You Can’t Do Your Kid’s Push-Ups

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I want to tread into the realm of teaching kids to be strong. I am a father of two young boys who I want to grow up to be strong men. I want my boys to be emotionally, mentally, and physically strong. It is difficult to teach this however. Math, science, language, and history — these are all things I know. I can sit my kids down and I can answer their questions, and quantifiably teach them these things. Strength is something different though; it has to come from within.

I began to understand this in High School when I “discovered” martial arts. I say discovered, because that was when I really started to study them. I actually started to study them as opposed to practicing moves from The Karate Kid with my buddies in the back yard. Which is funny considering that, until I was older, the message of strength in the Karate Kid movies was largely lost on me.

There is a funny thing about studying the martial arts, the reason you get into to it and what you get out of it are two very different things. I was not a tough kid growing up. I wanted to be, but I wasn’t. I was a smart kid, a dramatic kid, a funny kid (at times), but I wasn’t tough, and many times when I needed to be tough I found myself lacking. So I convinced my parents to let me start taking martial arts lessons at our local boys and girls club.

I’d paid my dues. I had my uniform. I was there on time. Then the teacher came in and we got to work. I have news for you. The martial arts is tough. We stood in positions that hurt, we did so many pushups that I thought my arms would fall off, then we learned the basic blocks (from that ridiculously hard training position), and then before we knew it our hour was up and we were done for the day with an admonition to go home and practice. I didn’t go practice, I had video games to play, and whatever silly things I did back when I was a 15 year-old little punk.

I showed up again the next week, a little wary, my arms were dreading any volume of pushup which I now knew was a part of learning a martial art. We did the same thing as the week before, there may have been minor variations, but I assure you we stood in the same hard training positions, and did a ridiculous amount of pushups, and we did the blocks again. Once again we were tired and sore and we were given the admonition to practice this week. Guess what, I didn’t, I found plenty of other things to do that week.

So here we were at week three, I show up again, ready to learn surely this week we were going to do some punches and kicks, nope, another variation of training stances, pushups, and blocks. I was incredibly frustrated. So after class I asked my teacher: “Hey when do we learn to fight?” He answered, “As soon as you learn to practice.”

He could see in my form and my stance, as well as the others in the class that we were just showing up for the one hour class once a week and that was all the martial arts were to us. He was teaching us equal to the effort we were putting in. Our tuition got us into any of the 6 hours of classes that he taught. I was only coming to the one beginner class. He admonished us to practice, I didn’t, and so he had to reteach us each week because we were forgetting in between our classes. We weren’t showing him that we wanted to learn so he was teaching us to our level of commitment.

He said one other thing that really made an impact on me, He said that no amount of what he knew would ever make me a better martial artist, that if this is something I really wanted I would have to do it myself. My body needs to know how to stand, how to block, how to punch and kick. He said: “My body knows how to do all these things, yours needs to learn them and there is only one way to do that.”

That is when a switch flipped on inside me. If I wanted this I had to work for it, I had to go get it. I had to be strong, not physically (though the volume of pushups I was doing didn’t hurt in that department), but mentally strong. If I really wanted this, I had to practice it instead of watching T.V. and playing video games everyday after school. If I wanted it, I had to show up to more classes to show I had the desire to learn. I couldn’t spend all my nights “hanging with friends.” None of those activities are inherently bad, but I had a goal I wanted to achieve, and to do that I had to find a strength inside that drove me, because no one else could do that for me.

So I practiced at night before bed, I even did pushups. I went to more of the available classes, where I got to do even more pushups, and before I knew it, I was learning punches and kicks to compliment my training stances and blocks. Now if I thought stances and blocks were hard, punches and kicks were even harder. Funny how that worked.

That’s the peculiar thing about strength, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional it is not something that you can give your kids. It is something they have to discover in themselves. Our jobs, as parents, are like my martial arts teacher’s was, to model it and give them opportunities to develop it. I can’t do the pushups for them — those pushups only work for me. I can’t practice their blocks for them, because only my blocks will get better. I can let them know I will be practicing, and allow them to join me. I can share my experiences when they ask about their struggles. I can encourage them as they show initiative, but in the end, I have to accept that they will only be as strong, as they want to be.

(This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project )

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