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.