Too Easy

Over the years I have learned to be a bit harsh with my Krav Maga students. In the early years if a young student, say eight years old, would cry, I would run over to him, dry his tears and comfort him. I don't anymore.

Make a long story short I realized that part of my job is to toughen up the kids. Their moms can comfort them at home but as my teacher used to say, "Cry at home, not at the dojo".

Just yesterday we had an important yellow belt test. What was so important about it and why was it so special?

I have tested countless kids and adults for yellow belt but this was very special to me. Why?

Many of my students here in Israel were born elsewhere. Those who come from America, how can I put it? Well, they come from a life of relative comfort and ease. Israel can be a bit of a shock to them.

Israeli kids are tougher on the whole. Now I am sure there are tough kids in the inner cities of America, no doubt, but I am referring to my clientele.

So this particular boy comes to us with a green belt from some karate school in America. Our Israeli students eat him up for breakfast (as they say here) and I have no choice but to start him off with a white belt.

The kid has a good attitude and takes it all in stride. He explains to his friends that this is a "different style" than America, and he must start over. None of the kids can understand how he earned a green belt in America. I try to explain to them how commercial martial arts in America have become, that I have met teens with second and even third dan(degree) black belts. My friends in America lament how pressure from parents for ranks has destroyed American martial arts; if little Johnny does not have a green belt by the time he is seven years olf than mom will stop making the payments. I have seen tournaments with listings for "Black Belt Division, ages 8 -10".

So after a year of training, a year of really hard knocks, our boy, who has now learned to speak Hebrew, tests for yellow belt.

We do not go easy on him. His first fight is against Yaakov. Yaakov's family is from Russia and Yaakov is pretty much every kids' nightmare.

Yaakov sees an opening and goes for it. "Benny" (as we shall call him here) goes down. Within less than a minute Benny is on the floor and in tears. The fight part of the yellow belt test will last fifteen minutes, so our boy Benny has about fourteen and half minutes to go.

It does not make me happy to see anyone suffer but I shout at him, "Get up or you fail the test!" He gets up, he keeps fighting. He gets hit again, he falls down but now he gets up, he does his best to fight back. He survives the first round.

Next he faces David, another Russian kid. With bright orange hair and a smile on his face David leaps at the taller Benny. David attacks relentlessly, and Benny fights back, still with tears. Benny holds his own. Next he fights Yosef. Yosef is from an American family but was born here in Israel. He is the youngest of many children and came here a bit spoiled. But he has toughened up. With a perpetual grin on his happy face he rejoiced at the opportunity for a fight.

After many more rounds Benny must face Yaakov again, this time in free style no holds barred style fighting. Benny is exhausted and goes down without a struggle. I tell him "Try, at least try!", he says, " I am trying. I tell "don’t' ever talk back to me during a test, just try harder."

Benny does try harder and mounts a decent resistance. He completes the entire fifteen minutes.

After the test I give a little talk to the kids, a talk I have given many times but always with a few variations. I talk to them about not giving up, how they are now young and their problems seem to be huge but really, this is an easy time, things will get much more difficult.

I talk to them about rejection and failure; you might be turned down by a girl, your application rejected by the college of your choice, fired from your job. Life will hit you hard, you will fall down. The question is, can you get up! Can you get up when life knocks you down?

I talk to them about the Beatles; how they were turned down by many record companies. How one genius explained to their manager that "guitar music is on the way out." Imagine if the Beatles decided to cry and give up. Fortunately for all of us they were a little more resilient than that.

After class, when everyone had left already, Benny says to me, "I realize now what the biggest mistake of my life was". (Typically dramatic). "What was that?" I ask him. "Four years of karate in America. Why did I listen to them? Sensei Jay made me believe that everything in life was easy; I got all my belts so easily. He didn’t' prepare me for reality, now I know that things do not come easy."

All these years of speaking to kids and finally I hear that someone is really listening. Benny heard the message, felt the message on his body. He understands. If it is too easy it is worthless.

Te Makkelijk

In de loop der jaren heb ik geleerd om een beetje hard met mijn studendten. In de eerste jaren als een jonge student, dus acht jaar oud, zou huilen, zou ik hem overreden, droog zijn tranen en troosten. Heb ik niet meer.

Maak een lang verhaal kort realiseerde ik me dat een deel van mijn werk is te verharden de kinderen. Hun moeders kunnen troosten hen thuis, maar als mijn leraar vroeger zei, "Cry thuis, niet op de dojo".

Gisteren hadden we een belangrijke gele gordel te testen. Wat was er zo belangrijk aan is en waarom is het zo speciaal?

Ik heb het getest talloze kinderen en volwassenen voor de gele band, maar dit was heel bijzonder voor mij. Waarom?

Veel van mijn studenten hier in Israël waren elders geboren. Degenen die komen uit Amerika, hoe kan ik het zeggen? Nou, ze komen uit een leven van relatieve comfort en gemak. Israël kan een beetje een schok voor hen zijn.

Israëlische kinderen zijn harder op het geheel. Nu ben ik zeker dat er stoere kids in de binnensteden van Amerika, geen twijfel, maar ik heb het aan mijn klanten.

Dus dit bijzondere jongen komt naar ons met een groene gordel van een aantal karate school in Amerika. Onze Israëlische studenten eet hem op voor het ontbijt (zoals ze hier zeggen) en ik heb geen keus dan hem te beginnen met een witte band.