There was a story in the news this week about a man who attempted to kidnap a woman who was walking on the street in North Carolina. Luckily, she broke away and ran into of all places, a karate studio. The attacker followed her inside where he was greeted by one of the school's instructors. Though it was clear the man was not there to sign up for classes, he was taught the lesson of his life and was given the opportunity to reflect on his actions on his way to the hospital.
Though my first reaction was to laugh at how fate sometimes seems to put people where they need to be, as a 4th degree black belt Tae Kwon Do Master, I have a pretty good idea of what transpired. And in my opinion, anyone who wishes to do harm to another person gets what he deserves. But it also got me thinking about martial arts and the almost 14 years I have dedicated to it.
I'll be the first to admit that what many friends and family members have told me is correct - anyone who drives their body parts through solid objects and allows others to assault them is crazy. I've endured serious injuries of all kinds from board breaking, sparring and intense training.
Do I wish I had listened to my body when it told me in no uncertain terms it was in pain? Yes. Do I wish I had stopped or never done it? No. And I never will. What I have gained is far more than what I've lost. I've learned how strong I can be.
So what are the lessons of martial arts?
Let's look at the Karate Kid films. Granted. The evil master and his students are an exaggeration... sort of. Truth be told, I have seen martial arts schools at tournaments that are not somewhere I would want to send my children to train. But here are three themes from the films that are worth thinking about:
A true friend is somebody who makes your life better. In the new year, many of us make resolutions. Maybe one should be to look at the people in our lives and decide to hold onto those who have a positive effect on us and jettison those who drag us down. It's not easy to do, but it would certainly make a difference. When you train in martial arts, your safety is often in your fellow students' and instructors' hands, just as their well being is in yours. That demands a level of trust. We may or may not be friends outside of the school, but inside, we are brothers and sisters, parents and children who support all who share our passion for what we do. And isn't that what a friend should be?
Sometimes you have to earn respect. The current generation thinks everything should be given to them and they whine, complain and blame others when it doesn't happen. But the one thing you can't assume or take for granted is respect. Like love, it can be given, but can't be taken. That's why in my dojang, we bow to the flags that represent our training and those who came before us, our masters, instructors and students of all belts, higher and lower. It's the way we show respect for one another. If only we could all try that in our everyday lives. Are you listening Congress, celebrities, the media and anyone else who is intolerant of those with different opinions?
Life will knock you down. You can choose whether to get back up.
In martial arts, you are constantly getting knocked down. Sometimes physically, but more often mentally. There is always someone better than you. There is always something new to master or techniques to improve. Learn from it. But never, ever give up.
There's a quote that is a favorite among martial artists: "A black belt is a white belt who never gave up."
It's as simple and as hard as that. You will not be perfect. You will make mistakes, but the only way to fail is to quit. To not do your best.
As a middle school teacher, I see so many students who give up the moment they encounter resistance. Their parents have cleared the road for them too many times. That tells me they will not be ready for life.
In our martial arts school, failure is not an option. Some would call that unnecessarily tough. We call it being strong. It is among the tenets of Tae Kwon Do:
Courtesy: Politeness and respect for others, behaving in a well-mannered and civil fashion.
Integrity: Showing good character, honestly, prudence, and decency. Behaving ethically and morally.
Perseverance: Purposefully pursuing a course of action despite of difficulty, resistance, or discouragement.
Self-Control: Keeping ones emotions, desires, and impulses in check, and exercising control in their expression.
Indomitable Spirit: The spirit that can’t be broken or conquered, the strength of spirit that comes from the knowing one’s self.
It's a very simple formula for success. No one says it's easy. But as Tom Hanks' character said in A League of Their Own, "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great."
So be great. Teach your children to be great. Expect nothing less than greatness from others. What a world it would be if we could do that one thing.