Open Letter to the Angry Mother Who Stormed Out of the Academy Last Night

That was quite an exit. The way you turned your back on me, threw your nose up and stomped out of the dojo dragging your child by the arm was … notable. Actually several of the other parents did comment on your behavior; they were a little stunned and embarrassed at the spectacle.

You’re upset.  I get it. I know why. While your daughter was sparring, she got hit in the gut and started to cry. All of your parental lights and sirens blew up at once.  I can totally empathize.

Please understand- I am a MARTIAL ARTS instructor. I take my job and the responsibilities that come with it very seriously.

Let’s get some clarity.
When kids spar, they’re closely supervised. No head contact, no kicks to the legs. Full protective gear (boots, gloves, helmet). Everyone is matched according to size and experience. The idea is to apply the techniques they’ve learned with control – in other words, hit the other person and not get hit.

When your daughter got tagged:

  • I instantly stopped the match
  • Gave her a few moments to catch her breath
  • Encouraged her to finish strong and throw punches for just another 10 seconds
  • Instructed the other child to play defense while she went on offense

After the match, I told her that I was very proud of her. Then we walked together to the sink so she could wash her face and compose herself. By the time class bowed out, she was fine, save for an occasional sniffle.

No head trauma.  No neck injury. No broken bones or dislocated joints. No sprains.  Not 1 scrape, not 1 bruise.

When learning to ride a bike, a child is going to fall. In soccer, sometimes kids get kicked in the shins. In baseball, a batter occasionally gets beaned by a pitch. In ballet, dancers are expected to practice until their feet are literally raw.  In martial arts, once in a while a kid gets hit in the tummy.

Those experiences are essential. When handled properly, a child learns how to deal with frustration. They learn that they’re actually durable.  They learn how to regulate themselves.  “Protecting”  a kid by encasing them in body armor is like “helping” a baby chick free itself from their egg; in stealing their struggles, you deprive them of the strength they’ll need to survive.

You had enrolled your daughter in class because she was lacking self-confidence.  She’s shy. She has a gentle heart, and you’re concerned that she might be taken advantage of.  You wanted her to have real-world self-defense

In the 6 months she’s been training, she’s made fantastic progress. Judging from your demeanor tonight, I suspect that progress is going to stop abruptly because you’re probably going to yank her out of the program. Doing that will teach her that she’s fragile.  That it’s okay to quit when the going gets tough. Running from your fears is perfectly acceptable.  Are those really the lessons you want her to take away?

Just days ago, I read a horrible news story about a 15 year old girl who was viciously attacked by a boy in school.  He beat her savagely, kicking her with steel toed boots and stomping on her head. Right now she’s laying in a hospital bed, clinging to life.  If she does pull through, she’ll have permanent brain damage. Reports like that are in the news every week – and for every one that makes the headlines, there are hundreds that don’t.

The trend in my industry is moving toward daycare. Forms, games and gymnastic stunts. Black belt in two years, even if you’re only 11. Let me tell you what happens to these kids when they have to defend themselves- they fail hard.  They get humiliated.  And hurt. I won’t have that on my conscience.

If, heaven forbid, your daughter is ever attacked, its not going to be in a clean, well lit, matted dojo. The other kid wont be a friend and team mate.  And no one is going to be there to rescue her if she starts to cry.

I’m not running a Spartan boot camp or MMA dungeon. There’s plenty of time for laughter and fun. But the focus is on training. The curriculum here includes moderate contact sparring. Perhaps that makes me a dinosaur. So be it.

Your daughter is a wonderful kid.  If she’s a little gun-shy, I’ll work with her until she gets her confidence up, just like I’ve done with scores of kids before.

I sincerely hope she continues her training here. The choice is yours to make.

~Sensei

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