As a parent, I try to do my best to inspire my children. I want them to try new things, branch out, and find something they’re passionate about.
I want them to be the best they can be, and I try to expose them to the things that inspired me when I was young. For example, when I ran high school track, I was inspired by a quote from legendary runner Steve Prefontaine: “A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts.” I wasn’t always the fastest on the track, but I always challenged myself to see if, over the course of 400 meters, I could dig deeper than the guy in the next lane.
In that vein, I’ve encouraged my kids to participate in athletic endeavors. They have for the most part been good sports about it, but to be honest, they don’t always draw the same inspiration from it. In fact, my 14-year-old son is most inspired for races where they serve cookies at the finish line.
I’ve also tried to inspire my kids with music. They take guitar lessons, and have free rein to follow their own musical tastes. While it’s been great watching them improve and grow, it’s also led to some unfortunate discoveries, mainly that my 12-year-old daughter now listens to K-pop — Korean pop music, like “Gangnam Style” by Psy — which might just be worse than disco.
In any case, in my efforts to help my kids find that spark, I may have been getting things backward. We grown-ups can draw plenty of inspiration from our kids.
In January, my kids earned their black belts in karate. I had never participated in any martial arts classes in my life, but we signed up my son a few years ago because he wasn’t enjoying team sports, and we wanted to find an activity that would help him develop physically. He enjoyed it, and my daughter wanted to be like her brother and took to it as well.
A little more than three years later, I watched my kids make it through an 8-hour endurance test, then an all-day black belt test. I have to admit, in addition to being proud, I was also impressed and inspired. I told them that if they wanted to continue with their karate, I would sign up, too.
So now, as it turns out, I am the one trying new things — and it’s been a long time since I’ve tried something completely foreign to me. I am a 41-year-old white belt — I know that’s the lowest rank from watching them for three years, but I’ve been surprised at just how hard it’s been to pick up on things that my kids make look easy. It’s intimidating and humbling, especially when a 10-year-old corrects your form (though they’ve also complimented my push-ups, so I have that going for me).
I’ve discovered a few things about myself. There was a time when, while I wouldn’t have called myself graceful, I was at least fluid and athletic in my movements. Standing in the dojo, I feel like a bull in a china shop, trying to get my arms and legs to get on the same page and do what the instructor (frequently one of my kids) is demonstrating.
And I thought my flexibility was pretty good, too — after several years of yoga classes, I have no problem touching my toes or placing my palms on the ground in a forward fold. But apparently, I haven’t done much to address my lateral flexibility, and if I ever have to fend someone off with a side kick, all they’re in danger of from me is a sore shin.
There’s a mental component to martial arts, too, and I’ve re-discovered the reward of challenging your brain to learn something new. Not to mention how thoroughly exhausting a few minutes of sparring work can be (note to self: the mental part will probably be a little easier if I do a better job protecting my head).
As I mentioned, my kids make it look effortless. I can appreciate the work they put in to get that point, and I’m inspired by it.
And just maybe, seeing my get way out of my comfort zone at what my kids tell me is my “advanced age” will provide a little bit of inspiration for them, too.
Reach Clarion editor Will Morrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.