Watching my son receive his advanced brown belt in martial arts last night, a thought flashed through my mind. If schools are to prepare students to be "career and college ready," what would be the equivalent goal for martial arts? Tournament and street-fight ready?
Perhaps that is the goal for some. An incident during last night's ceremony, however, brought home the fact that really it serves a much higher purpose.
Before receiving their new belt, students demonstrate the skills they have been working on during the last cycle, and then they get to break a board. That's always the flashy, exciting part of the event. Only last night, my son had difficulty breaking his board. He was trying to use a new kick he had learned, and he just couldn't quite get it so that the necessary force was there. He tried and tried and tried, and yet he still couldn't get it. He finally sank to the mat, crying in frustration. I held my breath, silently offering words of encouragement, willing him to get back up and try again. His instructor gave suggestions to help him, but Jack just sat there with a foot that was hurting from his repeated efforts and a pride that was drowning in defeat. It could have ended there.
But it didn't.
Calling on a strength and determination that perhaps even he did not know he possessed, Jack rose to his feet and tried again. I don't know how many times he kicked that board before he finally met with success. All I know is in all my life I have never been so happy to hear the crack of a board and the explosion of applause that followed.
I don't know how great Jack will ever be at martial arts. A lot of it is hard for him, and his moves never seem to develop to the level of mastery that one might expect. He has experienced a lot of frustration over the years because much of it doesn't come easy for him. He is angry that his brother, who started at the same time he did, is one stripe ahead of him because a while back Jack didn't pass a test and Jared did. There are times he says he sucks at it, and he seems to be on the verge of giving up. But when I ask him if he wants to quit, he always says no. (Of course, that is the answer I am hoping I will hear.) A large part of the reason he continues has to do with his instructor, who is always positive and encouraging. But even more importantly, I believe his experiences in martial arts over the last few years have taught him to persevere even in the face of disappointment and discouragement.
So, no, I don't think Jack will ever be tournament or street-fight ready. Does that mean Jack has failed? His instructor has failed? Not at all. The experiences of the last three years have been preparing him for something even more important. They have been preparing him for life.