3/24/07

Focus & Respect

I have seen the parenting light, and that light wears a martial arts uniform. On Thursday, I took the girls to a MOMS' Club-arranged karate demonstration at a local studio. About ten families showed up, so the place was full of eager 3-6 year-olds.

And I admit it: I have raised two girly girls.

Ballet, or more likely their previous participation in an organized class of any kind, made this demonstration possible. I sat on the parents' chairs while both Ilsa and Juliette took to the practice floor without issue. They sat, they listened, they waited patiently. Very proud! This independence thing is cool, at least while they still have to listen to what I say...

The late-20s instructor, Mr. Thomas, proved up to the challenge of wrangling his crowd. He spoke loudly, which grabbed everyone's attention, and he kept up a high-energy lesson that never allowed the kids to stray far from his agenda. I could not help but compare his style to that of the girls' ballet instructor, a young college girl who treats her charges like perfect princesses, tiny prima donnas who do not need a firm guide through a 30-minutes lesson. Ha!

He taught them how to stand in "set," a karate-style form of standing at attention. Then he defined the word "focus" -- using a heavily padded baseball bat called "the kid smacker" to make his point when attention began to wander -- and he showed them how to bow as a sign of respect. Nothing makes moms cheer more than when a big, burly, loud man commands his small pupils to turn and show respect to their parents. Juliette and little Ilsa found me along the wall and bowed. Hot damn! Where do I sign up??

Then, he brought out a plastic practice board that split in two when kicked or punched even slightly and showed all the kids how to stomp. But first, he elicited a promise that they never stomp on friends, parents, or furniture. Good caveat!

Around the circle he went, giving each student a turn, asking them to shout "AI-YAH!" when stomping the board in two. The eldest son of a friend of mine, along with his 3-yo sister, had no problem with the stomping or the shouting. I should think his problem would be more along the lines of restraining the stomping and the shouting. But my babes, as I mentioned, are girly girls. Ilsa stomped with tiny, tiny feet and would not shout. Juliette busted the thing on the first try, but she wouldn't shout either. She said, "I'm too shy." Insert unanimous laughter.

At that moment, I noticed the dearth of masculine competition in our household. Juliette is naturally assertive, but we tend to try and curb that side of her personality. She could do with a direction for her natural aggression and leadership skills, as well as a way to mediate her perfectionist tendencies. Ilsa would be well-served learning a heavy dose of self-defense techniques to protect that sweet, agreeable nature of hers, and added independence from big sis is always a plus.

In the car, I kept trying to get them to shout "AI-YAH!" No go. A final, last ditch effort -- promising ice cream to the girls with the loudest "AI-YAH!" -- produced a pair of ear-splitting shouts. Nice.

I tried to find out how much lessons would be for them both, thinking that karate would prove by far more useful than ballet, but the studio ownership is dicking around about prices, like a health club. Advance payments. Long-term contracts. No thanks. We can't do much now anyway, what with an imminent move to wherever by the end of May.

I will work to find another instructor of this calibre, someone with a gentleness and humor, but also with the cojones to stand up to a raving pack of 4-yos. Keven says I need to watch myself, because he suspects I'd praise the right military school if it kept the girls in line. No, no, no, of course not...

I feel the way the wind blows
It tells me where you've been through.
I watch the way the sun sets
Until the night's inside you.
"East of Eden" by Big Country

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