In her own time

Yesterday, my youngest daughter tested for her black belt in karate. She is 13 years old and has been in martial arts classes since she was 4 years old. When she first started in karate class, the flourescent lighting, ceiling fans, wall of mirrors, parents chatting in the waiting area, and other children working on various skills around the room were overwhelmingly distracting for her. She was such a joyful child in everything she did that she just went with what her brain and body told her to do. Unfortunately for her instructor, that meant holding her pony tail up behind her head and twirling it as she watched herself dance in front of the mirrors, talking to herself or anyone who was near her the entire class time. It may sound cute, but it was disruptive and painful to watch sometimes. You know the looks you get from other parents when your child isn’t conforming to the expectations. I got plenty of those looks. I talked to my daughter, and tried to coach her before and after class, and I let her continue taking lessons long after everyone else had surpassed her in belt after belt, while she seemed stuck on white with a stripe or two. Kids who started the same time she did moved up to other classes. Kids who started quite a while after she did moved up to more advanced classes. I sat there in the parent waiting area, watching my sweet, dancing, singing child enjoy herself but gain few skills. She just couldn’t seem to grasp right vs. left. Her memory issues made it difficult for her to retain the sequences of movements for even the simplest kata routines. I thought maybe one day the belt would wear out and at least that way she’d get a new one. But she was enjoying classes and needed an outlet for all her energy, so we stuck it out with her. Over the next couple years, she grew and matured. And one day, things started to click. It was that sudden – I remember the day it happened. I looked at the instructor, he looked at me, and my girl wasn’t looking at anyone because she had started focusing and remembering what to do. She could follow directions and understand the Japanese words she’d been hearing for years. The forward progress never stopped after that day. Finally, she was able to advance from belt to belt. She could stand still. She could go without talking for a sustained period of time. She became coordinated and strong. She is able to assist her instructor with some of the younger children’s classes, and she seems good at it. Now she is a board-breaking black belt and would tell you it was worth the years of work to get there.

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