Recently we began letting our students select the topics for our daily “mat chats,” which we discuss for a few minutes each class. We find that this is a great way to ensure that we are addressing topics that are relevant and important to our students. Students may recommend a topic to one of the instructors before or after class.
So far we have had many great ideas, please keep them coming! We are also very open to suggestions from parents! Depending upon the number of suggestions we receive, it may take us several weeks to get to your particular topic, but rest assured that if it is important to you, it is important to us! Thank you for your input!
Theme of the week: Perseverance
Perseverance is our theme of the week. One other relevant word might be “failure.” What is failure?
I don’t know about you, but I can recall times in my life when I have given up way too easily. It was as if I expected to get something right on the first try, and when things didn’t go my way, I would become frustrated, discouraged, and just assume that I wasn’t cut out for whatever it was I attempting.
“…every wrong attempt…is another step forward.” –Thomas Edison
Our goal with this section is to help our students to see “failure” for what it really is, an essential, and even beneficial, step towards their goals and growth.
You see, when I used to give up easily, I think I would just assume that the people who had succeeded where I had failed had merely gotten it right on the first try, or were smarter, more qualified, etc. In reality, the key distinction was probably that they simply did not give up until they had succeeded.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” is an old adage that we have all heard since childhood. However, actually living by this mantra in an entirely different matter, and that is our goal with this course!
“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run,” – Babe Ruth
Last week, logging onto the computer, I saw a headline for a baseball story. Curious, I clicked on the
link. I don’t want to go into too much detail without the express written consent of Major League
Baseball, but the story can easily be found by doing a search for “Cincinnati Bat Boy.” Basically the bat
boy asked a player to hit a home run for him, which the player did. After the game the players were
crediting the bat boy for their win, calling him “good luck,” and stating how great it is to have someone
with his enthusiasm and positive demeanor in the dugout. It was an incredibly powerful story, and
I’ve talked about little else since seeing the video last week. Yesterday my wife finally said to me, “You
know, if you love this story so much, you should find a way to make it the topic of a mat chat.” At first I
laughed, but I think I have figured out a way to relate this story to performance in the martial arts, and
life in general.
The players called this bat boy good luck, because whenever he is their bat boy they play extremely well.
Now, this young man may indeed bring the team good luck, but I have another possible explanation as
to why the team seems to play so well when he is around. You see, the players remarked that this bat
boy brings an amazing energy and excitement to the team, as was evident in the video. He has a great
time, and anyone around him cannot help but have a great time as well.
Professional sports can seem like the most serious things in the world sometimes. Players’ and coaches’
livelihoods depend upon wins and losses, and we routinely see fighting between players and even fans.
Yet, the team in the story seems to be at their best when they are having fun, laughing, and joking
around. I believe that we do our best work when we are enjoying ourselves. Rather than worrying so
much about whether we are making progress, or how many points we are scoring, we can just go out
there and have a great time, and then we WILL succeed.
One form of bullying that our students frequently report encountering is cyber-bullying. I hope that the concept in this article will help readers to deal with all kinds of bullying, but I think it is especially relevant when discussing with cyber-bullying.
Sadly, bullying occurs in many different places, so it is no surprise that it occurs online. There is, however, one major difference: it is generally much easier for one person to bully another over the internet, and the bullying is often much more malicious. Think about it. How much easier is it to type an offensive remark and click send than to actually yell an offensive mark to an actual living, breathing person? I think that for most of us, if (heaven forbid) we felt inclined to insult another person, the former would be much easier.
I once read an article that put this situation in perspective very well. The article basically said that (sadly) the internet can often bring out the worst in people, and for a lot of people one of the primary functions of the internet is to vent and be nasty towards others. The article went on to say that getting upset by such nastiness is akin to walking into a public bathroom, seeing some offensive graffiti on the wall, and taking it personally. If I walk into a bathroom and see that someone has written “To heck with you!” I’m not going to stop and say, “To heck with ME? Why I oughta-“
But isn't that essentially what I am doing if I get upset over something someone has said to me over the internet, or in any bullying situation for that matter? As we discussed last week, bullying is generally not the fault of the person being bullied. The person doing the bullying is just looking to be nasty, and I just happen to be the one standing there.
I’m not saying that cyber bullying is OK, and that we should just accept it. I also don’t want to suggest that bullying isn’t painful for the victim; it is. However, “the bathroom wall graffiti” analogy has really helped me to take things less personally. Things may still get under my skin, but not nearly as much as in the past. When someone is mean to us we can always chalk it up to “Well, maybe they are having a bad day,” or many other possible reasons, but the answer is never, “They are bullying me because there is something wrong with me.”
