Our son began training at Guardian Martial Arts when he was eight. A classmate from school invitede him with a free month trial. That month trial turned into so much more. Without realizing it, we had just embarked on a long, challenging and rewarding voyage – now in its fifth year.
As parents, we had no idea how long he would continue. Up to that point in his life, he seemed to struggle to maintain interest in extracurricular activities, and at times, gave up on things that seemed interesting to him at first. Even on his first visit to Guardian, which he had prompted, his shyness got the best of him, and he pleaded with tears to go home. Only through the gentle prodding of Mrs. Perkins was he able to join in. An there, through the help of his instructors and peers, a level of confidence began to surface. The next day, he seemed comfortable, so much so that the day before seemed unreal. Soon, with dedication and practice, he came to really enjoy training, which he eagerly continued several times a week.
And then came his first grading. It seems that he was not aware that sparring would be required as part of grading, and when this became apparent, he panicked and his emotions got the best of him. Again, through the comfort and encouragement of his instructor, he tearfully managed to get through it, but the fear of pain and his own insecurity led him to avoid sparring class as much as possible. This continued for over two years, during which he rarely attended sparring class. Of course, each time grading came around, sparring could not be avoided, but he began to compose himself, demonstrating at some level, that he was going beyond his fear.
And yet it was clear that sparring was still not something that he actively wanted to pursue. To encourage him in this direction, we picked him up his own sparring gear (use of the common gear seemed to be an obstacle for him), but as this did not get to the core issue, we were unable to improve his motivation.
The sparring obstacle could not, of course, be avoided forever. and as he moved into advanced ranks, Mrs. Bunting indicated he should come to sparring class twice a week in order to prepare for his advancement to black belt. This timing corresponded with a overall drop in motivation, and the weight of this duty became too much to bear for him, and he lost interest in even attending his regular classes. We confronted him daily with it, and to a degree, even resorted to forcing him to attend.
While continuing to struggle in this way, he reached brown belt grading. We believe at that time it was a private grading, and although Jonah certainly thought that sparring would not be required, his instructor asked a few students who were wrapping up their class to stay behind and spar with Jonah as part of his grading. During the the three-on-one bout, he broke down uncontrollably into tears, and was unable to compose himself for the remainder of the grading. Despite many calls from the instructor to control himself emotionally, he was unable to do so. As a result, he was not allowed to grade up. As parents, we were in total agreement with the judgement of the instructor, and felt that his inability to compose himself rightly deserved this, but at the same time, it was somewhat unusual as we had never, up to that point, witness any students unable to pass.
This failure to grade up hit Jonah quite hard, and the next day, he came to us in tears, saying he wanted to completely stop his training. We felt torn, as we did not want to see him give up by simply running away from the problem, but we began to worry whether forcing him to continue was the right thing to do given his continued dislike (or fear) of sparring. And to be honest, we also felt exhausted compelling him to go each time and dealing with his resistance.
When we spoke to Mrs. Perkins, she encouraged him to persist, saying that if he failed to face his fear in this situation, this could become a pattern for his life where he simply runs away from anything he does not like or he is afraid of. She said it would be challenging, but that he must face up and overcome, and that she would support him in this. With this, we decided not to allow him to give up.
Having failed to pass his grading, Jonah waited for the next month to come around. He failed because he emotionally broke down when sparring and was unable to control himself. To prevent this from happening again and to enable him to overcome, we took him to a sparring class. Concerned, we intended to stay and watch his entire class, but Mrs. Perkins respectfully asked us to leave until class finished, and with some trepidation, we reluctantly went out and passed the time sipping coffee together, waiting anxiously and wondering how he was doing.
When we returned an hour later, we found him grinning at us and giving us the thumbs-up.”Indeed, what forces are at work here?” we thought. We knew not what had transpired, but in the span of an hour, he seemed to have somehow overcome his fear of sparring. We smiled back, and it was as if everyone was saying now that it was alright. Everything was good now. At the next grading, his old self was gone. He sparred against three others with a new emotional strength that allowed him to give it his all until the end. We quickly discerned in him a new face – one that had overcome fear. Tears came to our eyes as we looked upon our son, so proud and thankful for this blessing.
Things most certainly would have been different if Mrs. Perkins didn’t stopped us from giving up. He has come this far because of the guidance of his instructors and the support of the other students and parents. We are so thankful for such leadership and such freely and cheerfully-given support, often from the sidelines with a encouraging word.
Although sparring may not be his first love, dread has been replaced with a sense of confidence, evident in his demeanor when sparring at grading. Now, out in front of everyone, he appears as almost a different person. And by reaching Junior Black Belt, his motivation has resurged, and he seems to really enjoy training while deepening his bond with those who have trained with him and as his comrades, have passed through many things together. The once prone to give up son, has now started his fifth year in March.