First it was a stripe, then it was three. Last week I watched my son earn his yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do and I learned more than I could have imagined.
Beneath The Surface is peeling back the layers of this onion we call sports.
It’s been almost three months since my son started Tae Kwon Do. My wife and I were certain he’d into some form of martial arts since the day he fell in love with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but we didn’t really understand the process.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article about how he’d gotten his first stripe on his white belt, the first belt in Tae Kwon Do. The moment he came home with the stripe I was reminded what it meant to be a proud parent. I was reminded what it meant to look at your child and truly understand how joy manifested itself in children.
Now, three months after he got his first stripe, he’s sporting a yellow belt. The second stage in his long journey to becoming a black belt in his art. My wife and I sat on the cushy mat spread all over the floor of the dojo and leaned against the wall as our little martial artist warmed his muscles.
The room was lined with other parents like us, some with children seeking an orange or green belt, and some seeking a yellow belt along with our son. There was a hushed chatter along the walls as parents pointed and smiled, a select few giving their children cold stares because they were playing instead focusing.
As the master took his place at the front of the room, he calmed the children with one command. A command in Korean, which after many trips to my son’s events, I still cannot make out. I’ve even asked him for an explanation, and I can’t seem to grasp it. But the kids respond.
One by one they snapped to attention and let out a stern yell, bowed respectfully, and replied, “I’m ready, Sir!” My son, calling someone, Sir? It was awesome.
My son, Corbin, was in the second group to test for his belt. He was also alone in front of the group of well over 60 people. A larger crowd than he’d never been in front of for anything in his life. Though, if he was nervous, he didn’t show it. I’m proud of that fact equally as much as I am of how he performed his moves. You see, Corbin has a tendency to be shy around adults and in large groups of people with whom he’s not familiar, but that day, he was like a rock.
Master Jeon gave him orders, and without fail, Corbin executed. There were mistakes, sure, but with each mistake he realized it and corrected himself immediately. Showing that he’d understood what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, and how to fix it. That simple act is the circle of experience. It’s how we learn wrapped up in two minutes of action.
Corbin may not realize it for many years to come, but while he was testing for his yellow belt, he displayed the resilience he will need to make it in this world. He was given a task, accentuated with a goal at the end of it, and he worked to reach the goal. Not by doing everything perfectly, but by avoiding the same mistake twice. By listening carefully, being in the moment (which is hard for a six-year-old), and doing what he had been trained to do.
My wife and I both took videos of Corbin’s test that day, we also took pictures of Master Jeon tying on his yellow belt, him smiling from ear to ear, and the entire group of kids who tested the same day. When Corbin earned his stripe, I was proud, but when he earned his yellow belt, I saw the potential he possessed.
Maybe he doesn’t stick with it until he gets his black belt, and if he decides not too, that’s fine with me. As long as he’s doing it for a good reason and isn’t just being lazy. But regardless of whether he earns his black belt or not, he learned something valuable that day. He learned what it means to be a man in this world. To be a woman in this world. To be anybody living in this world where mistakes are inevitable, and you either learn or you spend your whole life standing still.
I’m confident in my son that he will not spend life standing still.
Photo: Flickr/Dennis Brekke