Having children can be a wonderful experience, for the most part. On the one hand, you get to see a tiny version of yourself grow and develop into their own person, with their own interests, hobbies and personality. On the other hand, it can be extremely frustrating, especially when you see them doing things you know could be done better or you recognize that there are certain things that you should teach them that they simply don’t want to learn. This can have a measurable effect, both on each of you as well as on the relationship as a whole.
I grew up with an intense craving for martial arts training. Like most kids my age, I was taken with action movies and the prospect of learning how to fight. As I was the victim of bullying throughout my formative years AND I had an immune disorder that was snaking my childhood hell (Type-1 Diabetes, if you hadn’t guessed), karate was a good fit for me. But it didn’t come without some searching, trying and experimenting with different schools and styles. It wasn’t until I found Uechi Ryu that I developed the deep love for karate that I still have to this day, or managed to control my ADHD and Diabetes, none of which I believe would have been as effectively accomplished as it was due to karate.
That’s why, when my wife gave birth to our son in 2014, I started seeing down a narrow tunnel into the future, one that allowed em to see the potential of passing on my skills and teachings to the next generation who would carry Uechi Ryu into the future. As Nathan learned how to walk and run, he began emulating movements that he’d see me do, which included kicking, punching and a variety of karate movements that he wouldn’t learn otherwise. The future looked bright, indeed.
When I was younger and training full time, I got to see the results of a parent forcing their child through karate. Sensei’s son, who happened to be one of my closest friends growing up, was Sensei’s only son and first black belt graduate. In “old school” martial arts circles, that’s a big deal. Sensei wanted his son, not only to be skilled but to be the best student he had. The only problem with that is that his son didn’t want it. He didn’t hunger for it. He saw no reason to pursue it. But he was pushed through it until he managed to reach Shodan, after which time he allowed his training to falter.
Oh, he’s returned to it on occasion. One can’t train for as long and as intensively as he had without it leaving some sort of impression. But having been forced to study karate for so many years left an impression on him that never went away. Nowadays, despite having three children of his own, his karate training is all but gone. This is one of the reasons why I pledged never to force my children to learn karate. If the time came that they wanted to train, I would be there for them. In the meantime, I would continue to let them see me train, take it all in and make the decision for themselves.
That’s why recently, I heard the most wonderful words a Sensei could hear from their first-born son: “Dad, I wan’t to learn karate…” I was ecstatic! I made plans. I brought in old equipment from the garage I hadn’t touched in years. I monitored my blood sugars closely so that I could ensure I could train for an hour without needing to stop. I told my wife about it. I told my work colleagues about. Suddenly, I saw the potential for my son and his own ADHD that I hadn’t contemplated before and recognized it would be something long-lasting that we could do together for years to come.
On the fateful day, which was only yesterday, I got home from work, full of piss and vinegar. I dropped my bags at the door, briefly greeted my wife then looked at Nathan and said, “Tonight, we start training in karate.” I wasn’t prepared for the bursting of my proverbial bubble that came next; “Nah, I don’t wanna…” I was floored. He had been hounding me to learn karate for the past month and now that the opportunity presented itself, he wanted nothing to do with it. I did my best to try and understand why he had suddenly changed his mind or his reluctance but, like most children, all he would say is that he had changed his mind.
I made my way downstairs and trained on my own, with a brief visit from my wife for a short sparring session. It was nearly impossible, hiding my disappointment. The worst part was recognizing that I seemed to be looking forward to it more than he was. I‘ve come to recognize in recent years that I have more years behind me than I do in front. The amount of time I have to impart whatever I’ve learned to my children grows shorter with every passing day and my hope is that Nathan will see me work out just once, where he’ll decide to jump in. In the meantime, I have to be patient. I don’t want to be that parent that forces their child into something like this. Because I want him to retain and carry it for his entire life and allow it to guide him. Such things won’t be possible if it feels like a chore. ☯️