She is seven. I am often stunned by her maturity and her ability to take responsibility for what is important to her. I work with the under-5 crowd all day. Sometimes she just seems so grown up. Sassy. Perceptive. Funny. Impossible to contain.
Last Saturday, she was my little, little girl again at a karate tournament.
When they announced that they wanted everyone to try a team kata, she asked two boys from her dojo to form a team at the last minute. They were 12 and 14, and they said “yes.” She had the highest ranking belt, so she was the team captain… a tiny blonde between two towering teenagers.
She made a tiny mistake coming out of the gate – one of her teammates caught it and adapted, the other didn’t. It threw their timing off in the first few moves. When they didn’t place she stood back, avoiding their eyes. I helped her talk to them for a minute. It was okay.
When it came time for her to do her solo kata, she was blushing and her allergies started to act up. She began scratching her neck and sneezing. She practised ten times in the hallway.
When you do a kata, you execute a series of karate stances, kicks, blocks and punches in a series. You perform side-by-side with another competitor of similar rank. When you are both finished, the five judges sitting at the edge of the ring flip a flag to vote for the winner. It is ruthless and instant.
First round she performed perfectly, but she was up against the star of the tournament and she lost unanimously. When they called her up for a second round she stepped to the line with twice the uncertainty. She turned the wrong way and missed a step. By then, she had also lost her kiai (the strong battle cry that accents certain moves). She finished quietly and lost unanimously again, but this time it felt worse.
When the sparring round started, I was starting to feel queasy. In a class of 7 to 9 year-olds, some of the pairs were aggressive and serious as they went after each other in their first round. She hasn’t had any real experience or guidance doing formal sparring at our dojo. She took some wild swings at a young man who was clean and took the round 3 to 0.
At the end of the day, she was disappointed and exhausted. Her Sensei congratulated her, proud that she had done all three events. Her dad and I hugged her to death.
It is easy to be proud of your kid when they have a gold medal hanging around their neck. It is bittersweet when they have proven their character so thoroughly without any external reward.
I know, I know… the external reward is not really the most important thing. But it feels important when you are seven, you really wanted a medal, you worked your butt off, and so many others are posing for photos with their rewards clanging about their necks.
I’m no karate expert, but the formalities, the protocol and the attack plan seemed much more familiar to everyone else in each event. Much of it was stuff I hadn’t seen happening in our classes as of late. I feel like her instructors could have given her a little more before she was thrown to the wolves and I am going to decide how to address that. But, I need to be careful.
I am a bit of a perfectionist. Definitely quite competitive.
I have to be careful how much I want her to do well. When I push for excellence – that I know she is capable of – is it too much? I would never want her to feel disapproval for making a mistake, for not winning… never. But does she interpret it that way when I push her to practise an extra time? Where is that line?
I was pushed when I was growing up. Not in a Tiger Mom sort of way – I was never shamed or abused – but my parents expected my best when it was important. Piano practise was the battle of the house for a long time. Mom was determined to get my sister and I to where we could read music with some competence. Years later there came a point where we pushed ourselves much further because we could really play. It was fun. Looking back, I am grateful that she pushed us through the beginning. There was also horsemanship, public speaking, school… these are all things my parents expected us to invest in. We were not always at the top, but often pretty close.
I want my daughter to know that she can compete with the best if she wants to. I want her to feel the amazing reward in working hard and doing well.
If she is to keep competing, she needs to be better equipped. She also needs to start enjoying herself a little more. We may just begin training at a dojo where there are other students at her level. We will probably forego the tournaments for a while.
She fought through three tough events without asking to quit. I don’t really know what was going on in her head, but at the end of the day she seemed able to see that her performance was not only ferociously brave, but also a personal best.
She is only seven.
And I am so very, very proud of her.