Monday, November 27, 2006

A Living Saint

My son got his green belt in karate last week. It took him more than two years to do it. I firmly believe that no other teacher would have gotten him to this point. Fortunately, his teacher is a saint.

When Benny started karate, in the fall of 2004, he was four and a half. I wanted to start him in martial arts because I thought it would help him to focus on the real world around him, to come out of his brain a little bit, and to engage with other people. This is a child who was constantly humming entire movements to concertos (in the right key too), had four or five imaginary friends, and wouldn't answer a direct question without having it repeated ten times. It wasn't that he was being naughty. He just really wasn't paying attention. To anything. Except what was between his ears.

Violin study was helping him, and we had/have a wonderful teacher, willing to patiently work on drawing him out of his insular world, while not making excuses for him based on his eccentricities. But I knew in my mind that Karate would be great for him.

I tried him at another martial arts studio in Virginia Beach, which had been recommended to me by a friend. They rejected him outright, because he was too spacey. Then the Norfolk Karate Academy opened up, just down the street, and I had new hope. I was looking for a happy medium between the lame-o McKarate franchises and the too-too-serious dojos with black walls and swords hanging from the ceiling. NKA seemed like just the thing. And Mr. Odom agreed to take him on.

Benny was any karate teacher's worst nightmare. Distracted, singing, picking his nose, rolling around on the floor, bugging the other kids -- it was pretty horrifying. Every week I expected to be told that we had to leave. But Mr. Odom did not give up. He repeated himself so many times that a weaker teacher would have been driven insane. He was kindly and brutally consistent in the face of Benny's completely erratic behavior. We saw the children who started at the same time get their yellow belts, their green belts, and on and on. More kids started, and passed Benny.
Benny never got discouraged, and neither did Mr. Odom.

Two years and several months later, the child has a green belt. And he's acting like a green belt (for the most part) in class. Who can say what exactly brought about this change? Was it Benny's intense and almost irrational love for karate? Was it Mr. Odom's persistence and the quality of instruction? Was it just that he got older and more mature? I can't say precisely what the formula was, but I know that it worked. This little space cadet, who used to be about as serious as a school mascot, has now started to show us some real progress, some real performance.

It means a lot that Mr. Odom didn't just promote him automatically, when the other kids got new belts. It means a lot that he never let Benny feel humiliated that he wasn't advancing. He always made it clear what was expected, and he accepted nothing less. This means that the green belt means something real for Benny. He knows he earned it. And now he can't wait to get to karate and learn what's next.

Here's Benny's last class as a yellow belt. They're doing the second form in the kibon (basic) series:

Here's Benny getting his green belt and also a little motivational speech from Mr. Odom:

And here's Benny with his new belt, and Mr. Odom with his little orange project. The face you see here is an example of Benny's newfound ferocity in the karate uniform:

You can visit the Norfolk Karate Academy right here.

No comments:

Post a Comment