Article originally published in Chicagoland Daily Herald and other newspapers in the column titled, Slightly Off.
My daughter is taking karate and you should be very afraid. She’s a yellow belt. Before that she was a white belt. Each belt has all these colorful stripes. I have no idea what any of these belts or stripes mean, but I must say they complement any outfit. I do know that her goal is to get a black belt, and since black goes with everything, I think she’s made a wise choice.
It all began when my daughter, Lauren, brought me this newspaper ad that read, “Ever since I joined karate, my room is always clean.”
Now you might think it ludicrous that my husband and I would pay $70 a month for my daughter to keep her room clean, but then, you haven’t seen her room. Actually I thought the $70 included a person that would come over and clean her room, but unfortunately that hasn’t happened.
But other things are happening. She’s changing and I can’t quite put my finger on it. At home she strikes all these poses and punches the air with purpose. She looks tough, really tough, and yet graceful.
Before we leave for Karate, something awfully strange takes place. If she sees that her uniform is wrinkled, I am not kidding, she irons it! Yes, My teen-ager can actually see the wrinkles! And then, this 13-year-old, who can never even locate her own socks, amazingly tracks down the iron and ironing board and then even more astounding, uses them.
When she walks into the karate studio, she bows. When she meets her instructor, she bows. She shows respect to her fellow students. They must follow a code of conduct an arm long. They have a student creed which kids are to memorize that reads:
I will behave in a way that will make my karate school and my family happy.
I will be true to my karate school and what it teaches.
I will be honest and help my parents my teachers and my friends.
I will not hit. I will only use karate in protecting myself or my family.
(I immediately went home and wrote up a family creed. Now I just need the karate instructors to come over and make my kids follow it.)
When my daughter, Lauren, earns another stripe, she walks out of the karate studio with her head held high. According to the instructor, the stripes are earned when the students learn another one of the self-defense moves, each a blend of the Kyukyu Kempo and Modern Arnis styles.
I know nothing about Martial Arts, but I do know that they’ve shown Lauren how to defend herself if she’s grabbed from behind. They’ve shown her the places on a body that will bring a person to the ground. She can kick as high as any cheerleader. She can do something to a shoulder that could make grown people cry. And they’ve shown her how to make these grunting noises that scare our dog to death.
Of course the question in the back of my mind is, will all these moves work if my beautiful, young daughter is attacked? If you’ve ever seen the Pink Panther movies, Inspector Clusou has a house boy that is instructed to attack him by surprise anytime, anywhere. I’d like to try that, but I’m afraid. Her older brother is afraid too. We’ve seen her practice, and well, we make a point not to surprise her these days.
I’m hoping the repetition of doing these moves for months on end will unconsciously kick in when they have to, even if she is terrified. I’m hoping that the punches that now meet only air, will connect with force.
I’m hoping she’ll kick where it counts and bring the attacker to the ground withering in agony.
If karate can do all that, frankly, I don’t care what her room looks like.