Behind the red door

8 Dec

He walked into our school as a 3rd grader. He was hiding alongside his aunt, his guardian. “I’m afraid.” “There’s nothing to be afraid of. See, those kids in there are doing it. Some of those kids look like you. They’re having fun.” “I’m afraid. They’re not me.” “You wanted to come try this. I think you’ll like it.” “It kinda looks good, but I’m afraid. I’m scared.”

Thus went the conversation between Daniel, his aunt and I as they considered whether or not he wanted to start Taekwondo training.

Daniel is autistic. He is afraid of new experiences, and even still feels afraid of his usual experiences at times. He can get fixated on things, mostly things that would somehow disturb him, particularly touch sensations. But it can be anything. We make some accommodations for him.

Daniel is now a fifth grader and has been training with us for about two years. He has accomplished much, and will accomplish more. Not too bad for a kid who is afraid of stuff.

ADMONITION ONE: If you have ever wondered if martial arts training would be good for you, then let me be clear: get your rear-end into a school — our school, if you’re local — and try it. At least visit and watch. I can’t tell you how many people have called me saying that they were really interested in practicing martial arts, some for years, and want to finally take a step. I do believe them. They set an appointment to come watch a class, perhaps to sample one. But they never show up. Ever. Even after rescheduling two or three times. They are afraid of what they might face. They are afraid to even take the first step in the door to visit.

I know the feeling. I actually started martial arts classes a few times when I was a young adult. The first time was at Charles Earle’s Uechi Karate School in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. It caught my attention the first I saw it. I had the interest. Years of on again/off again reading martial arts magazines. Taking books out of the library when I was a kid.

I used to catch the bus across the street. There was the sign, day in and day out. Charles Earle’s Uechi Karate School. I think once or twice I actually opened the door and looked up the staircase that went directly to the second floor. One day I finally walked up the stairs, each step one step closer to the unknown.

As afraid as excited. As concerned about how I would look and about failing as about the excitement of what I could learn and become. But I did start. About three times there at Mr. Earle’s and a couple of times at a different school when I moved a couple of towns up the highway. And I quit each time after three or four months, afraid about the new challenges yet to come.

They say the hardest step in the martial arts is the first one in the door. I understand.

Daniel’s last promotion test — to one of the higher rank color belts — was his biggest challenge. He knew it would be and he was busting with anticipation and freaking out with nerves leading up to the test. He did not complete all of the test requirements that night; it’s usually board breaking. He made them up in a couple of weeks or so, as nearly everyone usually does. Temporary defeat, but then victory.

I tell students don’t worry about what’s coming up next. Just show up and work. Things will take care of themself. If you do well, show up again. If you struggle, show up again. Take that first step. Then keep stepping. Walk through the door; then again, and again. And again.

ADMONITION TWO: If an austistic kid who has ongoing fear of situations can walk in the door of a Taekwondo school, actually start class, and stick with it for two years, face the ongoing fear of the unknown, risk overcoming the disappointment of failure, and persevere to succeed, then you — we —  can take that first step toward — whatever it is.  Don’t let fear stop you from taking that first step, walking in the door.

What have you been thinking about that you’ve been putting off? A conversation? A particular change in your life? Something at work or home? Something that you’ve been anxious about? Something that’s been in your mind or heart, perhaps for years?

Is there something that’s you’ve wanted to venture into but are afraid of the challenges you’ll encounter, afraid of failing, maybe afraid of looking stupid? Afraid it just won’t work out?

There is something. What is it? It’s probably the first thing you thought of. It’s right there. There might be another one or two behind it.

It’s the end of one year, a new year faces us. People start thinking about transitions and new beginnings, about changes. I guess I’ve got a jump start on the concept, but it’s relevant for anything in our mind or heart at any point in the year. There are often lots of steps in our lives we don’t take. Not even the first one.

Life’s too short. Take the step. Just the first step. Just once, actually open the door. Step. Once you’ve done that, you’ve taken the hardest step. The rest will take care of itself.

One Response to “Behind the red door”

  1. Joy December 8, 2013 at 15:18 #

    I think it’s amazing how much positive influence and responsibility you give the kids that start training with you! Thank you for your dedication!

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