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Kicking Out Karate?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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"Doing It Before You're Told!"

That was the character homework in June at Philly Karate, where my son enrolled three years ago. It was the first assignment Maxon received, before he earned his first belt. His job was to compete 10 things without being asked, and for that he'd get a stripe of white duct tape wound around his belt. Before we left the studio, Maxon got his shoes and socks on without being asked and wrote it down on the homework. He completed nine other tasks before the week was out.

I was immediately in love with Philly Karate and its instructors.

For the last three years, we have watched Maxon earn stripes, perfect katas and learn valuable lessons in self-defense and self-respect. He has become surprisingly facile with nunchucks, and was welcomed onto the studio's Demo Team, showcasing his nunchuck skills. At karate, there were young men who were excellent role models for my kids – independent, disciplined, playful and authoritative. And there was my son, learning to throw hooks and uppercuts and take someone down. He is now a brown belt, one away from his junior black belt.

And he wants to quit.

He kvetches about not wanting to go, stopped practicing his nunchucks and has been slow to accumulate stripes on his belt. In class, he's mopey and unenthused. He missed the opportunity to advance to a brown senior belt a few weeks ago, still shy a red stripe.

Part of me wanted to let him quit. The part that doesn't like trying to find parking in our neighborhood after 6:30 p.m. The part that couldn't endure one more argument about whether or not he would go. The part that would gleefully give up nagging him to practice. Quitting karate would bring peace and balance to my schedule. I'll tell you, I was tempted to just agree. 

But since Maxon doesn't play team sports, karate is the only place where he exerts himself — unless you count page turning, walking to find the strongest Wi-Fi signal, and Lego building as exercise. I have a hard line about musical intruments, which the boys aren't allowed to quit. But when it comes to sports, I say, go as long as it brings you joy.

Was there joy left in karate for Maxon? If not, was it worth letting him quit so close to his black belt? Is there a stronger lesson in sticking with it, seeing something through?

I decided to put the decision more firmly in his hands. He couldn't quit without first speaking to his instructor, Mr. Steve. Maxon protested ("Can't I just stop going? Like XX who quit last year?") But last week he went to class and arranged a meeting. 

I wasn't privvy to their conversation, but after the talk, Mr. Steve immediately took action.

The next class, they defended blows and did pushups if they fell. They did freestyle combos and played chicken. Mr. Steve told me about how he was going to mix things up and make it more challenging for Maxon. Maxon said it was the best class ever and agreed to keep going until he got his black belt. 

As we left the studio, I grabbed the homework and smiled to myself. It was June's "Doing it Before You're Told."  I handed the paper to Maxon. He looked at it, put on his shoes and socks without being told and asked for a pen to write it down. 

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