Last week we began our workshop on bullying by examining one of the first rules to remember when dealing with bullying: when a person is being bullied, it is not that person’s (the victim’s) fault. Of course, if I bully someone, and they bully me back, than I may have brought that bullying on myself, but our students wouldn't bully another person, and I strongly believe that no one deserves to be bullied. There are many reasons why one person may bully another: the person doing the bullying may be having a bad day, going through a rough time, being bullied themselves, they may be jealous of the victim, they may bully as many people as they can, etc.
The point is, that while bullying can be very painful, we hope that to make it less painful by helping students to understand that it doesn't mean that something is wrong with them (if they are being bullied). I feel like this is a message that people need to hear a great deal before they fully believe and internalize it.
Another rule that we have been discussing is that we should always report bullying when we see it, whether we are the victims or observers. Reporting bullying to adults is not tattling; it is our duty. This is another message that we will constantly be repeating to help the students fully grasp the concept.
One of our students proposed the idea of telling a person who is bullying, “I don’t want you to get into trouble, but if you continue I will have to report this. Let’s talk about something else.”
Rather than threatening the person doing the bullying, this student came off sounding like a friend to that person, looking out for them. I thought it was a very clever approach.
We will be discussing more ideas and strategies for dealing with bullying over the next several weeks!
Please note: When I wrote this article about a week ago, I used the word bully to refer to someone who tries to make others feel bad. I have recently tried to stop labeling such people as “bullies,” for a few reasons:
1.) The person can turn around and start treating others better
2.) No one is perfect
3.) (to go along with point 1) I don’t believe a person is branded a bully for life
4.) I feel that calling someone a bully ignores that they are, in fact, a human being, and often in need of a friend.
For clarity I have left the article as I originally wrote it, but please understand that the term “bully” is used loosely here. Happy reading!
Let me start by saying that I used to think that a lot of the recent attention given to bullying was unwarranted. It seems like bullying is all we hear about nowadays, and it has always existed. Nearly all of us have experienced it, and it seemed to me like it should just be accepted as part of life. One day, however, I came across a heartbreaking article on the internet. The article told the story of a 12-year old who was tormented so badly by bullies at school, that in the end he took his own life. What is even more saddening was that at the end of said article were several links to similar stories of bullying with catastrophic results.
I realize now the gravity of these situations. After spending a lot of time thinking and reading about bullying, and talking with students who have been bullied, I’ve asked myself 2 questions:
1.) What is the best way for people to deal with bullying?
2.) How can we best help them to handle bullying if it happens to them?
Perhaps we should also start by listing some goals for dealing with bullying. Unfortunately, I do not believe that we can do a whole lot to prevent our students from being bullied, as we cannot be with them at all times. We can, however, help them to deal with bullying, and to prevent it from damaging their self-esteem. We do not want our students to fight bullying by becoming bullies themselves.
I have thought about this a great deal, and there are few main strategies/points that I feel really help people deal with bullying. This week I want to share one of my favorites: Role-playing.
I believe role-playing is extremely valuable, especially when dealing with the not-so-subtle forms of bullying such as name calling or teasing. The coach (usually a teacher or parent) can play the role of bully, saying things that a bully might say to the child, and together they work on developing an appropriate response.
One thing that we do not do is have the children play the part of the bullies. I have thought about this a great deal, and while I am not sure that it would be harmful to have them play the bullies, I suspect that it could be, for a variety of reasons.
While there are many possible answers, I generally like to respond with some sort of Dangerfield-esque joke, where I am essentially agreeing with the bully but trying to make a joke out of it. For example, if the bully says, “You’re an idiot!” I might respond with, “What are you kidding? I know I’m an idiot, the other day my teacher told me reading was like feeding your mind…so this morning I tried to eat The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” OK so that wasn’t that good, but that is the point. We role-play these situations, discuss what happened, and work towards a response that we are happy with.
Another strategy, which may be appropriate in certain situations, might be to disarm the bully with kindness. For example, if the bully says, “He you, that backpack is hideous!” We might respond with, “Really? I like your backpack, it’s neat.”
The goal with these strategies (making a joke/complimenting the bully) is to respond in a way that does not exacerbate the situation, and allows both parties to walk away with their dignity intact.
Over the next several weeks, we will be exploring more strategies for dealing with bullying, since, as we always say, no one strategy works all the time. OSSSS!
What does a Black Belt mean? Ask 10 martial arts instructors and you’re bound to get 10 different answers. A better question might be, “What does a Black Belt mean to you?” I don’t think that there is an objective, universal answer, so I challenge you to ponder this question for yourself.
It might help to start by thinking about what a Black Belt is not. In my opinion, a Black Belt does not necessarily mean that person is the toughest person around, and someone who abuses their body with drugs or an unhealthy lifestyle is certainly not practicing Black Belt excellence. They may have a belt around their waist that happens to be black, but until they make the adjustments and work to get back on track they are not truly a Black Belt. I believe that such a person could become a Black Belt once more, but again, these are my beliefs, and I challenge you to think about this for yourself.
