Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tai Kwando: Physical Education and Something More

Last year, when we started homeschooling, N. talked about wanting to start a sport.

He said he was considering football, but I nixed that. Football involves too many injuries to young bodies and especially to brains. People with neurological diagnoses are more vulnerable to mild traumatic brain injury and N. is in that category. Also, N. is exquisitely sensitive to being hurt by others on purpose, and that is what football is about.

I suggested that he consider either a track club or martial arts. Both of these are individual sports in which a person is competing only with his or her personal best. These kinds of sports are very good for people with Aspergers. After mulling it over for a while, N. said he wanted to do martial arts. But by then we were deep into Bar Mitzvah preparations, and I knew I could not take on one more thing! So I told him that we would investigate martial arts after the big day.

But we took a good long break in January. In February, N. started his museum science class and we were working with Dr. Sheri Florance on Brain Engineering. That was worthwhile, but definitely not inexpensive. In March, we discovered the Wilderness Awareness School and Kemana. April was Passover, and in May we got busy with summer plans...

Are you dectecting a pattern here?

In June, we started the flooring project and N. went to Boy Scout camp. In July, he was in Illinois for three weeks. If this was August, this must have been Coyote Tracks camp in California...September was the High Holy Days.

Wow! Time sure does fly when you're having fun!

Finally, last Monday, after some urging from N., I made the call to Blackman's Tai Kwando Academy. Master Blackman has taught martial arts to a number of the kids that learned Hebrew from me. Two of those kids are Black Belts now, and one is training for the Olympics. That kid--well, he's not really a kid anymore--time does fly!--is doing a class for kids with ASD at the JCC. We thought about that program, but N. wanted to pursue the sport without reference to his disability. So a week ago Monday, I called up Blackman's.

They certainly don't waste any time. That afternoon I took N. for a free trial lesson.

When it was over, the teacher said that N. seemed to do well, listening to each direction and working at the moves. N. said he wanted to sign up.

So N. is now a member of the school, complete with a uniform and practice DVD to get to the yellow belt. He can take lessons on Monday just before boy scouts and on Wednesday just before Machon (Religious Ed). I also take him in special on Thursdays. That is three hours a week of intensive training. Since he is 13, he takes his lessons with the beginning adults. Those groups are small and he gets a lot of individual attention.

The sign-up form had a list of goals for the student to choose and check-off. N. checked "self-defense," as well as "discipline" and "confidence." Those are interesting goals. When he was in school, N. had several bouts of problems with bullies. So self-defense seems like a natural goal for him in his martial arts training. I would have chosen "discipline" for him, as that is always important for teens. But I had not thought much about "confidence" lately.

Accomplishing the rigorous goals of the Bar Mitzvah was a step that made N.'s confidence bloom. So, too, was the experience with Kamana I and the Coyote Tracks camp. I had not really thought about it much, but N. has blossomed in the past year, with homeschooling, and these other accomplishments.

However, N. had a nasty bout with bullying in his scout troop just before we went to Coyote Tracks. It was antisemitic bullying from the other three members of his patrol. The actual things the kids said to N. indicated their complete ignorance of Judaism and of the Holocaust, but they were hurtful remarks none the less. We called the scoutmaster that very same night, and to his credit, an immediate stop was put to the behavior, N. moved out of that patrol and into another, and the troop board is planning a Holocaust educational trip to the local Holocaust museum. But it has taken N. a long time to bounce back. He missed getting his Second Class with the other boys because he was apathetic about one last requirement. He missed the court of honor anyway, because it was scheduled for the night of Yom Kippur. (That's another issue we are working with the troop on--this was the second year in a row the family camp-out was scheduled during the highest of the holy days). But he has seemed to regain some interest in the scouts again.

Still, in reflecting on his year, I realized that for someone with AS, targeting by bullies can become a way of life. And the best way to deal with bullies is confidence.

Today, N. completed a six hour training on self-defense using Combat Hapkido methods. These include anatomical targeting and using the force of the attacker against him. He will need to go to another day of this training before he gets his higher ranks in Tai Kwando. He said that they taught a lot about observing the environment and moving with confidence, because the best way to solve problems with bullies and other attackers begins with confidence.

Confidence. It is an important aspect of physical training that was never explicitly taught in the public schools PE classes. There, bully-proofing was limited to telling an adult--many of whom had never been taught how to actually stop bullying behaviors.

Confidence is not on the curriculum in schools. It would be extremely difficult to develop confidence during physical training in schools and, at the same time, take it away by the extreme sport that testing has become in the very same schools.

Confidence. Evidently, as he has developed some of it, N. has also developed the desire for more!


Rebecca said...

This reminds me of a quote -- I wish I could remember where I found it or who said it -- that "self-esteem" comes not from being told how special you are (as programs which attempt to teach self-esteem do), but by real accomplishment of real goals which have a real possibility of failure.

Amie said...

Sounds like Tai Kwando is a great match for N.

How sad about his Boy Scout troop :( I hope his new patrol and the holocaust education make a difference and help him recover from the bullying.

Melora said...

Sounds like N. is involved in a lot of great activities! Going for martial arts three times a week, I imagine he'll make pretty rapid progress, and I can definitely see how good training in self defence would build confidence.
That is an awful shame about the bullying in boy scouts. I'm glad that the leaders responded well, and also that they switched N. to another group.

denise said...

Wow - that is intensive! Very cool.

My oldest wants to take a martial arts class and he will be old enough this winter to start. I think it will be a great way for him to focus his energy - as that is his biggest struggle. And being not only a physical discipline but also an inner one -- extra bonus.