Monday, July 29, 2013

A Martial Artist Knows…Self esteem is not gained by meeting lowered standards.


A great deal of emphasis is placed on nurturing the self esteem of our children today. The problem arises when we as the adults and mentors give acclaim to children when they have not really accomplished anything, or worse yet heap praise upon them for mediocre or sub standard performance. 


Whether we are talking about not keeping score in little league baseball because we don’t want the losing teams feelings to be hurt or, in the academic world, allowing the educational standards to be lowered so more students can receive A’s or at least passing grades.  In these cases the egos of the adults are being raised as they make themselves feel better because they think they have helped the kids feel better about their performance; when in reality they have only deluded themselves and the children. 

We all know that the kids in the baseball game are keeping score even if the adults are not. We also know that reducing the expectations for passing grades does not make our kids smarter – indeed it rewards them for developing a poor work ethic.  Over time if we continue to lower the standards and allow them to pass they understand that with less work on their part the adults will conform to their wants and lower the work expectations.  Indeed we are seeing now the effect of decades of continuing lowered expectations and the negative impact it has on society. 

We have seen the same thing happen within the martial arts industry.  Instructors who have been afraid of losing students have lowered the performance expectations they have for students to advance to the next rank. These students, if they continue in their respective art, become the future teachers of the art and will lower the expectations further.  Today I see many students strutting around in their Black Belts who cannot fight their way out of a wet paper bag and they know it.  We have exchanged Self Esteem for over inflated Egos. 

Regardless of the aspect of society we are discussing (sports, education, home) true personal growth and development of our children only results when clear expectations are communicated to them and they are then held to those expectations. Once one level of expectations is met a new more challenging expectation needs to be set.  Time and time again I have seen a child struggle with material in our classes, work on it and then smile ear to ear when they finally figure out the challenge.
In the martial arts the successful completion of one challenge sets the foundational skills needed for the next challenge. With time the challenges get increasingly more difficult.  As beginners these challenges can be overcome in a few minutes with proper instruction. As they progress in rank students see the time to achieve the goal goes from minutes, to tens of minutes, to classes, to multiple classes, to weeks, months and even years. 

In the martial arts world we do not give students self esteem we help them build it, one technique at a time. Building self esteem necessitates increasing complex challenges.  If a child were to go to school every day and all the math teacher taught was 1+1=2 they would be bored senseless by day #2.  Martial Arts is no different – teach them proper stance so we can teach them how to kick.  Their first kick is slow and easy at knee level, when they can consistently execute that kick hitting their target; keeping their hands up, maintaining their balance it is time to increase the height of the kick.  When they have maximized the height of their kicks we might add a jump to the kick or a spin, followed by both a jump and a spin and then multiple kicks in the air.  At each stage the student is given praise, WHEN and IF, they perform the technique well.  I have no problem giving very enthusiastic praise to a student who really deserves it. What serves no purpose is praising techniques that are substandard.
Along with this is the understanding that not everyone should be a Black Belt, an Eagle Scout, or top of their class. The truth of the matter is not everyone is willing to work hard enough to reach these levels. Too many “Adults” are unwilling to be the person who says “You are not ready.” They are too focused on being the child’s friend instead of being their mentor; they allow subpar performance for which they heap on the praises. The adult in this situation is not only feeding the ego of the child they are also feeding their own ego.  They want to boast and say “I have 100 Black Belts”. If they are artificially allowing student to advance to feed their own egos they are breaking the unwritten contract of the student who says teach me.  Teaching involves teaching the easy paths as well as the hard lessons when needed. 

Teaching our children means setting the learning field, showing them the tools, setting expectations and then giving them honest feedback on their performance.  Our job as the adults is to deliver our children into adulthood well prepared to deal with all that life will put in front of them.  A major part of this task involves showing them how to build their own self esteem.  If we teach them to love a challenge, there is no challenge they will be unprepared to face.


Tang Soo!

Master Homschek