“It wasn’t me.”, “I didn’t do it!”, “I don’t know what happened to it.” We would like to think these are lamentations of a child; however, more and more we see this attitude exhibited in adults. Personal responsibility seems to be a thing of the past or is it.
Ask a parent if they want their children to be responsible and of course they will say “yes”. However, do their actions and attitudes lead their children there? When a child brings home a bad grade does the parent hold the child accountable for not studying or do they challenge the teacher for picking on their child. Does the teacher who gives a child a bad grade then create opportunities for them to earn “Extra Points” to offset the bad grade or do they let the poor grade stand and allow the child to learn the important life lesson associated with not properly preparing.
If we as parents and teachers do not hold children accountable for their actions when they are young, is it any surprise that as adults they do not exhibit a sense of personal responsibility. As I discussed in a previous blog “Reality is Not Graded on a Curve”; nor, is personal responsibility a thing of the past. While a child can get through the school years without being held accountable for their actions; the adult world will bring them to the sudden realization that there are real consequences in the real world.
Failing to show up for work results in a real world firing. Failing to pay your bills on time results in the power, cable, and/or water being turned off. We can push back learning consequences for only so long but ultimately they will become apparent. Is it not better to learn how responsibility leads to both privileges and consequences at a young age when the stakes are low. If this process is delayed into adulthood the results can be catastrophic for not just the person involved but also for those around them and for society as a whole.
Martial arts training is about personal growth and development. If a student does not practice they are not going to advance in rank. Pointing fingers at others when they fail a rank test does not get the student anywhere. Access to the privileges of higher rank only becomes available when the student seriously takes responsibility for their own practice. As an instructor I cannot force a student to practice; however, I can show them how lack of practice has real consequences in their growth and development as a martial artist. Mom and Dad cannot practice for them; nor can they take the test for them. Only through the students individual efforts do they learn that the choices they make determines their outcome.
Within a martial arts class there are numerous opportunities to teach a student to hold themselves accountable. After white belt I expect all students to be able to tie their own belts (regardless of age). This requires practicing at home. If they need to tie a belt in middle of class they need to step out of drill to do so; resulting in missing training time. The faster they get it tied correctly the quicker they return to class. In order to participate in sparring a student must bring their gear to class – no gear no sparring no exceptions. This is not only to ensure the safety of the participants but also to teach the student they need to inventory their equipment before leaving the house. If you forget your uniform and/or belt you may train that day but you train in the most junior position regardless of your rank. “Mom, forgot my belt.” does not fly because Mom is not taking their class.
In our school we do not begin weapons training until after students are green belts. The first weapon they earn the privilege to train with is a wooden staff. This gives me at least a year of training to instill in them the importance of personal responsibility before they begin weapons work. When they receive their first staff I instruct the student that anything that happens with their staff is their responsibility even if they were not holding it at the time. If something gets broken with their staff it is because one of two things: either they were using it in an area that was not appropriate or they did not properly secure it and allowed it to get in the hands of someone who was not trained. Either way the resulting damage is their fault; therefore, they will need to make amends to fix what was damaged. If you leave your equipment (uniform, belt, sparring gear, weapons) at the studio the student should expect it to be in my office when they return to the studio. This gives us another opportunity to express to them the importance of taking responsibility for their belongings in particular their weapons.
The harder part of teaching them to take responsibility for their actions/training is getting younger students to look at longer periods of time. Most youth students cannot see beyond a day or two at most, let alone the 4 months of a testing cycle. Typically a student who fails a test, Yes they do fail tests in my school, is the one who wants the rank for ego purposes not because they are truly ready for more challenging material. (read the blog "Martials Arts and Making Cupcakes") When a student fails a test it creates the opportunity to talk to them about their training and home practice. We emphasize the importance of setting a routine training and home practice schedule – once it becomes routine they are more likely to do it. However, it should be their motivation that causes the routine schedule not the nagging of a parent or instructor.
Truly accepting personal responsibility for something cannot be forced on a person. Yes, you can force the consequences on them but do they truly acknowledge that the consequences are a direct result of their actions. To accomplish this we need to begin while our children are young, give them small matters to be responsible for and hold them to it. When they fully take ownership of the situation they should earn the privilege that goes with the responsibility and thus open the door for additional, more important responsibilities. Covering up for our children’s mistakes does not prepare them for the real world. Our job as parents and mentors of children is to deliver them into adulthood ready, willing and able to face the responsibilities the real world has waiting for them. If we don’t the real world will teach them the lessons of personal responsibility in a much more abrupt and forceful way.
Master Scott C.Homschek