The oldest three of my four sons have been taking karate for over half a year now. They’ve earned their orange belts, and I am a proud mother who signed them up because I think martial arts is beautiful. I’m one of the weird girls who loves science fiction and who always hung out with band nerds, so maybe this makes sense? I’m not sure why, but my boys have been into it as well.
Except a few weeks ago, one of these boys decided that he wasn’t going to do karate anymore, and his reasoning was fair. He told me that I have taught them that fighting is wrong and Jesus says to turn the other cheek. He told me I was contradicting myself. He sat down next to me and refused to go to class.
The week before this, however, he had said that he hated being told what to do in class. I cast my eyes as far as I can to the right: I don’t know WHERE he gets his rebellious heart. Poor fella, he comes by it honest. I hate being told what to do, too.
I decided that we would wait from the van for his brothers to finish their class, and as we walked out the door, one of the Tang Soo Do masters stopped us and invited us to his office. We both said, “Yes, sir,” because anyone who can spin like a tornado before kicking two separate faces better be called sir.
This man sat at his desk with softest demeanor. He explained to my son how he had never been in a fight, and he explained how we were made to be whole people. “I train my body to be strong, and as I do, I am also training my mind and my spirit. I learn self-control with my body, and so I understand it more fully with my spirit.”
My boy leaned toward his highest instructor with his mouth gaped open. He was drinking in every word, and so was I. There was another class for his rank in an hour. This instructor invited my boy to come and then worked with him one-on-one to teach him a gorgeous formation: Pyung Ahn Cho Dan. My son’s strong feet planted into the mat, and his controlled arms followed the beautiful way of his master’s. I watched them together, a shepherd gone after the one little lamb.
That was the moment it dawned on me what a beautiful thing it is to have a shepherd. I decided to join my sons in the learning, grabbed my checkbook, and bought a karate uniform on the spot. By the next night, I was in class with my boys.
It doesn’t matter how old you are when you start; you must start in white. My belt is white, and white means that you don’t know jack. There were four year olds in the room who ranked higher than me. We line up by rank, and so I was at the very end. My boys were at the opposite end of the room. The instructor yelled a word in Korean, and they responded with strong fists, and I just shrugged and sort of flopped around for a while.
If I were to watch the instructors flip through the air, knowing that these are moves I’ll learn when I test into the higher class, I would completely freak out. I can’t get stuck thinking about how complex things get. Right now, there’s no way my mama hips would do that stuff without coming apart like the jaws of a great white shark. I might break in mid-air and then fall into an unrecognizable pile in the floor. All I can do is think about my low position, my white belt. Every move they’re teaching me, I can do fairly well after a few minutes. Move by move, I am learning to love the slow process. I see how applying such a concept to my life would be very helpful. I feel stronger: mind, body, and soul. I feel so grateful.
In a small room with the grownups, I learned some real moves, and afterward, I gathered back up with my boys, and we high-fived big and loud. We poured in to the living room at home and practiced together. They are teaching me everything they can. If they say I am wrong, then I am. There’s a lot to learn from a young’n with an orange belt.
Tonight we lined up in the living room, and we did high kicks in unison. Then two of them followed me to the kitchen, my little lambs. I grabbed the green beans from the fridge. One stood in a chair by the counter, and one stood beside me, hip to hip. We smiled, breathing deep breaths from having moved together with our whole selves. We snapped the ends off the beans, standing in the quiet. Snap. Snap. Snap: each of us in our rhythm.
One whispered, “I loved that, Mama. Thank you.”
And I looked at him, still snapping. “I love it, too, buddy. I love so much.”