Friday, October 22, 2010

Karate Test Measures Progress

My son has been doing karate for a little over a year through a program for kids with special needs.

When we observed the class before enrolling Kai, we could hardly believe that all of the kids we saw had special needs, as most seemed indistinguishable from typical kids.  Kai would surely stick out, we thought, because he wouldn’t follow directions or be able to do the things the other kids were doing.  At that time, he had just started kindergarten at our neighborhood school, and the school was reporting problems with his behavior every day.  If he could not pay attention and follow along with other kids at school, we were skeptical that he would be able to do so in the karate class.

To our surprise, it did not take long before Kai was participating in the class just the way the other kids were.  The instructor, or sensei, at this dojo has a presence that commands the students’ attention and respect.   Sensei has a way of both encouraging and goading the kids to accomplish things they had never done before. 

Each class includes a series of exercises, activities, and karate techniques.  Besides learning karate, the kids work on building strength, balance, and coordination.  But, in addition to the physical activity, what I like is that Kai is learning to listen, follow directions, and participate in a group setting. 

Yesterday, the class was tested for their belt promotions.  Kai has been a yellow belt for quite awhile now.  Six months ago, he tested for orange belt but did not succeed as he was not able to do the required karate movements, or kata, without Sensei giving him all of the steps.  At that time, his movements lacked precision, and his fun-loving personality too often made it appear that he did not take karate seriously.  He has made progress since then, but we were not sure it was enough to be able to pass the test.

To prepare for this exam, my wife practiced the kata with Kai every night.  She had memorized the movements herself and worked with Kai until he knew them as well.

As we sat in the bleachers of the dojo watching the students go through the routines for the test, most of the parents appeared to be more tense than the kids.  My wife was particularly nervous.  The exam began with a series of exercises where the students had to perform according to Sensei’s instructions.  At one point, Kai struggled to lift a bar and my wife whispered her encouragement, “Come on, Kai.”  His left arm appeared to be particularly weak and for a few moments it looked like he wouldn’t be able to do it.  I think we were both afraid that he would get frustrated which might then lead to a meltdown.  But, he finally got the bar up and my wife breathed a heavy sigh of relief.  

The test moved on to the karate portion. First, they had to listen to Sensei’s commands and execute the proper movement.  Kai did this very well.  It was amazing how much better he was able to listen and respond compared to six months ago. 

When it came time to do the kata, Kai looked very comfortable and confident as he went through the entire routine.  Here, the practice sessions with Mom paid off particularly well.

Finally, he had to sit quietly and watch the other kids perform.  It was no small accomplishment that he was able to contain his goofy, chatterbox personality while watching the others.  His restraint was indicative that he is gaining more self control. 

After everyone finished, the parents in the stands anxiously awaited Sensei’s verdicts.  As he came to Kai, my wife held her breath.  When he announced that Kai had earned his orange belt, she had tears in her eyes as we cheered Kai on. 

As Sensei put the orange belt around Kai, we could hear Kai telling him that he worked “really, really, really, really hard” for this. 

Yes, Kai, you really did.  And, so, too, did Mom.


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