Thursday, December 4, 2014

To Remove or Not to Remove a Stripe? That is the Question

Tonight I was proud of a student who broke one of our character rules and Taekwondo tenets.

Yes, you read that right.

At the end of class, my students and I discussed homework for the next week: “We must be honest and truthful at all times.” During our mat chat, we discussed that it’s always better to fess up to wrongs than to be caught in a lie—how being truthful is the right thing to do, no matter how awful it feels to admit you made a boo-boo. As parents and students filed out of the dojang, I noticed Les hovering nearby. I knew she wanted to talk.

“Ma’am, I have to give my stripe back because I hit my mom,” she said.

Les is a great student, and I was quite surprised by her revelation.

“Reeeeeally?” I said. "What happened?"

While playing, Les had gotten angry with a friend who was hogging the Play-Doh. When her mom told her to play nice and apologize, Les struck her.

My mind immediately flipped through a Rolodex of what to do. On one hand, she knew the penalty for disrespecting parents was losing a stripe. But she told the truth about it. She told me before her mom did. She practiced honesty, the very tenet we discussed just a few minutes earlier in class.

“You know that what you did is unacceptable, right? That hitting others is not O.K.? Martial artists don’t treat their parents like that and we certainly don’t hit them.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Les said softly.

I paused. Do I take the stripe away? I’ve done it before, but this time, it didn’t feel right.

“I’m really torn,” I told her. “You were honest with me, and I’m proud of you for that. Were you scared to tell me?”

She nodded yes.

“Well, thank you for being honest. And I should remove the stripe, but you know what? I’m not. Instead I’m going make you keep it. Every time you put on your belt, you’re going to see that stripe at the tip. It’s going to remind you that you need to maintain self-control and work hard—every day—to respect your parents. But if you strike another in anger—parents, siblings, friends, anyone—if this happens again, you’ll not only lose your stripe, but you’ll also lose your belt. You’ll have to start all over, and your little sister will stand before you in the line.”

Les frowned. Nothing like a little sibling rivalry to kick start improvement in a character flaw.

"What could you have done differently the other day?" I asked. "When you're playing with someone and they're not being fair, what can you do?"

"Tell someone?" she offered.

Together we brainstormed ways to maintain self-control when strong feelings surface.

“Everyone gets angry,” I said. “Anger is a normal emotion. But martial artists know so much about how to kick and punch really hard, how to physically hurt others if we need to protect ourselves, that we can’t afford to lose self-control. I can’t teach you any more martial arts if I think you’re going to use it against another in anger. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Les said.

“So when you get angry, stop: Breathe three times deeply. If you need to say something to the person you’re angry with, if you need to stand up for yourself, say it in a calm manner. Then if needed, walk away.”

“O.K., ma’am,” she said.

As she turned to leave the dojang, I called, “I’m proud of you for being honest, and I know this is hard, but I believe you can do better than this. See you Tuesday.”

She bowed and left.

I've never been so happy not to remove a stripe.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Back-to-School Bully Defense Tip: Don't Escalate, Don't Retaliate

The following is a guest post by martial artist Alex Timin of Impact Martial Arts in Naples, Fla. It's a great reminder of the value of de-escalation skills.

It's a natural reaction to being bullied - you're angry, you're upset, and you want revenge. You want the bully to feel hurt just like they hurt you. Sometimes it happens without even thinking - you tease right back at them, or respond physically yourself. It doesn't have to be this way. Don't let yourself get drawn into the bully's conflicts and fights. Stay cool, calm and confident! Respond to the bullying, but not out of spite. Be firm and assertive in speaking up and standing up for yourself, without over-reacting. The bully wants to get a negative reaction out of you. Don't let them! Be calm in the storm, and show the bully that you are stronger than their attempts to harass you. Be loud and clear in your voice, and say things like "Stop NOW" or "That's NOT Cool". Stand up strong, look them in the eyes, and let your body language convey the same message that you are willing to protect yourself. Being bullied can set off all sorts of negative emotions in you - but you can still control how you react and respond to it. Choose the better path, not the downward spiral of revenge.