I snipped off a red Spirit stripe from the white belt of a promising young student last week because he popped his elementary school buddy in the stomach too hard. Both students agreed they were playing, and that the hitting just got out of hand.
Still, this athletically gifted, quick-study 9-year-old had read and signed Tao of Texas Martial Arts Institute’s Code of Conduct, which clearly states in boldface: CAUTION: Do not misuse the skills you learn in the dojang; use them only in real self-defense situations.”
There’s a reason that rule is there: I’m teaching young students to use their hands and feet as weapons that can hurt others. I’ve got to know they have enough self-control to not misuse their skills on a whim.
It’s truly hard to teach martial arts to children. One of the biggest reasons is because martial artists have to hold themselves up to a higher standard, and that means there are a lot of things that normal, everyday people of all ages can do that we cannot.
Like playing a rather innocent round of “Slug Bug.”
From time to time, I still grieve the fact that slug bug—a traffic game in which friends playfully punch each other in the arm the second they see a Volkswagen beetle roll by—is a luxury I can no longer afford.
After 18 years in the martial arts, I can knock someone into next week with my fist. That’s a wee bit too hard.
And honestly, if I expect my young students to respect the “no horseplay” and “no using Taekwondo outside class unless your life is in danger” rules, I can’t play this game ever again on principle. I must set the example.
I understand that no matter the intensity or intent, hitting is unacceptable. Still, it’s a hard concept for my white belt student to wrap his head around.
“But I didn’t hit him hard,” he said. “I didn’t know that was a Taekwondo strike.”
He showed me how he hit his classmate, demonstrating a knifehand side strike.
“That’s a Taekwondo strike,” I replied. “I’m teaching you how to use your hands and fists as weapons, so you can’t hit others. Period.”
“Do you understand?” I finally said.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said.
My young white belt has not returned to class.
In a martial arts teacher’s life, you win some (students/lessons/competitions) and you lose some. I’ve had to confront many other students regarding “playful” hitting, and most have come back to train and try again. The students who stick around—the ones who see the benefit of Taekwondo despite a self-control setback—always become stronger and more respectful, responsible, and confident young men and women in the end.
Will my young student take this lesson to heart and return to continue practicing our way of life?
More will be revealed.