My kiddos are suddenly old enough to be better than me in certain things, and I’m as humbled about it as I am impressed. I’m not particularly competitive with my children, but as I sat watching my daughter at her martial arts test a few weeks ago, I realized that there is no way I could do what she’s doing.
She’s eight. And she’s on the small side for an eight year old.
But her Thai kicks are insanely high, her punches are fast and she is not messing around out there. They do this thing at these tests where one kid is in the middle of all of these instructors, and they basically take turns attacking so that the kid can show their defensive skills.
G is like half the size of her instructors, who range from late teens to full-grown adult men. And yes, obviously this is largely a performance, but you can’t deny the nerve factor when you’re the one standing in the middle of that circle. And there she is, my pint-sized, deadly serious eight year old, breaking out of holds and throwing knees and shoving one instructor aside as she turns to take on the next.
It’s kind of unsettling to watch something like that, because part of me wants to charge across the mat and rescue her, and another part is thinking she’s handling this just fine on her own, and another part is reminding myself that, of course, this isn’t real.
With four kids, including one who has suddenly discovered the appeal of after-school activities and jumped in wholeheartedly, I don’t spend a lot of time hanging out at the martial arts school anymore. I drop off my two oldest for their curriculum classes and sparring and Brazilian jiu jitsu, and an hour or ninety minutes later, their dad grabs them on his way home.
But when G tested for her red belt, a rank three belts below the black belt, she asked me to stay and watch. She had one tip left, which would show her mastery of the previous five tips she had earned as a brown senior. And it’s not supposed to be easy.
Kids fail these tests all the time, which is one of the things I really like about martial arts. There’s regular, consistent opportunity to fail and to pick yourself back up and try again. The emphasis is on putting in the work to reap the rewards, and in our current society of participation trophies and everything they represent, that’s a good lesson.
And while I don’t often watch her in her classes anymore, she practices many of these movements at home. She’s prone to breaking into her kick combo on the way down the hall, or practicing the 23 movements that make up one of her many forms in front of our bedroom mirror. I know she can kick high, and that she has really great form.
But seeing her in performance mode, with that red belt prize dangling within arm’s reach, as she starts the final year or so of her journey to this black belt – something that began when she was three – well, I was totally impressed.
I’ve watched tests like these since she was five, when she graduated out of the preschool program into the real-deal martial arts classes. But what a difference a few years makes. She has the laser focus and attention to detail that I’ve seen in some of the much, much older kids, the ones with second and third degree black belts. She’s small, yes, but she’s strong, and every movement is mindful and powerful.
These are skills that she’s worked hard to master, and she doesn’t just do them well for a kid. She does them well, full stop. Martial arts is one of those things that takes time and hard work, and she has years on me.
Still, it’s an amazing moment when you recognize that your eight year old – the one who still needs help with her ponytail – can do something you definitely cannot. It’s like a little glimpse into the future, a time when my smart, strong girl heads off into the world, fully capable of both doing her own hair and choking someone out.