I saw this quote earlier this week and instantly agreed. I have two sons, Drew, a 10-year-old, and Jackson, a 7-year-old. They both have been doing Jiu-jitsu for four months now.
Neither one of them has been into the more conventional sports so I can’t compare to that. They did however show interest in martial arts and had previously gone what I like to refer to as a McDojo. There is probably nicer terminology to use, but I like McDojo. It’s a fun word.
“Burgers, fries, and a black belt to go…”
It was the type of place where skill didn’t matter. Little focus was put on technique, everyone passed the tests. If people couldn’t break their boards they got smaller ones or switched to an easier technique. Everything was so watered down that there was very little there to actually challenge the kids. The belts they received every two months weren’t earned beyond showing up to class two times a week and putting in the bare minimum of effort. And, the minimum was pretty low. I’ve said it a thousand times, those belts, to me, were nothing more than participation awards.
They also put a pretty big emphasis on how doing classes there will boost your child’s confidence and mold them into respectful and disciplined role models filled to the brim with good character traits.
My oldest son went to this place for 2-1/2 years and “earned” his black belt in…
Hold up. Wait.
You know, I honestly couldn’t tell you what his black belt is in. It’s questionable enough that he had “earned” a black belt at age 10 but even more questionable when we don’t even know what type of martial arts it is. Who cares if you are a whatever degree black belt when you can’t even tell me what form of martial arts it is.
Tae Kwon Do?
(I’ve heard the instructors call it both.)
Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner.
Before Drew got his black belt we asked him several times, “What does that belt mean to you?” He never could answer the question apart from, “I don’t know.” This kid loves to talk and give his opinion. We don’t see him shy away from the opportunity to speak very often. “I don’t know.” isn’t a phrase he uses often. He had to write an essay for his black belt testing and he ended up just basically putting what he thought he was suppose to say. He didn’t have a clue of what that belt meant to him because it didn’t mean anything to him.
This Tuesday morning over breakfast we were talking about how Jiu-jitsu class had gone the night before. Somewhere in there Drew said to me, in reference to the McDojo, “I know now why there are so many people that go to that place and why so many get their black belts.” I raised my eyebrows and looked at him with my what-in-the-world-are-you-about-to-say face.
“It’s because it’s not special. It’s easy. Everyone and anyone can do it.”
Wise words from a 10-year-old.
This would also explain why he uses his black belt to hang toys off the balcony in our home.
That belt has no value to him. He didn’t earn it and he knows it. That’s not an easy conclusion for a 10-year-old to come to. I’m proud of him for questioning the value of it and recognizing that. Especially when you have adults telling you that it should mean everything to you. That your black belt journey will change your life.
Yeah. No. At least not with that kind of black belt.
In that same breakfast conversation he went on to say, “I’m glad we are doing Jiu jitsu. It is hard and not everyone can do it. It IS special. I like it better because of that. It makes me feel like a…” He paused before asking, “Can I say a cuss word?”
“Um, no.” I said sternly. “You can tell me the first letter of the word and I can figure it out from there.”
“A bad ‘A’”
In other words, in a not so cuss-wordy way, we can see the confidence changing and this inner strength growing in both our kids.
Earlier this week my husband and I had a conversation about the changes we were seeing, most of them really coming to the forefront this last week. How much better they are getting along. How they are being so respectful to each other and to us. How much better they were handling our advice or constructive criticism. How Drew’s attitude has changed quite dramatically and how he isn’t angering as quickly as usual. That was a feat that I thought was impossible. Especially as we are entering into the tween years.
At the McDojo we had moments here and there where we thought maybe Drew and Jackson were building some good character traits out of it. Now I can see that it was just a mask. They would have mat talks every class with the kids about being respectful, using manners, what discipline means, working hard, and whatnot. However, nothing they ever did there developed that kind of behavior.
If you want a kid to be respectful, to know what discipline is, do you tell him to be respectful or tell him to be disciplined. Or, do you show him, challenge him, and test him to build the character that produces those traits like respect and discipline?
I’m sure it will take you about two seconds to figure out that puzzler.
I think it is so important for kids to experience both success and failure. I seriously hate this whole “participation award” culture we are living in. It is poison to our kids and their future. Think of the message it sends to kids when everyone wins and there is no failing.
That it’s impossible to fail in life.
That every attempt will equal success.
That everything is easy.
That if you put in mediocre work you will be rewarded.
Why work hard when you don’t have to?
Maybe it makes me a mean mommy but I want my kids to know and understand what failing feels like. I want them to be challenged and succeed and challenged and fail. That, my friends, is what builds strong character and strong kids. It’s hard to sit there and watch your kid fail but it’s going to be much harder to deal with a kid that thinks that everything should just be handed to them. I think we are starting to see the fruits of that kind of parenting with so many people these days that walk around with an entitled attitude.
Kids need to know what it feels like to work really hard and win.
Kids need to know what it feels like to work really hard and lose.
BJJ is great for that. On Monday I watched both of my boys fight for their lives and get the submission. And, then a few minutes later I saw them fight for their lives and get tapped.
Putting the winning and losing aside, what I saw beyond that was awesome.
I saw in victory that they are learning to show respect to their opponent. I have kids that if they win something, they will victory dance their hearts out. Humility was not something they practiced. You can tell though that they are starting to understand that it sucks to lose and that they have lost enough to know what that feels like. There is no denying the happiness they feel with they get a submission. They usually have pretty big smiles on their faces when that happens. What I see changing is that they are getting so much better about being happy with the win and being able to sympathize with the other person at the same time.
I saw that they are getting much better at accepting the losses without anger or feeling defeated. Drew really, really struggled with this at the beginning and still does here and there. He hates losing. Hates it. He would get tapped and get so mad that I could almost see the steam coming out of his ears. He’s really come a long way with this. He’s not over that hump yet, but he’s getting so, so much better. We are trying to emphasize with both of them that every tap, every loss is a learning opportunity. I think they are starting to have a better understanding of that now.
On Monday when Drew tapped to a choke he smiled and told the other boy, “That was a really good choke. There was no way I was getting out of it!” A few months ago, he never would have said that.
And then, through all of this, when they have failed, they got up and tried, tried again.
They didn’t fail and then want to give up. Failing wasn’t the end. They failed, dug deeper, and found the will to try again and work harder. They let that failure fuel the motivation to put in more effort, to not make the same mistakes, to persevere.
If this is what they are learning and developing in just four months, I can’t wait to see what happens in the future as they continue on in Jiu-jitsu. I have no doubts that it is developing them into the best version of themselves that they can be.
I think signing them up for Jiu-jitsu was one of the best decisions we have made as parents.