We spent much of last weekend at the dojo.
Friday was movie night. Every few months, the kind Senseis reward us with movie night, which coincidentally falls right after the humiliation of parent workout. Movie night is great, you drop off the kids at 6:30 armed with pillows and raw, palpable energy. They eat pizza, watch a movie, and whack the shit out of each other in what they call a “pillow encounter”. We pick them up at 9:30, happy and spent.
Sunday was the in-house tournament. I always give my kids a choice about whether or not they want to participate in tournaments, there is no pressure either way, but if they commit to it they don’t get to complain about it. I encourage them to practice their forms, but also remind them that there is no losing in a tournament, if they go out there and try hard and look sharp, they should be proud of themselves.
The problem is that being proud of yourself sometimes takes a back seat to the prospect of a big shiny medal. Those medals can be tricky. Ever since that one time when my boy was in a group of 7 kids and 6 trophies were awarded, he has come to associate tournament success with the extrinsic reward potential. You might imagine that he is up till the wee hours of the night practicing with a focus rivaled by Daniel LaRusso, but you’d be wrong. A big part of my boy feels that he deserves the rewards just for being the ray of sunshine that he is upon this planet. He’s pretty busy; it’s hard to squeeze in the practice. He is writing another autobiography, this one is called “My Painful Stories.” I wonder if he’ll get past the intricate cover art this time…. But I digress. The tournament.
I have two children, one of each flavor. The boy is older by 28 months. He started karate during Kindergarten, and is now sporting a brown belt. My girl has been watching karate classes for the duration, and this year she started attending as well. She’s up to an orange belt, and she’s on fire. She is no Macchio either, but she did practice her form about 700 times on the morning of the tournament. To his credit, her brother was the one to show it to her and offer lots of tips and corrections on technique. He ran through his about a dozen times, and he did look sharp. Off we went.
In the car, they talked about the order they hoped to get. They agreed that they wanted to go first and get it over with, but also discussed how the scores usually get higher with each kid. My boy’s belt level was scheduled first, and the kids were grouped by age. There were 4 nine year olds, and mine was called up first. He did great; he snapped his 24 motions and never faltered. When I saw his scores, I thought “uh oh”. The other boys did fine, none really stood out, there were even a few errors, but as expected, the scores crept higher each time. My boy got the bronze. He wuz robbed.
He got another bronze in sparring, which was accurate and he knew it. He did have his first chance to practice head contact though, and you should have seen the grin he threw me after making first contact with the skull of his opponent. Remind me to worry about this later.
It took forever for my girl to get up there; we were all bored silly by the time the orange belts were called to the mat. She was in a group of 6, the only girl. She went last. She had watched the others start too close to the judges and wind up nearly punching their faces on the last motion, so she stepped back and bowed deeply before she began. She had practiced sounding off with her brother; no one else in her group had done so without prompting. She threw each of her 45 pounds and 45 inches into her eight motions, and she was great! Naturally, she got the gold.
She totally deserved it. So why was I wishing she’d get the bronze? Because she doesn’t care about the medal, she loved the whole thing – just being up there and doing well was reward enough for her. But which comes first? Does my boy need the external reward because he doesn’t feel it inside, or does he not feel the reward inside because he keeps getting the message that when it comes to the shiny prizes, he’s never quite good enough?
We love their dojo, they are great with the kids and really help them develop strength in ways that go beyond muscle mass. The Senseis are young and dedicated. They command respect, which they give as well as receive. The twice weekly workouts include public speaking, “bully busters”, character education, and of course traditional forms in karate and sparring. After the trophy fiasco, the big honcho talked to my boy and commiserated that it really was not fair, but this would only make him stronger and he hoped that my boy would continue to compete and do his best, and he has. He keeps going back for more, and I am very proud of him for that. I know that this is an important lesson, that life is full of hard knocks and kids need to learn to handle defeat and failure. It would be easier to stomach if there were a lucky break thrown in every once in a while. Just for my boy.