Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Benefits of Respecting Others

My all-time favorite task as a martial arts teacher is proudly wrapping a new belt around the waist of a deserving student or adding a hard-earned stripe to the well-worn belt of someone who shows progress and fighting spirit. But where there’s a yin, there’s a yang, and that means sometimes I have to later demote those same students for a variety of character-related mistakes. The main violation for kids involves a lack of respect. Siblings are usually the targets. Anger is oftentimes the source.

One time, I bumped a student from probationary black belt all the way down to white belt for bopping his sister on the head with a bo. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do as an instructor. I was afraid that this kid – a really great student in so many ways – would not return to train. But I knew that if I didn’t help him learn a lesson in self-control now, I’d be setting a Taekwondo Tasmanian devil out onto an unsuspecting world later.

After a long talk about "Star Wars" and the dangers of going over to the "dark side" of martial arts, that boy did return. Today he is a 19-year-old second-degree black belt and sophomore at Yale University.

When students misuse their Taekwondo skills, belt demotion is oftentimes automatic, but some students benefit more from telling me (and themselves) what went wrong and what to do right the next time.

The following is a short essay one of my students wrote regarding why it might be a good idea to treat his sister with respect.

Why treating my sister better can benefit me
“If I treat my sister better, then I do not have to get into trouble with my parents. It also will make my sister want to be nicer to me. Like when I was nice to her and she let me play with her brand new toy. I feel good when I am nice to her, but I only feel bad when I am mean to her. Also, if I want her to respect me and my rules about my room and my toys, then I should respect her as well.

“Also, if I keep doing this to my sister, then I cannot study Taekwondo anymore. Taekwondo is helping me a lot with self-control, which is helping me act better to my sister. It is also helping me with my endurance, strength, and self-confidence.” – E.A., age 10

So my question of the day is this: How can treating YOUR siblings with respect benefit YOU?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mantra Magic

The following is a mantra one of my students said to mentally prepare for one of the toughest tests yet of her Taekwondo life:

I will be nervous, but I will get on the mat.
I will sweat, but I will keep fighting.
I will get tired, but I will throw one more kick.
I will want to quit, but I will throw one more punch.
I will mess up, but I will move on.
I will be the strongest, fastest, and best fighter I can be.

To read her full blog entry, visit:

Have I said yet this week that I LOVE my job?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Potty Training as the First Step in the Thousand-Mile Journey

Tiny Texans is our entry-level class for students ages 3-6.

You read that right: 3 years old.

They are an eager, excited, and gut-busting, hilarious group. Honestly, at that age, it’s downright impossible to teach them true Taekwondo. And while I do teach these students a little kicking and punching (always emphasizing that they don’t kick and punch ANYONE ANYWHERE unless they’re in uniform at the Dojang with a paddle in front of them), I mostly focus on developing body awareness and listening skills, and improving balance, body coordination, and respect for others. The kids love it and we have a lot of fun together.

Their parents love the class, too – not only because I wear out their children (who after class are tired and don’t fuss so much when it’s time for bed), but also because I introduce and reinforce basic yet important rules to follow at home:

• Say “yes, ma’am” to Mommy and “yes, sir” to Daddy
• Brush your teeth when you’re told
• Don’t argue about taking baths
• Be nice to your baby sister and brother
• Never lie

From the wooden benches in our spectator section, toddlers of past and current Tiny Texans watch and eagerly wait for the day they’ll get the chance to get out on the mat and kick and punch. But just because they turn 3 doesn’t mean they automatically gain admission to Tiny Texans. They also know that before they can join my class, they must be able to:

1. Follow instructions
2. Pay attention during the entire class
3. Not pee on my mat

No. 3 is non-negotiable.

So I had to smile and chuckle this morning when I received the following email from an excited parent whose pistol of a child had a recent breakthrough:

“Guess who’s potty trained? That’s right! As soon as he got it 100%, he said, ‘Now I can do martial arts!’ He is 3 (years old) now, so can we try it out for September?”

God, I love my job….

