Welcome to the first post of 2016! Please bear with me. This will get around to Karate, I promise.
One day I was doing my water fitness routine and I moved to shallow water for a particular movement. The pool has a floating rope thingy to divide the kiddee area from the rest of the pool, and I started in on my reps near that rope. After a minute or so I noticed a small child swimming underwater from the kiddee area. Because of the distortions of the water, it was hard to tell her exact size. It was clear she knew how to swim and had a destination in mind. She swam under the rope and surfaced. Something didn’t seem quite right, so before I even consciously thought about it, I was moving towards her. She turned her body from horizontal to vertical and ducked under the surface. I fully expected her to swim right back under the rope. Then it registered on my conscious level (keep in mind I was still moving towards her thanks to my instincts) – that head was not just little, it was tiny.
She came up again sputtering and flailing her arms in the classic, “I’m drowning” sign. I reached her a heartbeat after she went down a second time. I fished her out of the water, settling her on my hip in a well-practiced motion. She weighed next to nothing and couldn’t have been older than two and a half. She was so young that she was already on to the next thing after her near-drowning, namely, who the heck was this strange lady cooing, “Well, hello! Whatcha doin’ over here?” My heart was pounding, but I maintained calm for her sake and the sake of the other little ones playing nearby.
Without an accurate visual reference to this child’s size I initially had trouble evaluating the danger of the situation because that kid was moving very, very well under the water. She was deliberate in her choice of destination and she went there efficiently and beautifully. What she lacked was judgment. She fully expected the bottom of the pool to be firmly under her feet. She probably didn’t remember or even comprehend her caregiver’s instructions to stay close and not go past the rope. Even if she did comprehend and remember the instructions, it’s likely she’d have gone past the boundary anyway just because that’s what she wanted to do and who cares about the grownups’ opinions anyway? I’m not criticizing the kidlet – it’s just that the reality of being only two years old means she was too immature to make good choices or anticipate the possible outcomes of her actions.
So I got to thinking about this and drew some connections. I’ve seen videos of brilliant young karateka whose katas are really something. I wouldn’t care to challenge them – I like my body, particularly my joints, to stay whole and healthy. I can understand why many organizations will award black belts to kids as young as six. Watching these kids is truly wonderful. But I also understand why many organizations choose not to award a black belt to children, or designate them as “junior” black belts.
Is my new little acquaintance able to teach her swimming skills to a class of fifteen people aged 2 to 102? How about if one of her teenage students developed a crush on her, how would she handle that? What if a goofy adult student asks an awkward question that is best answered with, “I’m not the best person to talk to about this. Do you have a counselor or psychiatrist you could work with?” Can this tiny brilliant swimmer handle a student’s parent who is constantly bellowing instructions to the student during class? And how much pressure can she take to always be practicing, always striving to perfect her swimming technique, and always seeking new knowledge about swimming, nutrition, stretching, complimentary exercises, etc. etc. etc.? Does this little girl have any good ideas for fundraising to buy new kick boards? Does she know how to run a business? Most of all, if she had to use her skills to save her life, could she do so? I think I’ve already answered that question.
Many organizations maintain there’s more to being a black belt than just technical skills and either award a junior black belt or make the child wait until he or she is a teen or young adult. My encounter with that tiny mermaid got me thinking about that preference. In connection with that, I’ve been mulling over what I myself am going to have to develop in order to really and truly be a black belt. A couple of months or so ago I was challenged by an online acquaintance to think about it. The next three blog posts will be cleaned-up versions of what I wrote in response to his challenge.