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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Up and Over the Black Belt Wall!

Lisa's son performing his personal Black Belt form
I recently wrote about Jennifer's daughter and my two children's Tae Kwon Do Black Belt journey in a post entitled The Black Belt Wall.  All three children faced their own individual courage challenges over the four years of study required to attain their Black Belts.  Over the course of the final two days of testing, a couple of weeks ago, each Black Belt candidate was required to perform approximately ten different belt forms (a set series of jumps, kicks, chops, and other martial arts moves), a lengthy work-out, 100+ sit-ups, 100+ push-ups, 500-1,000 jump ropes, a 15-minute run, several sparring matches, their own personal form performed for all attendees, and finally to read a personal essay about their individual journey to becoming a Black Belt.  I'm happy to report that each of them successfully completed their test and were subsequently awarded crisp new Black Belts embroidered with their names!  It was truly inspiring to be witness to such a motivated, talented group of young people, ages 9-16, each achieving a long-cherished and hard-won goal. 

As parents, we provided the gas, transportation, monthly school fees, and the "You can do it!" motivation (when needed).  It was our kids, however, working under their martial arts instructors' mentorship, who had to show up for each class, dig deep in moments of fear or boredom, and have the emotional, intellectual, social, and physical courage to stick with a sport that is learned one move at a time.  Like in the classic movie Karate Kid (1984) when young Daniel is asked to help Karate Master Mr. Miyagi, one paint brush stroke at a time (instead of getting his much-desired and expected martial arts instruction), our kids not only had to develop trust in their instructors and themselves, they had to develop the kind of patience with the process that is in short supply in our instant gratification culture.  The courage development associated with this kind of time-honored teacher-student relationship and the courage challenges involved:  priceless!  Jennifer wrote a great post about this recently, too, in Wait for it...Wait for it!  

After passing their Black Belt exam, I asked each of our children what they learned about courage during this process.  I'm a big believer in asking children to interpret and articulate their own learning or life experiences before projecting our own adult meaning-making.  Of course, as a parent it's hard not to be hopeful about some of the take-away messages we'd like them to learn.  More often than not though, I'm humbled, often surprised, and almost always inspired (as both a parent and child/family therapist) by what children understand from what happens to them in life.  My own kids are awesome sources of wisdom in my life, and when I'm stuck problem-solving sometimes they offer some of the best advice I've ever received!  When I was stressed out not long ago, my daughter's advice: "You need to have more fun! Like eat more ice cream or find something funny to watch. That usually works for me."  When I was feeling stuck in how to best work with a colleague with a much different personality than mine, my son's advice: "Well, you both seem to really like to be right.  So, instead of competing with each other, you should try working together like yin and yang.  You are like the color blue, and she is like the color red.  It's not good if red tries to take over blue.  You are both your own colors, but if you can mix together as your own unique colors, the coolest shade of purple might be possible."  Ah-hah moments, indeed!

So, I figured, I don't have a Black Belt, I don't know what it takes to have that kind of courage, but now I know three people that do! They've proven that they are not quitters but climbers in life (read my post Quitters, Campers, and Climbers: Which One Are You? to learn more about these types).  All climbers have a view from the top that the rest of us, in my opinion, could benefit from glimpsing.  We can't know the courage we are truly capable of until we climb our own metaphorical Mt. Everest(s) in life, but those ahead of us on the path can always help offer us some guidance and practical tips.  So, here are our kids' advice from atop Mt. Black Belt: 

"I learned that courage is knowing that being scared is not a good enough reason to quit." Lisa's 11-year old daughter.

"I learned that being courageous is sometimes nerve-wracking, especially when you have to do your best in front of other people. But I've learned that it is the thinking you're scared before doing something, that is scarier than actually doing the thing.  If you just focus on being in the moment, being 'in the zone', and believe in yourself instead of worrying about whether or not you are going to place your foot in the wrong place, you will be okay." Jennifer's 12-year old daughter.

"The most important thing about having courage is to make a commitment.  Once you've made the commitment to complete something like your Black Belt, it is easy after that to do something you are afraid of doing." Lisa's 14-year old son. 
Lisa and Jennifer's daughters at the end of their Black Belt test
Dr. Lisa’s Parent Coaching Tip:
Ask your child if there is something that he/she has achieved that they believe required them to have courage.  Ask them: "What did you learn about courage?"  Is there something they want to achieve that will surely take courage?  What type of courage will it take?  Check out our Six Types of Courage for some help defining what type of courage may be needed. 

The next time you are stuck solving some parenting problem, like your child wants to quit something he/she just started, or he/she is having conflict with a friend, or he/she just can't get seem to get up and ready in the morning, ask your child: “What is your idea about how we are going to solve this problem?”  You can tell them you have some ideas, but that you value their opinion and believe it is part of their responsibility, too, to help solve this problem.  Depending on your child's age, of course, you could ask them, “If we suddenly woke up tomorrow morning and we'd switched roles, you are now the parent and I am your child, and we still have this problem, what would you suggest we do?”

We'd love you to share some of your conversations about courage with your children in our COMMENTS section! 
Blessings on the journey! 


  1. Your son is still very young and yet he's so good he's black belter already. I wish my son would do the same. He's currently having a gymnastics for toddlers and I think that's a head start.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment Maia! My kids didn't start TKD until they were 7 and 10...I'm amazed when I see "little ninjas" (as they are called) at ages 3 and 4 on the mats. We started with tumbling and gymnastics classes, but always the focus has been on fun and fitness! Helping our kids find their passions (which will hold them in good stead through adolescence) is what is important, and sometimes that takes exposing them to lots of different sports or creative activities. Keep tumbling!