Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dojo Mojo

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.

On the bright side, here's how Aunt Ellie and Mistah Schlekah and I look in the mirror when we're watching karate:


Anonymous said...

Aw-ah, Jacquie. I love this. So well written and so well-felt.

I love that dojo. Especially Sensei Willy.

(p.s. "My Painful Stories"? LOL all the livelong day.)

Kat said...

Sorry the boy got robbed. I am happy that the girl got the gold though. Girl Power *cough* or something :)

Anonymous said...

Sassy boots, Jacquie, and hey, what happened to Ellie's hair?

Great story; I could picture both of your kiddos so well. Maybe the gold in your girl's room will motivate your boy to practice his form 700 times next time. Or, maybe not.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I just thought of something - Me and You and Ellie was born during one of those dojo movie nights!

Anonymous said...

True dat, Beth. True dat. I was thinking the same thing.

And nothing happened to my hair -- it was pulled back, haphazardly, and falling out, so neither down nor back, and just plain unsightly.

I have photos of you, Jacquie, in that self-same bad out-FIT later that day. We got blind drunk that night too.

Rita said...

I have a lot of opinions on this, naturally. Alex (almost 14) and Katie (9) are both black belts. He got his a year ago August and she got hers this past March, even though they both started at the same time. Katie's State Champ in three divisions. Alex is State Champ in none. Katie loves and competes in XMA. Alex hates every single thing about XMA, except for the uniform, which he thinks is cool, and makes him hate XMA even more because he doesn't get to wear the cool XMA uniform unless he does XMA, which he won't, because he hates it. He's really good at sparring, but Katie hates it, but she has to compete in it because they make the kids do all traditional competition before doing XMA competition (which I agree with). So, she gets her little ass whupped every time in sparring.

First off--Your kids don't compete against each other, and that's a really important thing to drive home. It would be really hard if they felt they were, because maybe everyone in the girl's division sucked and everyone in the boy's division was a little Jackie Chan. She'd go home with tons of medals just for walking through a form, where he'd bust his ass and go home empty handed.

But, here's what we've learned: The more tournaments you go to, the more trophies you get.

The more tournaments you go to, the less important each individual one becomes, and therefore the less important the trophies become.

So, if he's really motivated by the shiny things, then maybe enter him in more tournaments, that way he'll get more of them and they'll become less important.

And, of course the judges really try to be fair, but sometimes it just happens. You should mention to the head instructor the trend you see in that school that the kids who compete later seem to get higher scores, just for him to observe.

If the boy does not have a passion for martial arts (and Alex does not), but his sister does, then that's another life lesson. It's OK to study and perform and progress solidly through something you enjoy but you do not LOVE. It's OK to compromise with yourself, too, to say, "Well, she gets those prizes because she practices, and she practices so much because she fucking loves this and I do not love this, so I won't practice as much... and then maybe I won't get the medals." We don't all have to be superstars at everything we take on, and we can enjoy the things that we don't necessarily excel in, too. Does that make sense? It's kind of a big thing to learn and accept, but I think it's really important. Alex is a sturdy and respectable martial artist, but he does not love it, so he'll never work as hard as Katie, therefore he won't do as well, either.

I know that sounds contradictory to the idea that they're not competing against each other, but it's not, lol. Your boy obviously has other passions, where he'd rather put his whole effort. I'm sure you're OK with that, as long as he puts forth enough effort into the martial arts. But, he needs to be OK with it. That's the tricky part.

And, yay for the girl, that's awesome!

NucMEd is Hot said...

Your kids are extremly lucky to have a mom that not only has them doing these kinds of things, but has the time to worry with such thought about each ones indviual feelings.

You are good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great comments, peeps.

Rita, I was hoping you'd chime in on that one! Thanks for the good reminders, we think alike.

Nucmed? You made my day. And in my head, I call you "McNutmeg". Don't ask me why.