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TKD puts my parenting to the test

My seven year-old son, Michael, started doing Tae Kwon Do when he was three. I loved that hour watching him in his crisp, white uniform through the foggy glass partition. He did his stance and said, “Yes sir!” He tried to mirror jumping jacks, not quite coordinated enough to get his arms and legs moving together.  He learned his five basics. He was a tiny figure of strength and determination. I couldn’t get enough.

Almost three years later, Michael’s uniform may not have been as crisp, but his love with TKD was still fresh. It gave him confidence and a sense of pride. I wasn’t as in love with the overly disciplined environment, but I couldn’t argue the results. Plus, any small bump we hit, Michael high jumped right over. Now, he was getting ready to test for his purple belt, pretty impressive for just six years-old.

before the test...

Before the test…

The TKD tests are like a military recital in a sweaty, tense room stuffed with family, instructors and kids, for well over an hour.  The Master sits at a platform, scrutinizing and shouting orders. He could be tough on the kids. In the right (or wrong) mood, he pushed the kids and even taunted them. An imposing figure and an 8th degree black belt, he didn’t have to try too hard to make them nervous. He certainly made me nervous.

It was only Michael and two other six year-olds testing that day for Purple. The three had gone up through the ranks together. Small but mighty. I sat on the sidelines, biting my nails while watching him at the center of the mat, being ordered to display his mastery over his moves.  Unlike me, Michael was confident and poised. He and his friends breezed through their requirements. I breathed. It was a mistake.

“20 push-ups!” The Master yelled, and the boys dropped to the floor and did their best imitation of a push-up, while shouting out the count. They struggled, but with effort made it to 20.

They waited in push-up position to be released. Instead, the Master ordered, “10 more push-ups!” Shaking slightly, the boys did 10 more, their push-ups more like just-ups. They could barely even go down.

The Master shouted again, “You want more push-ups?”

Together they screamed, “No sir!”

“10 more push-ups!”

Their little bodies struggled once more. It was turning into a sorry display. People were beginning to look away. I wish I could look away, but my welled-up eyes were glued to the center of the mat and my son’s intent, determined face.

“You want more push-ups?” The Master tested again after they finished.

The instructors circled, mouthing something to the boys. 

“No, Sir!” Their tiny voices squeaked. One of the boys was visibly crying.

“10 more!” The Master yelled again and down their blonde heads and tiny bodies went, no longer shouting, almost sobbing till they pitifully reached 10.

I was torn, completely torn. I wanted to stand up and scream, “Stop this! Who the hell do you people think you are?” But I sat there, with all the other parents, tears streaming down my face, my 6 year-old holding it together better. I just couldn’t believe what I was witnessing along with about 50 other people. Was this okay? This didn’t seem okay at all. It seemed like abuse. Why were we all just watching?! Why wasn’t I stopping this ridiculousness?! 

It pains me to admit, but it took another round, with all the instructors and me shouting the correct answer at them, before the boys actually understood that they needed to say “Yes, sir!” for the Master to stop punishing them.

Finally, it was over. I was horrified, disgusted and ashamed. I had failed my child.

What could I do to make it up to him? I walked to him sheepishly, my arms wide open, where my mouth had stayed firmly shut.  After a hug, I told Michael he could quit if he wanted to.

He shrugged it off and me as well. “It’s okay, mom.” Then, he beamed radiantly and proudly lifted his hard earned prize. “Look at my new belt!”

I smiled through my tears. “You did amazing. I’m so proud of you.” And I was. I just wanted to kill the Master. Instead, I ushered my kid out and took us all for ice cream.

Michael passed his test that day, but I still wonder if, as a mother, I passed mine.

getting his brown belt, he and the master, still friends. i still want to kick his ass.

This year, getting his brown belt. He and the Master still friends. I still want to kick his ass.

About Ice Scream Mama

Mama to 3 boys, wife to Mr. Baseball and daughter of a sad man. I have a double scoop every day.

16 responses »

  1. Yikes. This was stressful to read. Sounds like you and the rest of the parents witnessing this deserve some kind of belt as well.
    Very proud of Michael though.

    Reply
  2. Intense. It is hard to back away when you see something that is harmful for the child. It does sound like the sensei went to far.
    On the positive side, it’s clear Michael has gotten a great deal out of TKD. My older son is also taking Karate and while he is challenged, due to o.t. issues, he perserveres. There have been times when I thought I would have quit. I am proud that he continues and love the look on his face when he moves up a notch.

    Reply
  3. I am crying just recalling the incident. I know neither one of us will ever forget that fateful night. Not to mention the night of the blue belt test. The quickest “test” ever! Oh, how I can relate to this.

    Reply
  4. I guess as parents we cant always make things right, kids have a way to figure it out.
    just like kids fighting, we cant get to involved, because later they are the best of friends.

    Reply
  5. I would have died right there watching. OMG, you are a wonderful tender-hearted mama. It’s hard to know what to do in those situations. Except I am going to think twice about signing up for TKD. Too scary!

    Reply
    • it’s not always..so don’t let my experience taint you. each place is run different… it has been a definite learning experience for me… a lot of good has come from it but there’s been the other stuff too.

      Reply
  6. Strewth…tough love!

    I must say TomO loves Tae Kwon Do, and the Master can be tough on them, but…kind as well!

    Reply
    • that’s how he keeps em coming back. my little man is a brown belt, all 45 pounds of him. but he’s recently asked to take a break, and i respect that. tkd certainly gives them a sense of pride but they can be a bit tough, at least for me to watch…

      Reply
  7. OMG – I’d be dying and plotting revenge on the master. I love that your son has such a passion for TKD and is willing to pursue something he enjoys, even through the ups and downs. Your willingness to trust your son in this, talk with him, give him an out and follow his lead as long as he’s interested is exactly what good parenting is all about. xoxo

    Reply
    • it was bad. but that was years ago now. he is a brown belt, but last month he decided he wanted a break. i was torn with making him finish what he started, since he had come so far and done so well, or killing an expensive program that I no longer liked. Tough. I decided, to put my ‘never give up on anything’ personality on the back burner and let him decide what he wants. he says he wants to go back in april. we’ll see..

      Reply

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