I had a student struggling with earning a stripe the other day, which reminded me about why I do the things I do. In this particular case, a teenage student was wanting to test for a stripe. Part of the requirement was for the student to write down several sparring combinations on paper and be able to demonstrate these sparring combinations to an instructor. The idea behind this is to get the student to think differently about sparring; to transition from choreographed one-steps to the dynamic movement of free-sparring, and to come up with combinations that work well for them.

After class, the student spent a moment or two writing these down but hadn’t physically performed the combinations. With me holding the list of these combinations, I asked the student to perform the first one. There was no one else around other than an instructor or two. After a long pause, it was apparent the student hadn’t put much thought into the combinations nor hadn’t had enough time to practice. The result of this was I asked him to take them home and work on them a bit more and we’ll try again. It was his last stripe and we had three weeks of classes before testing. With plenty of time to accomplish this goal, I know for a fact that he will achieve it.

On the surface, the student had done what was asked of him. He had written down several combinations that included the required techniques and was able to perform them, though slowly. The parent was in attendance during this exchange and was very supportive of what I was trying to accomplish with his child.

In this case, the student needed to hear “not yet” to push them to try harder. The first crescent kick a white belt performs is rarely on target. The first board break attempt from a brown belt rarely breaks the board. We must fail more often than we succeed before we are a success. The challenge of hearing “not yet” often motivates students to achieve more than they thought possible. In short, we need to hear “not yet” more often than we want.

My goal is to help a student to achieve their full potential. This requires a change in the student. Whether physical, mental, or emotional. No great achievement has ever been reached without a great amount of effort. Many great achievers have often reached a point. A breaking point for some. Many have questioned whether the goal was worth the effort. Whether reaching the summit of Mount Everest was worth the expense, the lost toes and fingers from frostbite, a lost friend who fell or their own life. Whether becoming a Navy Seal is worth the exhaustion, the hypothermia, the broken bones, and the unpleasantness of near drowning more than once. Or whether earning a black belt at Concord Taekwondo is worth the time and effort it takes to achieve it.

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