My sons Martial Arts Journey pt. 2

Three years have passed since my last post. A great three years.

So let’s recap. Kaleb had just earned his blue belt and placed third in the tournament.

Now for the nitty gritty of those three years…

We made it through winter and almost made it into spring but we had to take a month off, Kaleb broke both of his bones in his forearm. Of course, we did everything his surgeon said to do, but Kaleb was losing his patience. He was out of his gym, he was sitting on the couch, and he wasn’t doing anything Kaleb wanted to do. Thing was, Kaleb broke his arm in such a way that the Dr’s thought he was going to need surgery. Lucky for him/us we happened to get an amazing ER Dr. that set his arm so perfectly that for the time being, provided he didn’t fall or bump his arm in such a way that would cause his bones to shift he could avoid surgery altogether.  In true Master Phan, inclusive, fashion, he invited Kaleb to the gym to keep him involved.  Master Phan and Kaleb, together,  would work on simple form or would lead the class in stretching. And of course, Kaleb had to show off his one arm push ups (we didn’t tell his surgeon that one). Every visit to the Dr’s Kaleb would ask “can I go back to the gym and train now?” For four weeks he was repeatedly told: “no, absolutely not”. You could see the sadness in his face but then he would say, maybe next week mom. You could see he felt like he was missing out. Finally on the 5th-week Dr. visit. Kaleb was given the okay to go back, but with very specific orders. NO FALL RISK. Master  Phan was on board with the “don’t focus on the things you can’t do but better the things you can do!” attitude.

“Don’t limit your challenge, challenge your limits!” -I don’t know who said that but it is exactly what he did.

Okay, okay, too much gibbering. Let’s move on. Kaleb doesn’t miss a beat. His cast comes off and shortly after he nervously tests for this purple belt.


From purple to red he busted his butt trying to get back what he felt he had lost. Getting that hop, that rhythm back in his step. He competes in every category he was eligible for. He strives for the best, the best HE can be on that day. He tested himself, he pushed himself, but most of all he believed in himself. This doesn’t mean he is always ‘winning’, are you kidding? This means he repeatedly got back up when he was pushed down. This means he uses the loss as a learning tool instead of stomping his feet and throwing in the towel. He once said to me that he learned the most from his bronze. That one single medal made him think, it made him sit back and look for his mistakes so he doesn’t do them again. This is how we learn. Losing makes you better, embrace it, it’s good for you.

I see the shoulder shrugs, sometimes accompanied with a slight eye roll or the lift of the eyebrows along with the words “well if he likes it” that carries the doubtful undertones that linger in the voice of the commenter. “He’s just a kid make sure you don’t push him too hard” or “that’s a lot of time training…. for a kid”.  Has anyone ever forced their child into doing something they didn’t want to do? How did that work out? I also know that anyone who is competitive, adult or child,  is in their “gym” a lot. Whether it be a dojang, a hockey rink, field,  a gym with springboard floor, a pool, or even a computer or, say, an instrument you have to spend the time, the energy and the effort to improve.  Any child that flourishes personally from training/learning and wants to be great and has the drive to do so… why not let them? Let me just say, in my mind greatness doesn’t always necessarily have to mean the best. To me, the best is someone who is unbeatable, greatness, on the other hand, is someone who gets beat but comes running back for more. Greatness is someone finding their weaknesses and striving to be the best THEY can be without buckling under the stress of it all.  For Kaleb his martial arts have been like a form therapy for him. He has stretched himself into every single uncomfortable corner he has in that little growing body. He has to learn to be comfortable being extremely uncomfortable. He has to learn to be humble in his victories but just as important he has to learn to get back up from defeat, stand tall and continue to believe in himself as hard as that is sometimes. Just like anything in life. To us, this is just an adorable kid in sports, but to him, this is his whole life. He doesn’t look at his hard work as “cute”. He has learned some things that I know took me even into my 30’s to understand. He’s learning about real life.




