Crouching Tiger, Wandering Justin

A few weeks ago, Justin was helping me run some errands. Our final errand of the evening was to pick up my dry cleaning. As we came out of the store, another brightly lit, glass-front store in the strip mall caught Justin’s eye. It was The House of Champions – a martial arts/MMA/boxing facility. Justin grabbed my hand and dragged me inside where he was drawn to the sights and sounds of people kicking ass. He was absolutely riveted by the two men beating the snot out of each other in the boxing ring. He was mesmerized by the other youths who were punching and kicking in unison. Justin was salivating while watching fighters grappling and grunting in the corner. Justin had never seen anything like this and did not want to leave. I asked him if he wanted to try this and he replied, “YES DADDY.” Sadly, he thought I was talking about right then and there. I was not and he threw a tantrum as we left. As I scooped him up in one hand to leave, I grabbed a brochure in the other.

When we got home, he excitedly told GWE all about his adventure and I handed her the brochure. She reviewed it and walked away. I assumed this was the end of the subject. As a rule of thumb, Jewish mothers do not let their children do sports of any kind that requires physical contact. No football, no karate, no hockey. Instead, Jewish children are encouraged to read a book and have a sandwich. (I’m fairly certain that Jewish mothers would also frown on sex because there is too much physical contact, but their need for grandchildren outweighs their concern.)

Ten minutes later, GWE came back into the living room and announced that “it’s all set up.” She had called and scheduled Justin for a free lesson the following morning. Both he and I were very excited!!! I kept telling him that he was “gonna kick some ass!” which in retrospect was a terrible thing to do because he decided to repeat it over and over!

The next morning, we all hopped in the car for Justin’s 9:30 lesson. On the way there, he kept repeating his mantra of “I’m gonna kick your ass” and I had to tell him to cut it out. We walked into The House of Champions where other lessons were already underway and after a moment Justin blurted out “Oh, yea. That’s what I’m talkin’about.” GWE and I laughed.

We were soon introduced to Sensei Nick – a lanky man who looked like a homeless version of Shaggy from “Scooby Doo.” He stood on the mat and asked all of the kids to line up. Once the children were lined up, he asked them to follow all of his commands with “YES SENSEI.” One by one he addressed each child who responded with “YES SENSEI.” However, when he got to Justin, Justin’s only response was “yea.” After three or four times, he finally got the idea and said “YES SENSEI.”

For the next 15 minutes, the children were asked to run in a circle, do army crawls, position themselves in “ready stance”, do push-ups (Justin’s version was more of a “hump-the-floor”), and fall backwards safely. Justin followed some of the instructions, but continued to come off the mat towards GWE and me. In response, I kicked off my shoes and continued to walk him back onto the mat.

Finally, Sensei Nick set up a “sparring” session for two children at a time called “Chase the Tiger Tale.” Each child had a piece of fabric hanging from the back of their belt and the object of the game was to have one child pull the “tail” off of the other child. Justin and another child were the second to play this game. This round started out promising! Justin kept the other child from grabbing his tail for about 30 seconds – but then the other child grabbed the belt and won. Justin stood in shock for a few seconds and then dejectedly walked off the mat toward me. As he got closer, I could tell that he was really affected by this. I could see a sadness come over him and he began to weep as he buried his face into my shoulder.

On that Saturday morning, I was expecting my son to kick some ass and “bring the pain.” I thought he would be instilling fear and envy in his fellow classmates. Instead, he got his first lesson in losing and he was very hurt. He wanted to be done, but I thought it best to once again walk him back onto the mat to finish the lesson. I know he didn’t want to continue, but this was an important moment. I wanted him to know that it was ok to keep going even if he lost. For the remainder of the lesson, he kept losing focus and he tried to wander back to us. But, we encouraged him to finish.

Even though it was a frustrating experience for Justin, GWE and I felt that if we continued, Justin would be getting a wonderful lesson in “focus” and “patience.” We enrolled him in four weeks worth of classes to see if he liked it.

Each week has been – interesting. We’ve watched him have his successes and his failures. Sensei Nick has done an incredible job of praising Justin when he’s done well and respectfully scolding him when he has not. While Justin loves the physical aspect of martial arts, I can see that he is still a little boy who likes to march to his own beat.

Maybe someday that beat will be from Carl Douglas’ “(Everybody Was) Kung Fu Fighting!”

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