A defining moment of falling short
I've never been as proud of him, though, as I was this week when he failed, admitted his responsibility and vowed to do better.
"Mommy, I didn't get my stripe," he said glumly after karate class Wednesday. His head was dipped low, and tiny tears were at the corners of his eyes.
"I'm sorry, babes," I said.
"I should have practiced more," he replied.
"You're right. You should have," I said, gently enough but I wasn't about to let him off the hook.
I'd seen the failure coming for about a week. Part of the issue was a new karate school that demanded that students know more. Had he been here when earned his yellow belt, Big Guy would have been required to perform four holds and escapes that he'd never had to learn under his old sensei.
So he was behind from the start, and the orange belt he's working toward requires additional moves that build on the ones he'd never learned. I explained that to him - "It's not your fault. It's not either sensei's fault. It just is." - but it didn't sink in.
Plus there's Big Guy's procrastination streak, coupled with his avoidance of anything that doesn't come quickly and effortlessly.
As a result, last weekend we had the following situation, which was stunningly similar to the scenario before he tested for his yellow belt last spring:
- Big Guy claimed that he didn't know what moves he was supposed to do in order to earn his stripe - never mind that the sensei had told them the previous week. I printed the list from a curriculum the sensei had emailed the parents. He ignored it.
- He claimed that he didn't remember how to do the moves - never mind that I'd told him at the start of class that he needed to pay better attention this time because I can't hear what's going on like I could at the old school. I searched YouTube frantically but didn't have a lot of success. Even on the ones I found, I wasn't sure they were the same ones the sensei had taught.
- He cried "I can't do it" for two days, ultimately refusing to try.
"OK," I said. "Just let me know when you're ready to practice. I'll be happy to help you with the list."
He never did.
The message about "concentrating in class" at least got through, and he was able to master the punches and improve the kicks by test day. The holds, however, continued to flummox him even though one of the senseis took him aside and worked with him extensively.
And if he didn't know the white-belt holds, there's no way he was going to be awarded the stripe that would allow him to test for an orange belt.
"I didn't get my stripe," he said after class.
"What do you want to do about it?" I asked. "You can try again next month - but you'll have to work hard and catch up on the holds. Do you want to do that?"
He smiled, and the old Big Guy was back. "Yes, I do."
Except this kid, this child who had matured 20 years in a matter of minutes, was stronger than the old Big Guy. In the span of one karate class, he'd gone from making excuses to admitting that part of his problem was within.
He's practiced every morning since, scampering around punching and kicking before school. He's even identified a flaw in one of his kicks. "It needs to be higher. S makes his higher. I'll ask sensei how when class starts again."
He might not be able to get his stripe during the next class - I keep reminding him that he still has to catch up. But at least now he realizes that sometimes achievement requires work - work that no one else can do for you.
Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.