Saturday, February 20, 2010

Disguised Gifts: How Difficulty Learning as a Child Made Me a Better Teacher

Gifts Sometimes Come in Disguise
How difficulty learning as a child made me a better teacher

“You’re stupid!” she exclaimed.  The seven year old freckle faced girl’s words cut like a sharp knife and reinforced what I had already believed about myself.  Kids can be cruel but we can be much crueler to ourselves.  I couldn’t explain why I couldn’t catch on like the other kids in my class.  I was never formally diagnosed with a learning disability but by the time I was an adult, it was a clear to me as day. 

Shame accompanied other feelings of inadequacy and lack of acceptance back then.  I tried and tried but it got really frustrating and took so much longer for me to do things than the many of the other children.  Doing what I could to hide it, trying to be funny or flying under the radar I would cope by deflecting attention and learned to make excuses.

But something amazing happened.  I started martial arts classes.  Never had I worked so hard at something.  My Black Belt teachers didn’t accept excuses and merit was the only currency in the TaeKwonDo Dojang (Korean for traditional Martial Arts training hall). 

I was awful at first, but in time I discovered that I could improve if I did what I was told and just kept at it.  Progress seemed painfully slow but I noticed that I got better.  Over time I started feeling really different about myself, better, empowered with a different attitude of “I can” rather than “I can’t”.  Feeling stupid takes your dignity but belt by belt, martial arts helped me earn it back.

Feeling stupid takes your dignity but belt by belt, 
martial arts helped me earn it back.

That struggle, to learn how I learned, and overcome the mismatch of how education is often delivered and how I process and learn, was infinitely valuable.  The more I applied the lessons of “find a way” from martial arts to other areas of my life the more I saw positive things happen.  I developed my own learning techniques and habits.  It served me in my first semester of college when as I earned a place on the Deans list.  It benefited me again in the Army as a Military Intelligence Analyst when I was trained to record classified information and brief high ranking officers. 

More importantly I recognize my challenges in learning today as a gift.  I have a level of empathy for my students, more patience to find their learning channels and timing.  I also see that part of my job is to find the good in each student, to uncover and develop his or her strengths.  Part of that stems from my yearning to have a teacher rescue me from that darkness and help me feel some value, discover some gift, besides my academic performance. 

That’s why my teaching method we use at all my USA Martial Arts includes using mentors and peer teaching to enhance the speed and joy of learning.  Less emphasis is placed on wrote memorization and more on functionalizing, creating and applying skills.  A student’s confidence, ability to act and adapt is more important than recalling a specific number of moves from a ridged sequence.  Besides, nobody is going to ask for self defense move #24 on the street; you either respond appropriately to an attack or become another victim statistic.

Besides, nobody is going to ask for self 
defense move #24 on the street; you either 
respond appropriately to an attack or 
become another victim statistic.

Repeatedly I have seen boys and girls grades improve, their confidence soar and them adopt a new vision for their life.  I know that I wouldn't have reached some of them without the tools I developed from my own personal struggles.  

My goal is to have my students possess the self-esteem to know they are worth defending and if forced, will apply their skills with confidence and conviction without freezing under stress.  Of greater importance is how my martial arts students view themselves in daily life and face challenges stress, health, mental and emotional challenges as the attacks of modern living.

Although I’ve earned my share of medals and trophies and accomplished some wonderful things in my career, I know that I’m not the best martial artist in the world.  I’m striving to learn all the time and remain a student who tries daily to lead by example.  What I can offer is from my life experience of overcoming obstacles, facing fears and helping others succeed (over 10,000 students and hundreds of Black Belts now). Ad that to the passion I have for sharing that knowledge with others to help men, women and children achieve things they never thought possible with this amazing tool called martial arts.


You can follow my blog and find out about my adventures at the Shaolin Temple, Olympic Training Center, training with Masters in Korea, being in movies, sparring with legends like UFC Champ Jiu-jitsu Master Royce Gracie, and some unique and interesting lessons along the way (including some about Chuck Norris).  Plus, I’ll share some secrets to realistic self-defense, personal security, and character and leadership development.  You might even get inspired too!
TaeKwonDo / TKD Times Magazine Article & Asthma Tips  Find out how a karate kid overcame asthma with this true inspiring story. Martial Arts for Kids and Families in Phoenix Paradise Valley, Scottsdale, Cave Creek Arizona 

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