Dads who want us to toughen up their kid

Dads who want us to toughen up your kid.

Many years ago I had a dad of one of our students who didn’t appreciate that his wife had enrolled their son in our martial arts program. I think he had watched his son in class maybe two or three times in the 2 years the boy trained with us. He spoke to me candidly once at a social event where he had a drink or two. “I have to tell you, I got where I am in life by being a bully and my son will have an easier path to success if he is a bully too. At your school, you just train all of that out of him by teaching him to defend himself only when necessary. He needs to be the one forcing things to happen and forcing others to bend to his will. Also, your program is too soft. The kids should be kicking and hitting each other hard so they learn to toughen up. If no one is crying and bruised every day, you aren’t a good karate school.”

I kid you not, and this is not the only incident of this.

Now this dad was a high school “D” student in a state up north who happened to be a great athlete. He had bullied and scared his teachers for passing grades through school until he moved to Florida where the unafraid high school guidance counselor, realizing the guy could barely read or write, told him, “Your best bet is to go get a job at the orange juice plant,” and they sent him packing. He hated that job, so ended up in construction and eventually bullied and cheated his way into a fortune in the real estate boom, then lost it all as well when the bubble popped. His wife was obviously afraid of him, and his foul-mouthed son was hated in school by his classmates and his teachers. We did what we could for the boy, but we knew dad was un-doing everything we were trying to do. When they finally left, mom just apologized over and over again, as she had obviously lost a battle that she had hoped would save her poor child.

Even this month we had a mom and kid who loved our program, but dad picked a different school because he thought they were going to be “tougher” on his boy. He said he was ashamed his son wasn’t tough and instead of being bullied, he should be the bully. Let me say that again, he said he was ashamed of his son. I can’t even wrap my head around that.

I remember the day when instructors hit and kicked the students and the higher rank students would abuse the lower rank students. I remember when an instructor would wander the room as students stood in horse stance for half an hour, hitting them with a split bamboo shinai if their stances weren’t strong enough. I know a local instructor who broke a student’s nose doing this. I remember a student of another local instructor getting her leg broken during a test in the 70’s. He swept her leg out from under her for stepping back from the bag during a timed drill. No, it didn’t make them tougher, it made them quit. It made them hate martial arts. It made them feel like failures. It made them hate themselves because they had disappointed dear old dad. This is not how we “toughen” people, it’s how we destroy them inside.

So, to those “Tough” dads who think our program is “soft.” Let me present an idea. Maybe, just maybe, we might know what we are doing. After all, I have been doing this for 35 years and produced 115 amazing Black Belts, not to mention the college degrees I’ve earned, the multiple Black Belts I’ve earned, and my time working in the psychiatric hospital, where I had hundreds of real, hand to hand encounters. If you are willing to listen, hear me out.

Firstly, let’s discuss “toughness.”
Chad Howse, renowned fitness trainer and manliness expert says: “Mental Toughness is Toughness. For some reason, we feel the need to separate toughness and mental toughness, but the truth is that all toughness, even of the physical variety, originates from the mind. A big, bulky, tough-looking guy who can handle himself in a fight that constantly quits in life, isn’t tough, he’s a (edited: sissy). A nerdy-looking fella who continues to persist in life, even though failure is his constant companion, is tough.
Toughness isn’t of the body, at all, it can’t be, it has to be developed in the mind.”

I agree and personally, I want your kids and my own to be tough, and resilient. I want them to be flexible and to be strong. Physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s our number one goal for our students. Then why don’t we do it like in the “old days?” Something you might not know or want to recognize is that today, we know more about how humans learn and develop than ever before in history. It may surprise you to learn that the way they “used to do it,” isn’t as good as how we can do it today. Don’t believe me? Would you go to a doctor who uses the practices of doctors from 200 years ago? Do you want that doctor to treat your illness? I doubt it. Those leeches and blood lettings aren’t really going to help with your hormone imbalance or your heart condition.

Have you seen the Will Smith movie Concussion? Unlike even 20 years ago, we know today how fragile the brain really is and how, in its current floaty state, any impact to the head can contribute towards severe health and mental issues. A helmet doesn’t change the fact that the brain sloshes around inside the skull when the head suddenly moves and then stops, like when you get hit or kicked in the head. MMA fighters, boxers, hockey players and football players alike are growing more and more concerned with the brain damage they incur from their training, and rightfully so.

So, if we don’t beat the kids or allow them to beat each other, how do they become tougher in our program? It’s actually pretty easy if you know what you are doing. We as their instructors, set goals for our students that are beyond what they think they can achieve. They are often overwhelmed with the material and tasks laid before them. We guide them to achieve those goals and then we reward them. In doing so, we prove to them that there are no goals they cannot achieve, they just have to be tough to achieve them. We’ve all heard from our parents and counselors that we can accomplish anything we want to in life, but in martial arts, we actually prove it.

We put them through many hardships. There are physically difficult, dare I say, nearly impossible tasks they will face. There are mentally difficult drills and patterns they must learn and perform, and emotionally taxing tests, matches and tournaments. All of these things, if the student surpasses and continues, will build their confidence and self-esteem. It’s called empowering, another word for toughening.
Not every student is going to have the internal fortitude to continue when the going gets difficult on their first attempt. If given the opportunity, they will quit. Want your kid to be tough, to be resilient and empowered? Then don’t let them quit, but don’t degrade or minimize what they are doing, just be strong for them when they need you to be, it’s called supportive parenting.

Don’t worry, they get physically tougher too, but not too much in the beginner phases. We have too much to strengthen in them first. We are going to improve their coordination, fine motor control and their resolve before we put them into a situation where they can really be physically challenged. It will come, but you are going to have to be patient. It’s a process, not a product.

If you do put your kid into a school that uses abusive training techniques, then you could be looking at a kid who hates what he’s doing and will only lose confidence and never gain empowerment. It may give you the exact opposite of what you want. Like a beaten dog that can’t get anything right, the self-loathing in the child will just multiply.

Your job is to be their biggest fan, cheering them on to success after success. Give them a thumbs up when they do well. Let them know you are proud of them and love them. Don’t coach from the sidelines. Your overly tough judgement will make them hate whatever activity it is you are forcing them to do, and then it won’t work, no matter what. Let us be the ones who are tough on them. You just need to be proud.

By the way, this is not just my opinion, this is how the entire child psychiatry field views the process for proper child development and education. Think about what you want for your child. Think about what you would want for yourself. Do you want Mr. Miyagi, guiding like a caring father figure or do you want the abusive, egotistical Cobra Kai instructor?

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