I don’t brag much. Maybe that is part and parcel with having lived in Japan for the past thirteen years. The negative is easier to share here.
But, I have to share, last night my kids made me really proud.
I can’t remember how much I’ve written about the kids’ karate class. Me First started when he was four-and-a-half. And he has hated, let me see if I can figure this right….pretty much every single minute of it.
We started out without putting too much thought into it. A friend was enrolling her child, would we like to come along for the trial lesson? HRH thought it was a good idea; I thought I could use an hour when someone else was in charge, so I went along, even though I wasn’t convinced that teaching my child how to kick and punch was a very good idea. For the Earth. For the rest of mankind.
But karate, at least the Shokutan class we go to, is not mainly about hitting and punching other people at all. The first six months were all sitting up straight, answering when called (without using the Japanese equivalent of “yeah,”) and mastering the tricky art of addressing your sensei in the polite form when he is talking to you in a condescending form. And there was lots of hitting and punching and kicking, at the appropriate time, in the appropriate way, and never at other people.
Me First never wanted to go. I dragged him, kicking and screaming, for two-and-a-half years. He wanted to quit. I wanted to quit. But HRH thought it was good for him.
Easy to say, right? But I was the one taking him every week.
This spring, I won’t gloss over it, I was sick of it. We skipped a lot. I considered forgoing the 1000 yen ($10) deposit on the belt and just never showing up again. We went back to the US for several weeks in the summer, and it was great to have a break.
But when we came back, Me Too said that she wanted to try karate. Suddenly, I caught my second wind. I knew what we were getting into this time, and I could see how a shy little girl could benefit from yelling “Ei!” in class a hundred times every week. I was worried about the tests, but that was six months down the road.
It was a lot easier to overrule Me First’s objections when the other child wanted to go. So we started going regularly again.
In October, there was a test. And Me First wasn’t invited. I mean, this was the obvious result of having missed more than we attended for six months. There was no point in taking the test if he had no chance of passing, right? But Me First was crushed. And he wanted to quit again.
Since then, bar sickness and snow, we have gone every week. Some weeks I’ve had to force him to go. It hasn’t been pretty or fun for either of us.
But last month, Me Too reached a turning point. They were practicing for the test, and each level had to perform their kata for the whole class. (The kata is almost like a kind of dance. A series of kicks, punches, and turns is performed in a particular order.) And Me First couldn’t do it. He goofs around in class, no one was surprised. But he was embarrassed. And he cried.
I talked to the teacher about how we could practice at home. And we have been practicing, though there are many days when he doesn’t want to. (I’ve seen the kata so much I could probably teach it myself now.)
Last night, the white belts were up first. The children have to sit still and quiet while they wait for their turn. Then the children are called up in groups of three or four. A teacher barks instructions at them, and they are supposed to perform the moves they have been told. This is kind of hard for a kid. Punch three times, last time you yell. (This is called ki-ai. I don’t know how karate circles in English speaking countries explain it, but in Japan ki-ai means putting your all into something, doing it from the heart.) Step forward with your right leg, now do Move A as you step back, repeat it three times. This kind of thing is hard for a five-year-old.
But Me Too did it. She’s done better in class, mind you, but in spite of the shyness and the nerves she must have felt, she answered when they called her name, she walked to the middle of the gym and stood there in front of everyone, and she did a good job. A few minutes after her group went, another white belt burst out in tears; the pressure was more than he could take.
It’s a lot to ask of a kid, and I wondered if it was pushing Me Too too hard. But she rose to the occasion. Hopefully standing up in front of her class and introducing herself won’t seem so hard after this.
A loooonnnnggg (almost ninety minute) wait later, and it was finally Me First’s turn.
And he nailed it.
Proud doesn’t begin to describe how good it felt.