heian sho-dan!

Our boys are just finishing up their first year in karate. I have decided this is a sport I really like.

Basically, any kid can try karate. You don’t have to be exceptionally strong or athletic or have great hand-eye coordination.

Instead, to be good at karate, you need focus, determination and perseverance. And those are skills that every kid needs to be successful in whatever he or she decides to do later in life.

After three sessions of karate, both of my boys, ages 6 and 8, were ready to test to determine if they would get to add a set of stripes to their karate belts. I didn’t know anything about this process prior to this experience, so I will explain how it works.

For each level, the children have to show they can perform a series of karate moves called out by an instructor.

They also have to perfectly perform their kata. The first kata is called Heian Sho-Dan. It’s a series of nine moves, which have to be done in succession with good form. The kids have to look straight ahead and move their arms and legs with precision. The kids are asked to “Name your kata” at the beginning, and the child shouts, “Heian Sho-Dan!”

Our younger son had to do his testing first. We were all very nervous because he is about as shy as a kindergartner can be. He doesn’t like to go to karate class unless his older brother is with him, and he rarely talks to — or even looks at — anyone he doesn’t know.

We’ve actually had to pull out of several other park district classes, like swimming and sports mania, because he refused to participate, and opted to sit on the sidelines crying hysterically.

I was picturing him standing in front of the big black-belt sensai and melting into a fit of tears, which isn’t a good look for someone going for his karate belt.

When we got to the testing, the sensais took the 75 or so kids, all between the ages of 5 and 7, into a separate room and helped them warm up. We weren’t sure what was going on for an entire hour during which the most we saw of the kids was when bunches of them had to be escorted to the bathroom for a potty break.

Finally, it was time for the testing to begin, and I breathed a little sigh of relief. Each of the black belt judges came into the room holding hands with a little group of four kids to be tested. Instead of looking scary and tough, the sensais were smiling as they led their little line of children. They helped each group of four line up next to one of 18 numbered cones.

Then, the first row of 18 children all stepped up to the front and did their moves in unison. Each judge kept his eye on a certain set of kids.

It was much less pressure than we had imagined. And actually, with that many kids that age, the biggest problem was keeping them from lying down on the floor or tripping on their karate belts. One of the sensais was obsessed with rolling up their pant legs and tying their belts correctly. He kept jumping up from his judging table right in the middle of their moves to straighten the little kids’ outfits.

(As the kids get older, their testing is much more serious and rigorous. No hand-holding with the older kids! And they are expected to do each move without faltering.)

In the end, I have never been so proud of our 6-year-old. He did all of his moves perfectly. He stayed focused. He looked straight ahead. And he didn’t miss a beat.

We will find out this weekend how many stripes he earned. But regardless of what the judges decide, what he gained in self-confidence was black belt quality to his mom.


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