Amy Pybus: Finding the martial arts way
EASTHAMPTON — The other day, a man in Easthampton wrote to the Gazette to say it is difficult for people over age 60 to find martial arts classes where they feel welcome.
I want to share the fact that we do have a tae kwon do class open to all, and right here in our own town.
My son was looking for a self-defense school and a good friend of mine recommended the class at the community center. She said her son had gone there and enjoyed it.
I called the center, found out that the times worked and the price was reasonable and we showed up on a Monday night and began training in Korean karate.
The class ranged from children to adults and the instructor, Jeff, tailored his exercises to all levels of expertise. He made accommodations for a woman who was injured and often checked in with his students to make sure they understood the moves and felt comfortable with what they were doing.
While Jeff was working with one or two students, higher-ranked students helped teach. In the education biz, we call this peer mentoring. It is an excellent way to involve the mentor and student in a different form of learning.
Fellow students can learn from each other in ways that they might not be able to from the lead teacher, and the peer mentor gets the reward of sharing their knowledge with someone else. During these break-out sessions, all ages mixed and the students laughed their way through new moves and drills.
The tae kwon do training came to my son at a time when he needed help. Over the course of his time there, I saw other young boys who I guess had similar troubles, and I knew they were in good hands. But I also saw parents and even grandparents coming to take the class, as well as teenagers and young couples just looking to get in better shape.
From observing my son’s classes, I began to learn that tae kwon do is about more than physical self-defense. People often comment that young boys learn respect from martial arts. I knew that was one aspect of training.
As I watched my son grow in the class, I realized that the respect doesn’t come from “discipline,” as people often think, but from a place of humility. One of the most striking things I remember is when my son started talking about his ego. I didn’t think a 9-year-old would have a good grasp of what that is.
He said, “Jeff told me I should have no ego. That way bullies can’t bother me.” I realized what this simple but brilliant idea meant: If you don’t have an inflated vision of yourself, then people can’t upset you by poking holes in it. And that attitude is carried through life: no one is better than anyone else, we are fellow travelers here who all deserve respect, and we can always improve.
During the time my son spent with Jeff I wanted to help him promote the class more, such as with a website. He was doing so much for my son, I wanted to repay him in some way. He told me he appreciated it but he saw his teaching as a service to his community.
I realized this was part of the bigger picture, and exactly what I wanted my son to learn. I want him to know that as part of a community, you have a responsibility to those around you. And that by doing good work, in any capacity, you are building community.
When my son tested for his yellow belt, the instructor who came to observe was a man we hadn’t met. He introduced himself, smiled in kind way, shook my son’s hand and told him not to worry.
At the end of the ceremony, when the yellow belt had been given to my son by his brother and the class had bowed to my son, the black belt came to congratulate him. For some reason his age came up, and he smiled broadly as he informed my son that he was over 60 years old. He didn’t look a day over 45.
I don’t know if it was clean living, the effects of tae kwon do, or just good genetics, but we were floored by his admission. We laughed and joked about it, and my son commented later that the visiting instructor was so encouraging and nice. No matter your age or skill level, martial arts are good for the mind, body, and soul.
Amy Pybus of Easthampton writes on family life issues in a column that appears on the second Thursday of the month. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and blogs at www.sittingonthebaby.com.