These days I’ve adopted a new approach. Our martial arts program is not about changing who a person is; it is about working with who they are.
In my early days, as I mentioned, I thought the goal was to change people. Of course the martial arts should help a person learn and grow to lead happy, fulfilling lives. However, there are many aspects of our personalities that I believe are difficult, if not impossible to change. My earlier attempts to change people, and myself, showed a lack of appreciation and understanding for the different things that can contribute to who we are: genetics, early childhood experiences, etc. It also ignores the fact that behaviors that may seem undesirable can actually represent an underlying trait that can be a blessing if guided properly.
Think of each one of us as a sailboat. The wind is all of the things that contribute to who we are fundamentally. It is out of our control. We can use the rudder to steer the boat, but if we try to paddle in the opposite direction, we will be fighting the wind, and we are unlikely to make much progress.
Children who we consider to be shy are often times very thoughtful, capable of making a few very close friends. Those who seem “negative,” can also be very successful, as they may be very realistic, wisely cautious, and detect problems earlier on. I might coach such a person to start each day by listing all of the things they are thankful for, but I would not try to change them, as there is nothing wrong with them.
Early on in my teaching career, while I may never have come out and told a student, “Stop being so shy/hyper/negative/etc!” I believe they detected the underlying message: That something was wrong with them and needed to be fixed. I did the same thing to myself. I would beat myself up wondering, “Why can’t I be more outgoing? Why am I this way?” Now, when observing behaviors in myself and others, I ask myself, “How is this a good thing?” and even if the behavior is undesirable, I can ask myself, “Does this represent an underlying trait that is actually positive?” Some behaviors, such as lying, may be regarded as immoral and undesirable, but perhaps a child who is having trouble telling the truth can find a positive outlet to their creativity, such as art or writing, while at the same time learning the importance of honesty.
I think of it as helping or guiding children, rather than changing them; respecting them as individuals. I would like to leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Thanks for reading.