8 Life Lessons From My Son’s Sensei That I Could Use Myself

I’ve been meaning to write about the benefits of my older boy taking karate lessons for a few months now.  It was going to be a sweet little post about how young kids benefit from the discipline that is encouraged at a dojo.

As a mom in this era of “respectful parenting,” where empathy is seemingly valued above all else, sometimes to the exclusion of discipline and boundaries, I’m not going to lie, there is a certain thrill in watching a sensei (gently) chew out a kid who is acting the fool.

Full disclosure, I was a little kid in the 1970s with an authoritarian father, so discipline is my jam.  When expectations around behavior are clear and understood, even knowing they will not always be achieved, I think the whole parent-child relationship is easier.  Kiddos need boundaries.  Heck, we all need boundaries.

And, lest you respectful parents who are reading this get angry that I am missing the point — that of course there are boundaries at use in respectful parenting, that’s cool, but in so many of the threads I read online, holy moly, the roles and boundaries seem very confused, like allowing a child to refuse shots at the doctor.  Nope.

Anyway.  Ahem.  What were we talking about?  Oh, yes.  The wisdom of my son’s sensei.

In preparation for that post I thought I was going to write, I started recording some of what the sensei says in class.  Sensei Ray is old school.  He requires discipline, respect, and focus in the dojo and believes a room chock full of five to twelve year olds is capable of achieving those things.  It’s quite inspiring, actually, because, for the most part, the kids do.  “Spirit and focus,” is his mantra and I use it often when we get to the drudgery of homework, tooth brushing, and chores.  Trust me when I say that a kid who is brushing his teeth with spirit and focus is bound to get fewer cavities.

Spirit and focus! Thanks for the lessons, Sensei Ray.
Spirit and focus! Thanks for the lessons, Sensei Ray.

Here are eight of the lessons Sensei Ray regularly talks about in karate class that I would be wise to apply to my own middle aged mom life.  Spirit and focus, ladies, spirit and focus.

  1. If you want to learn more, listen more.  This is a universal.  It works everywhere — at home, at work, at school, at your place of worship, in your parenting, in your relationships.  Start exercising those ears!
  2. Strive for perfection knowing it is impossible.  One of the potholes of motherhood is thinking perfection is attainable. Pinterest makes millions off this false belief.  The value is in the trying, not the flawless end product.  And I think our kids realize when we are beating up ourselves or them for not achieving perfection.  Be gentle with yourselves, be gentle with your kiddos. Try hard.  Always try and never stop trying, but know the trying is what is important, not the perfection.  And for my bright boy who gets frustrated with things that don’t come easily, this is key.
  3. The class trains together and gets stronger together.  For me, this one is about family.  I think I don’t always do a good enough job of bringing us together.  Older boy does this, younger boy does that, dad does this, mom does that.  The inspiration I take from this lesson is to engage in more family time.  Oh!  And yes, exercising as a family can only be a good thing.  More this.
  4. Be amazing.  We are all amazing.  The real question is whether or not you believe it.  You should.  You are amazing.  Believe it. Act accordingly.
  5. If you’re comfortable, you’re not doing it right.  This is good stuff.  When I used to mentor social work grad students, I always knew that the tasks that made them the most uncomfortable were the ones we needed to focus on.  They hated me, but it made them better social workers.  A bit like my son, when I deem something too challenging, I tend to avoid it.  At all costs.  That’s not good.  To keep growing and changing and developing, even as a 47 year old gal, I need to endure the challenge.  Welcome it, invite it, get comfortable with it.
  6. Be loud to make your presence known.  I love this.  Writing this blog for the past six plus years is a way that I shout and am heard by hundreds and thousands without even leaving my living room.  Gun violence, social justice, public education, racism, feminism, kindness and empathy, pediatric cancer advocacy, and neck moisturizer — these matters are all so important to me. They influence my life and through my keyboard, I am able to influence others.  Don’t ever be afraid to be loud, ladies. And don’t ever allow yourself to be silenced.
  7. Even in a stance, you should be sweating.  This one is deep.  And deceptively complicated.  And somewhat overwhelming. What I take from it as a mother is to remember to be strong and engaged even in the down times.  Mothering is hard on the bad days, but it’s hard on the good days, too.  Be present, be engaged, focus.  If you’re making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, if you’re wiping off the pee in front of the kid’s toilet, if you’re turning clothes inside out before they hit the laundry, if you’re taking a walk with your three year old and frustrated that it takes 30 minutes to get to the corner, can you find a space in those moments where you see the beauty in those things?  Refer to lesson number 2 above when you need moral support with this one.
  8. The minute we stop following traditions, they go away.  As someone who was raised in a strong Catholic family of six, with none of us kids practicing the faith as adults, I know this to be true.  As someone who was raised as the granddaughter of four European immigrants who worked so hard to assimilate to their new American home, I know this to be true.  As someone whose parents are both dead and gone, I know this to be true.  When traditions die, it is a loss that can be impossible to reverse. The passing of some traditions is a good thing (slavery being a prime example), but the loss of other traditions puts us at risk for becoming too homogenized.  Think carefully about integrating and celebrating traditions while living your best woke life.

There they are — some of Sensei Ray’s best life lessons that will help you as much as your kids.  And whenever you’re in doubt, just remember, spirit and focus, ladies!

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