Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Value of Tradition

This past weekend, my wife, kids and I went to a Fuddruckers last Saturday to get a bite to eat. While Traditional respectwaiting for our food, I was wandering around the restaurant looking at the various Elvis, Beatles, and Rolling Stones memorabilia, and someone asked me, "Excuse me, but did you used to teach Tae Kwon Do?" Surprised, I studied the young man's face and answered, cautiously, "yes. Have we met?" He answered, "You used to be my teacher."

As I looked at him, recognition dawned on me, and I remembered him, and his two brothers being students of mine. The young man, Khalil, and his brothers, Jamil and Niko, were students of mine at the ages of (approximately) 14, 12, and 7. Khalil was there, wearing a suit and tie, accompanied by his wife and young (3-year old) son, and looked to be about in his late twenties. I verified it by finding out that Niko just turned 21! How's that for making me feel old? It made me realize that I've been teaching the martial arts now for twenty-four years! [Reader please visualize the shell-shocked look in my eyes]

We talked excitedly for a few minutes, and then parted company after I introduced my 11 year-old son and wife to him, then I spent a few minutes thinking about how much of an impact I may have had on him, his brothers, and their upbringing. I hope it was a good impact, and think it was.

We often underestimate how we affect the lives of those around us, or at least I do, but when I reflect on what many of the parents of my students told me, I realize how powerful an impression we can make. How do you act around the kids? Their parents? No matter how they acted, I almost always addressed the parents of my students with a "Mr. or Mrs. (or Ms)" before their last name. I said "sir and ma'am" to almost everyone, whether they deserved that respect or not, and demanded the same of the instructors under me. I believed in setting an example, and still do.

We hold the lives and safety of our students in our hands with our policies and teachings, good or bad. But we also hold a part of their futures as well. Many of my faithful readers will already know that I've long abandoned or lowered the priority of many of the traditions and methods of the arts that I've studied and taught (such as forms, light or no-contact sparring, bowing, traditional uniforms, and removing one's shoes), but some things are indispensable in transforming young people into good citizens, all of which are integral to teaching the traditional martial arts (TMA):

  • Courtesy toward others

  • Respect for elders, superiors, and one's parents

  • Self-control, both physical and mental

  • Goal-setting through understanding the belt-earning process

  • Integrity, or adherence to a moral code

  • Pride, or or self-respect - not an empty self-esteem, but a sense of worth built by overcoming obstacles and challenges

Tradition2Can we learn the same things in other ways? Sure. There are civic organizations like Scouting, social and religious groups, like churches, and many other ways. However few others do it like TMA!

Now that I've focused, for several years on only teaching adults, women's self-defense, and public safety courses, my perspective has changed a lot, but that "chance" meeting on Saturday reminded me of something for which I can be proud, and TMA instructors, so can you. Thanks Khalil!


Dojo Rat said...

Very nice post, for an old guy :)

These are the very same traditional attributes that are missing in the UFC wanna-be culture
While we, like you have dispensed with the trappings of traditional arts, the spirit is still there.
Thanks Nathan, D.R.

Nathan Teodoro said...

Thanks DR. I think many of us come from the same place in this, whether we ever studied TMA or not, we appreciate what it does for it's adherents. I like to think I never left the truly important things behind. I appreciate the comments.- Nathan