Benny got his brown belt on October 30. Can you believe it? It was a great day for Benny, an enormous day for me too. Benny has been doing karate since August of 2003. It has taken him at least a year to get through every belt, sometimes more than a year. For Benny, karate has been a terrific challenge. There were times when he spent whole class periods spinning and humming. Times when he was kicked out of class for being suddenly defiant over something incomprehensible. Times when we felt he would never be able to communicate with another child enough to be a good sparring partner, a good self-defense partner, even hold a punching bag for another student. He was distracted, disconnected, and disengaged, but he was always in love with karate, always wanted to go train. There were times when we wondered if it would ever "kick in" -- would he ever snap to it? Sync up? Get with the program?
In the last year, Benny has improved in leaps and bounds. Part of it is the input of new instructors at Norfolk Karate Academy. Part is his own maturity, at last starting to bloom. He got his blue belt in February, and now he has his brown belt. His test was absolutely awesome! Everyone who knew him "back then" was blown away by it, including his father and me. We could not get over how much he has changed.
The biggest responsibility for Benny's improvement falls to Master Bill Odom, owner and founder of Norfolk Karate Academy. Master Odom never gave up on Benny, he never made me or Benny feel like he was a hopeless cause. Yet he also never promoted Benny just to make him feel better, or just because his peers were being promoted. Because of this ruthless fairness, this absolute willingness to take each individual child exactly where he or she is and work with them as individuals, Benny's brown belt means a lot. Norfolk Karate Academy is in my opinion the premier training facility for karate in Hampton Roads. We've seen it grow from the very beginning, and I know why it grows firsthand.
After the test was over, Master Odom turned Benny around to the class that was all lined up waiting to be dismissed. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, "This is what perseverance looks like. Benny took a year on every belt, but he never gave up, he never stopped trying. Someday he's going to be a black belt, because he persevered through all those years." And I thought, yes, this is what perseverance looks like: the kid and also the guy standing behind the kid, who also persevered where a lot of other teachers would have thrown in the towel. Thanks, Benny, for being so committed. Thanks, Mr. Odom, for being so patient.