Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sensei, Sunset

[The pic above is from one of The Boy’s first private lessons.]

It’s been almost two years since The Boy started taking private Taekwondo lessons.

When we began, there was this instructor at his school whose sleeves snapped when he punched, even when he was trying to demonstrate an unsatisfactory effort. He seemed like a logical place to start.

This instructor took great pains to not stand out, even more than the rest of the instructor staff at this place. I mean, if they’re running the class, the instructors stand out. But if they’re assisting someone else’s class, it’s their job to be everywhere and nowhere, and only in anyone’s sightline if specifically instructed.

As it turns out, this job description and the young man’s personality were a seamless fit. And that’s part of what intrigued me about him. Despite being a 4th-degree black belt, he was possessed of a very Kwai Chang Caine-like stillness of presence. In the common vernacular, “Thar was somethin’ different about that fella.”

Instructor-wise, I knew hiring this guy would be punching way above The Boy’s belt color, but I did it anyhow. It felt right, and I’ve never had cause to regret it.

The Otherness about this fellow is very much of a piece with The Boy’s Otherness, not to mention my own. At a time when The Boy was actively looking at a future of potential social ostracization because of his own oddness, this picture of him ten years down the road—happy, accomplished and head screwed on straight—walks into our lives.

Two words: Role Model.

And for about 20 months, The Private Instructor performed every part of his job at a black belt level. I give him personal credit for The Boy being able to run and do push-ups. And his name became the Ultimate Nullifier at home. If there was a fracas and we really had to wheel out the Big Guns, we would suggest we take the contested issue up with The Private Instructor and see what he thinks. Long after threatening The Boy with Santa had lost its efficacy, The Private Instructor’s name worked its magic. So well, in fact, that we haven’t had to resort to that old ploy in forever.

Turning our wet noodle white belt into a legitimately competitive red belt has been a team effort at the studio we attend; The Private Instructor’s relative contribution has been growing smaller en toto as his teaching schedule and The Boy’s class schedule diverged over the last year. But the confidence boost of having his very own private black belt—and to be completely honest, a pretty bad-ass one at that—added an immeasurable amount to what we have achieved so far on The Boy’s journey of self-esteem.

The Private Instructor, like The Boy, is no social butterfly and that’s by his choice. The Boy sees this and re-contextualizes his own social isolation. I have explained to him that he will probably never be the BMOC, that he will have to settle for having a few intensely good friendships over time instead of a flood of casual, meaningless ones. That being the Odd Man Out isn’t a curse, but a blessing. I had these talks with him before private lessons began, but with his instructor’s example at hand, my words took on a much deeper resonance.

The Private Instructor even taught me stuff from time to time. Once I was paying attention to the lesson, and I heard one of those things that’s so simple, you say, “Well, duh.” But it was still revelatory to me. He was asking The Boy, “What is a Leader?” And the answer he was fishing for—that he eventually had to supply himself—was “an example.”

Well, duh. But I had never put the two together before. And believe me, that was info I have been able to put to use. When I began to view my actions as examples for The Boy, you know, some of those actions had to change.

Plus, we have discovered an additional bonus: This Taekwondo thing attracts quality kids! Most of The Boy’s peers at the studio, who have stuck with the program as long as he has, are good and decent kids. Smart, focused and respectful. More good role-modeling, this time peer-to-peer, as well as a pool of potential play dates a parent doesn’t have to worry about going horribly sideways.

But The Private Instructor instructs no more. He has moved on as of last week’s lesson. He has allowed The Boy to snatch the pebble from his hand and kicked himself out of the monastery. He’s like a Clint Eastwood character whose work is done and he’s moving on to clean up the next town on the frontier. Or maybe the next young man who needs martial arts instruction and some on-the-DL role modeling.

After almost two years, Friday afternoons are going to have a whole different shape now. I’m glad he timed his departure to coincide with District tournaments and the end of the school year. By the time all that dust has settled, enough water will have gone under the bridge that Friday afternoons won’t feel like Friday afternoons anymore anyhow.

I told him that I hated change, and he pointed out to me the futility of that opposition with the uncomplicated courtesy he would point out that my shoelace was untied.

I will miss this young man, but I feel better about the world knowing that he’s out in it, and the future is in his hands, and his students’, and not mine.

[The photos below are from the last private lesson with The Boy.]


Post a Comment

<< Home