celebration continued with food and music.

Then in December after another training period it came time to test again.  Paul worked hard toward his cammo belt and I did the same to advance to yellow and we both passed again!  Due to travel I was unable to test with the group I was supposed to , but consistent with our school’s emphasis on family, I was able to test with Paul the evening I returned from my trip.  It made an already special event even more special for the both of us.  Earning cammo, is significant for Paul as it moves him from beginner ranks to advanced.  At this point the learning, rigor and expectations increase for him individually as well as his involvement as a leadership student ratchets up as he starts helping the school’s instructors with the kids’ beginners class.  As for me, I continue to remind him I’m racing him to black belt!

Steph and I owe genuine thanks to our martial arts instructors, Mr. DeSmith, Mr. Guerrero and Mr. Daos.  These three men and our fantastic Program Directors (Mrs. Garretson along with Miss Bivins— both also black belts!) do a great job, as does the rest of the Victory Summerlin team of leadership students and black belts who are always there helping the beginners.  It’s a gift to be able to push kids and adults to their limits in a way that provides an important part of what they need for success in martial arts and in life, while keeping it fun at the same time.  As a footnote, we learned that Mr. Daos was selected to travel and perform with the Marvel Universe Live.  (Now we can say we know Spiderman!)  We’re sad to see him leave so soon, but in his place we gained another awesome instructor, Mr. Scott.  As a family we’ve all already benefitted from his expertise as he moved right in and started instructing as if he’d been there all along.

Steph and I look forward to watching our son continue to grow in the best of ways physically, mentally and emotionally.  Adding martial arts, and specifically the Victory Martial Arts’ program under the American Taekwondo Association, into his life alongside his academic education is truly preparing him for the years to come.  And speaking of Steph, she’s joined us in our journey and is training now as well.  We all test for our next belts in February: came (decided) for Paul, came for me, and orange for Steph.  Victory Martial Arts has truly become a family affair for us!

It’s great to be a dad!