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Black Belt Candidate Pep Talk

It's an honor to be a teacher, to give students tools for self-improvement (planting the seeds of strength and self-esteem) and then patiently wait and watch them grow. Some stretch tall. Some expand wide. Others fly to incredible heights.

It's quite an accomplishment for a student at ANY age to take a black belt exam in ANY martial art. And I've learned the hard way that a good instructor knows when to be tough and when to be supportive. That's especially important during the last few days of Black Belt Test Month. During this important time, when the student is on the verge of completing a rite of passage years in the making, there is no time for stern lectures or admonishments. Now, a good instructor pours on the love, support, and encouragement.

Below is the last piece of advice I give students about to face their BLACK BELT TESTS.

But you don't have to be a black-belt-in-waiting to benefit. Read it and ask yourself, "Who in MY life needs to hear good, supporting, loving words from ME today?"

(Don't be surprised if that person is YOU.)


Dear Black Belt Candidates,

Right about now, you're probably feeling a whirlwind of emotions: fear, excitement, gratitude, nausea. You may even feel frustrated, angry, and impatient. Maybe you're wishing the test were already over so that you can relax. Well, you CAN relax in a way: Everything you’re feeling is normal. (Wink.)

Black Belt Test Month can be a highly charged, emotional experience. It's the culmination of years, months, weeks, days, hours, and minute-by-minute honing of a myriad martial arts and self-defense skills. You’ve huffed and puffed, and sweated bullets. You’ve downed millions of gallons of water and bottles of Gatorade to stay hydrated. You’ve given and taken hits to the stomach, kidneys, ribs, head, chest, and even some shots below the belt, and you’ve gotten back up, shaken off the cobwebs, and continued.

Check it: The kind of mental, physical, and spiritual work you've been doing doesn't just come and go unnoticed.

You've learned a great deal in your time with me, and I want you to know today that I'M SO PROUD OF YOU I CAN HARDLY STAND IT! I'm your greatest fan and will be rooting for you as you walk the gauntlet in your individual rites of passage.

Now, though, is your turn to pump yourselves up. A positive mental condition is essential to succeed in this endeavor – and amid life’s greatest challenges. Find a quiet spot somewhere in the house. Take a walk in the park or find a quiet hiking trail to explore. Spend some quality time every day between now and the test to quiet the body, mind, and heart and fill yourselves with positive affirmations.

Remember the following:
• You're mentally, physically, and spiritually stronger than your FIRST day in class.
• You can kick faster and harder than you did as a white belt.
• Your stamina and endurance (no matter WHERE it is today) is FAR BETTER than it was when you began this journey.
• You did that one extra pushup, sit-up, kick, and punch when you didn’t think you could – and you can do it again.
• OMG, you can BREAK BOARDS with your hands and feet! How many people in the school you attend, the office at which you work, or the grocery store in which you shop can say the same?
• Since you began your training, hundreds of students have bowed onto the mat, bowed off the mat, and ultimately quit, and even more advanced belts have avoided this daunting challenge. YOU REMAIN. That alone says a lot about your level of perseverance and fortitude.
• I told you to keep coming back, to suit up and to show up one day at a time – that that is what really turns a white belt into a black belt. You heard me, and you’ve been coming back FOR YEARS. Not surprisingly, your white belt has slowly darkened and is on the verge of becoming black.

There is so much for which to be grateful, so take stock in the next few days. Give a little thanks to those folks who’ve supported you along the way – parents, children, teachers, co-workers, even (and especially) your BFFs on Facebook.

Remember that not everyone in the world wears a black belt because this is HARD WORK. Martial arts pushes you physically. It pushes your mental buttons. It challenges your spirit. It makes you look yourself in the mirror, and ask the hard question: “Am I happy/satisfied with who I am?” If the answer is no, martial arts gives you the tools to transform yourself into the person you’ve always dreamed of being.

This has not been an easy road you have trudged. The journey has been long and hard. But you’re on the cusp of a very important milestone.

So go forth today with confidence, humility, and grace. Do your best on the test. Leave it all out on the mat. Let your performance be the bar you set for how you live your life from now on.

Most importantly, BREATHE...

Your greatest fan,
Cathy Chapaty