I wish that I could tell you that once you become a Black Belt life is perfect and all your worries are over! However, that is not the case, and actually I am glad it isn’t; how boring would life be without any challenges? In many ways, life may actually be harder for a Black Belt, since they weigh the impact of all of their actions. They would not allow themselves to overindulge in their favorite food or video game, but instead strive to make each day productive.
While the Black Belt lifestyle may present as many (if not more) challenges than the average lifestyle, the Black Belt is well equipped to deal with such challenges when they do occur. The Black Belt has learned that with hard work and persistence they can overcome obstacles and achieve goals.
As an instructor, I believe one of the most important aspects of teaching is challenging our students to think about the impact of their actions. I want them asking questions like, “Should I eat this, or that?” “No one saw me break the lamp, should I blame it on the dog? Why or why not?” “There is a student at school sitting alone at the lunch table, should I ask him or her to join us? Why?”
The Black Belt does not wander through life being led solely by base desire and instinct. The Black Belt constantly asks him or herself how his or her actions will affect their own lives, as well as those of others.
I look at our students and see the epitome of what a Black Belt means to me. Our Black Belts that are working toward their Second Degree Black Belts exemplify the characteristics I’ve mentioned above in their words and deeds. Even many of our students that are working towards their first Black Belt are already demonstrating Black Belt excellence in their techniques and interactions with others. Of course, each one is different, but each one now sees life through “Black Belt eyes,” with a deep belief in their own ability to achieve their goals.
_Dear students and parents,
Our topic for last week's mat chats was the first part of the student creed. Student creed number one is a promise on the part of the student to always take care of their body and mind, living a healthy "Black Belt" lifestyle.
Our students gave many examples of what they felt were important components of a healthy lifestyle, such as proper diet, exercise, and reading. We also heard many great ideas regarding things that might prevent us from achieving our full potential. Students mentioned that things such as television, video games, and junk food, while not necessarily bad, can be harmful if they are not kept in check. The word addiction came up on more than one occasion. Several students offered numbers and limits regarding appropriate amounts of time for TV watching and video game playing. I don't know if there is a precise amount that is OK or too much, but I do think it can be beneficial for parents and children to sit down and discuss certain guidelines when it comes to these activities.
_The focus of our mat chats was not really on whether TV and video games directly harm our minds, since I believe that topic is open to much debate. Rather, we discussed how problems arise when over-indulgence in such activities prevents us from devoting appropriate time to activities such as homework, reading, family time, and martial arts training. A good question to ask might be, "Is this getting in the way of something more important?" Or "If I weren't playing this game, what would I be doing?"
Of course, a certain amount of relaxation and recreation is an important part of the the Black Belt lifestyle. A Black Belt may certainly play video games, but rather than playing for 2 hours and then attempting to get their homework done, they might finish their homework, practice their martial arts techniques, and then enjoy a video game for a while, then read a book before bed.
Oftentimes, all of this is much easier said than done, since our actions are guided more by what we feel like doing than what we think we SHOULD do. Addictions to games and junk food can be extremely hard to break. Most people have probably struggled with some sort of addiction in their lifetime, and some can be extremely serious, so I think that it is extremely important that we teach our younger students how to deal with these situations now. Today it is junk food, tomorrow it might be alcohol.
When thinking of breaking unhealthy addictions, the words of the famous theologian Erasmus come to mind: "A nail is driven out by another nail." In other words, rather than simply trying to break an unhealthy habit in our or our children's lifestyles, we can help to cultivate good habits. We can replace a harmful addiction with a positive "addiction." Perhaps a child who won't stop playing video games would put the controller down if they discovered the joy of playing the piano. Maybe a youngster who watches 4 hours of TV a day now would, if given a taste of the martial arts, choose to practice martial arts each day, and read martial arts books instead of watching so much TV.
I've never heard a parent complain that their child reads too much, or practices the violin too much, or is too passionate about the martial arts. I've heard people preach, "Everything in moderation," but to me, I think that is great advice if a person's goal is to lead a mediocre life.
This same strategy can be used for developing healthy eating habits. I know former chocolate addicts that now crave vegetables. How can we help our children to make these changes? The answer is simple- martial arts.
In this day and age, many people place great importance on their progress or performance in a certain video game. One of the great things about the martial arts are that they help to culitvate a focus on one's progress on an actual important skill ("in real life," so to speak). With our stripe-system, students have a tangible sign of their progress each and every class. This, coupled, with the feeling of progress as their techniques improve, explains why so many students stick with the martial arts, achieving advanced levels such as Brown and Black Belt. Speaking of which I am very excited that right now we have a large number of Red and Dark Brown Belts, that are already showing Black Belt excellence in their techniques and behavior. Many of our up and coming belts have also shown great enthusiasm and progress, and we look forward to watching them achieve their Black Belts one day as well.