Sticks and Stones

15 Sep

This past Wednesday, I was doing some good-natured teasing of some youth students prior to the start of a Taekwondo class. I told the group that I sometimes picked on them so that they could become resilient. Of course, I had to explain what I meant by that word.

To keep it simple, resiliency refers to the ability to cope with adversity. The teasing of the kids is based on my own experience of being the target of some good natured ribbing from peers and instructors throughout my years of training in Taekwondo. That interaction, as one small element in the larger process of training, accomplishing, failing, and moving through progressively greater challenges, has contributed to my own greater level of personal strength  that has developed over the years.

This teasing/chiding is not any sort of resiliency-building strategy per se. Our overall martial arts training process is what truly builds students’ confidence and strength. When a student continues to come to class despite the struggle, or repeated failure, at performing a new technique, when he cannot complete all of his test requirements during a promotion exam and has to keep at it until he succeeds, when she then moves on to the next challenge and level as strong, or stronger, than before, that is resiliency.

However, as challenging, fulfilling, affirming and even fun as that process might be, I regularly encounter students who cannot easily handle verbal correction and chiding. They are a bit fragile in that respect, particularly early on in their training.

Teasing or chiding is very risky.  I am good at it; I can make it work. Even on the fly, I carefully consider the words, the student, the circumstances, the intent. I tell my instructors to not necessarily do what I do, because if we fail at it, we might just as easily hurt a student’s feeling or break their spirit in some way. We could lose a student and never have the opportunity to work with them again, depriving them of the greater benefits of our arts, and even leaving them with a scar of some degree.

Poor communication and interaction, never mind bullying, are all problems these days (and always have been, I imagine). Particularly in a world where so much of our interaction is in word only — online, in texts, in emails — with no non-verbal cues available to help decipher meaning and intent, we need to be respectful, carefully choose our words, and carefully consider the words of others. Further, through various media, we observe simply horrible, even stupid, interaction and, perhaps, inadvertently begin to ourselves interact in ways that move closer to what we observe there as a new, poorer norm for behavior.

I strongly believe that we have to learn to communicate and interact well, nowadays better than ever. Still, it seems to me as if many people of all ages in today’s society cannot cope with negative feedback, even that which is well-intentioned and even, perhaps, well-presented. It’s almost as if the improved ways of interacting we are trying to foster do not help inoculate us against criticism and adversity. It’s perhaps a bit of a catch-22.

Carefully and tactfully done, over time, the ribbing as I use it can help steel the student against criticisms that do not have such good intention. What it accomplishes on some level, as it did for me. is the ability to not be so readily hurt by words of ill intent, to let them be like water off a duck’s back. It also has helped me to be able to receive critical input and to consider it, use it, and respond to it, rather than simply (over) react or shut down.

At our schools we train, we challenge, we support, we chide, we pass, we fail, we laugh, we come back and achieve even greater things. I think that is a great microcosm which should be representative of students’ larger worlds. Yes, sticks and stones can break our bones, but we should be strong enough and confident enough so that words can rarely hurt us. Somewhere along the way, we need a bit of adversity to help us get to that place.

4 Responses to “Sticks and Stones”

  1. Eric Swan September 19, 2012 at 02:43 #

    Excellent commentary Master Chris!

  2. chriscorreia September 19, 2012 at 02:57 #

    Thank you, Master Eric. I appreciate you paying attention!

  3. Debbie Maki Tibbetts December 9, 2013 at 13:58 #

    Perfectly written. Very good read. I recognized your method and commented to many on how positive it was, after the first class I came to watch my Grandsons. Thank You.

    • chriscorreia December 9, 2013 at 14:14 #

      Thank YOU for taking the time to read and comment!

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