I have to put a couple of different parts of my life together for this. Hang in there with me, so I can say thank you.
I started in martial arts around the age of 32. I’ve already written about the story of why, and how my life changed.
When I started that journey I was a program manager at a juvenile corrections facility. I used to tell staff all the time that the youth going through our program were not going to remember the exacts of the lessons we were trying to teach. They aren’t going to reflect on the tests, the groups, the consequences. They would most likely reflect, years from then, on the people who were talking to them. Listening to them. Encouraging them. Holding them to tasks and expectations, things many of them had never experienced. I believed the person, the staff, is who would make a difference in the youth’s program. I believed the staff were the program. And some day, probably years from the time they experienced our program, a young adult would think back, gratefully. To the person who taught them, showed them, and expected from them something greater than that child ever knew of or expected from themselves.
That program no longer exists but for the works done by the remarkable people, and the youth who hopefully found the power and value of who they could be.
All the while I was participating in martial arts. Making my way through the ranks, “the color belts”. And in reflection the most valuable lessons I’ve learned have come from the people teaching me, and the students with whom I was learning.
I believed the lessons I learned in martial arts were lessons that could be and should be applied to me as a person. I always said our martial arts does not start when you walk in our door, and end when you walk out. Our martial arts should be part of who we are. And I believed that when I started to teach within our martial arts system. Martial arts, fundamentally and primarily is a self defense. But I believed, then and now, that self defense is not just a physical ability to kick the crap out of an attacker. Self defense starts with the manner in which you live your life. Self defense is developed with confidence, respect, attitude, discipline, perseverance, and decision making. You, and how you live, is part of your self defense plan.
I believed in the value of the person. And the person needing to know their own value. And that the person, the student, should live their life knowing and respecting the value of themselves and their gift of life.
Yesterday my beliefs came full circle. I was going about my every day, my average day, when someone returned a lesson to me. The principles I believed in at work, and what I believed about martial arts and the value of who we are….were sent back to me in an email.
Though it seems a bit self serving to put it here, it was a moment of value. And what I try to write about here in this part of the blog world, is about the things I value. In my life. And all that makes my life. And all that makes my life ….. are the people in it. And, even if we don’t know it, aren’t there times in life when we need validation? And not knowing we need it, when we receive it, it is a powerful moment of gratitude and humble joy. To think….someone thought of you, thinks of you, like this.
The email to me was a copy of a paper she had to write for school:
I don’t necessarily think it was just one thing or one moment that defined my desire to be an educator. I feel strongly about education. I am passionate about the opportunities it can open in someone’s life and help them better themselves in some way. I know not all education is equal in value but all of it counts. I’ve experienced both good and bad things in my years of education and each individual experience has shaped me into the person I am today and the educator I want to be.
One of the most influential people in my life that really sparked an interest in education in me was my Tae Kwon Do instructor, Colleen Brown aka Mrs. Brown. I don’t think you can meet a nicer person that could still literally kick your butt and still like her afterwards. She was and still is my mentor. She didn’t just teach me physical things, but she taught me life lessons that I still carry with me today. I started TKD when I was in eleventh grade. I would go to class and learn so much more than blocks and hits. We learned respect and patience; honor and responsibility. I saw the way she impacted not only my life, but the little kids’ life in my class also. They absolutely loved her.
Once in a while, she would let the older kids, myself included, teach the younger kids. I think it was my ability to relate an idea and have someone trust me enough to try it, that planted to seed of teaching in my mind. You get a rush of excitement when you see the work you put into a child pay off as they do a kick or punch almost perfectly. It’s a source of satisfaction that you are able to teach them something that may one day help them.
I know teaching a physical sport may seem incomparable to academic subjects but there are some similarities. You have to have the patience to see something through. You can’t give up. I was known in TKD for saying, “I can’t.” So every time I said it, I had to do twenty push ups. Mrs. Brown would tell me that I couldn’t say that I can’t do something until I actually tried it. But at the time, I was such a shy and timid person, that I had no real value in myself.
I remember fondly one class, we were learning how to tumble. Basically just learning how to land correctly. I was so scared. I kept thinking that I couldn’t do it. But Mrs. Brown allowed me to take a couple of minutes to calm down and she walked me through it. She encouraged me. She made me feel like I could and before I knew it, I went down and did a tumble. It was amazing. The feeling of having accomplished something you thought for sure you couldn’t do. That is the feeling I want to instill in my future students. That feeling of, “I can.”
That is one thing that I loved about her teaching technique; she didn’t leave anyone behind. She made everyone feel special and as if they were receiving her full attention, even if for a moment. She didn’t brush off one student, to start teaching another. It was first come, first served. She never let herself become exasperated or short with anyone. And with some of the kids in class, I swear her patience was that of a saint. She always had a ready smile and a bright greeting when she saw you. She was firm when needed to be but didn’t resort to childish mullishness when contradicted. She would also readily admit when she was wrong. I think that it takes a lot of pride to do that and when you teach, I feel like some of that pride needs to be pushed back.
Colleen Brown is a rare person and I doubt I will ever meet someone like her again. She has influenced me so much, yet I doubt she even knows it. I still keep in contact with her today and she is modest when I tell her how great of a teacher she was. She sees the world as a world of opportunity and she has helped me see it that way also.
And although Mrs. Brown has influenced me greatly, she is but only a drip in the pond of experiences that inspired me to pursue becoming a teacher. I don’t want to tie the decision down to just one specific thing because things happen for reasons and those reasons give us meanings. I want to teach because I have found that it gives me great joy to see a child’s eyes light up with understanding or see a correct answer where before there was a wrong one. Life is full of simple joys and I have found that teaching will contribute to a lot of mine.”
I am having a difficult time explaining how I felt while reading this letter. That I had a positive impact on another person. That this person shared that with others. And then took the time to share it with me. I gave something to someone and they valued it. I feel as if I am standing center stage, of my life, and bowing respectfully to all of the elements of my life. The timid child who couldn’t speak up and say “STOP”, the teenager who didn’t know her own value, the young adult who was scared of her own shadow, the young mom who was talked in to going back to school, the young employee who was scared everyone would see how little she really knew, the mother of young children who stepped on to a martial arts floor, they have followed me all this way. And yesterday they shared in this letter I received. And I celebrate my growth, my path, my value.
If you ever wonder about someone in your past who did or said something that made a positive impact on you… If how I felt when I read my email is any indication how others might react should they hear from someone who they impacted…. We should all make an effort to thank the good forces in our lives for what they have meant to us. Let them know what they have done for us.