This entire thing isn’t simply to learn how to play the game but to navigate through life. You learn what hard work is and how to work tirelessly for something you desperately want. You learn nothing in life worth having is just handed to you. He has made sacrifices, he has missed friends birthday parties, afterschool playdates, and even school events for his sport. He has made a choice in life and he is wholeheartedly following through. If you think about it, he is going to take the same principles with him for that big job promotion when he is 25 as when he is belt promoting when he’s is going for his big promotion at the age of  9. This sounds a little far-fetched? Bear with me, let’s think about it for a second. I will give you 10 quick reasons why I believe these two tie together. #1: You learn to be a part of a team. You want to train your teammates like you want to train yourself, therefore you become better and at the same time your partner gets better so that naturally leads to a stronger team. Whether it be a sports team or a sales team you want strong input to produce the excellent output. #2: You learn to be humble with integrity.  You know things take time to learn and you can’t learn everything on your own. Everyone brings a little something special to the table. Your coaches/bosses, your teammates/co workers, and even your opponents/competitors all have something to teach you.  #3: You have focus. You know how to visualize goals and how to execute them with your self-motivation and you’re following through practices. You make a plan and you can stick with it… until the end. #4: You learn to make decisions on the fly because if you don’t you can get a kick in the head,  figuratively or literally in this case. Also, in this, you also learn common sense. #5: It’s a big one. CONFIDENCE. You learn to have trust in yourself, in turn, you will make people around you feel like they can trust you.  #6: You are relentless. You work hard, and I mean damn bloody hard to get where you want to go. You can find the problem and know you can always work around an obstacle. #7: You can handle defeat and come back stronger. Nobody expects you to be perfect and mistakes are bound to happen, it’s all about how you rectify and bounce back. On a side note: if they do expect an unrealistic perfection do yourself a favor and find someone who appreciates you. #8: You are coachable. You know how to take direction and criticism to improve; sans ego. #9: You learn willpower and don’t quit even when it seems like the only thing left to do. Completely giving up is never an option. #10: You have passion. When you love what you do, you shine!

I am no expert but I would be willing to hire a person with all these personal attributes.

As you see we don’t spend hours in the gym just learning how to kick or how to get that perfect submission. We sit in that gym and soak up everything it has to offer and if you listen close enough and don’t let your ego get in the way there is so much you can personally learn and grow from. Also, I don’t believe this is a be all end all recipe for success, I am hopeful, not naive. I know life can go sideways in an instant and if that ever happens I hope he uses his skills to bring himself back to where he needs to be.

When you have goals and dreams you need support. Period. You build your family and expand your village. You need people to believe in you when your gas tank is running on empty. This is why you should surround yourself with people on the same page and that share that same thought process as you do. Age doesn’t matter, ranking doesn’t always matter, surround yourself with people who have your back so when you are a falling someone is always there to catch you. In turn, your arms are always open to those who need you. Mom and dad can’t always be there or sometimes they are just simply not the right one for the job at that precise moment. There is always someone to talk you down off that emotional ledge when things are just too much. When your breath is short and your chest is tight and your whole body feels like it’s going to implode, someone is always there. Over and over and over again but you will get stronger. We get stronger, our family gets stronger, our village gets stronger. Those times your coaches rush in heavy with just as much love and support when you lose as when you win, ahh! As a parent, I can’t even tell you how great it feels to have people who genuinely support and love my children.  This whole post has nothing to do with winning gold medals but solely about losing the small battles that will eventually lead to winning the big war. Again, you need the downs to appreciate the highs.  Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t going to take it easy on you or anyone for that fact but having the right tools to fight back is what we all need.



From red belt to black strip. His breaking technique…

Kaleb is not one to take shortcuts, especially when it comes to his martial arts. However, at this time, this 8-year-old decided he thought he would try and “cheat” the system to avoid getting hurt. When he was told he was going to test he was worried about hurting his foot with that thick slab of wood. He has done this kick many, many…. many times before but this wood was thicker than anything else he has ever broken. He took that short cut and slapped the board with the bottom of his foot, leaving the board unbroken. He knew. He knew that board wasn’t going to break. He knew that wasn’t proper technique, that that wasn’t how he was taught. After his test, he said, “mom, I knew that board wasn’t going to break. I needed to hit it with my heel, I knew that! So I took two deep breaths and told myself to just do it, do it properly!” In true Kaleb, fashion he threw that kick again.


Just then Kaleb realized how incredibly powerful his own thoughts were. He had the skill, speed, and the power to go through it the first time but what he didn’t have was the confidence. His own negative thoughts held him back, but that’s ok because it was his own positive thoughts that pushed him forward to succeed. Master Phan was there, like always,  with his supportive words but in that exact moment, it was up to Kaleb to get the job done. You know as well as I do me or anyone else could have told him this, actually I know we have,  but this is something he needed to experience and learn for himself. There are no short cuts in life and to learn this at a young age is invaluable. This is all building his character and defining who he will be later in life. This is the other side, the nonphysical side of martial arts. This is about getting to know yourself and understand who you are on a deeper level.  You don’t really know what you’ve got until you are put in a position that makes you come out swinging.

I once read the same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. It’s about what you are made of not the circumstances.








He digs deeper into his passion for the martial arts and he decides to cross train. He is finding his love for jiu-jitsu is growing just as fast as his love for taekwondo. He likes using his body, his mind,  he likes the feeling of sweat and the benefits of his hard work. This is his work ethic when it comes to everything. He gives 100%, always.


He inspires me every day to work harder to be better than I was yesterday.




He inspires his sister. He inspires her by taking the lead on those mats and making her feel like this is her home too. She is my firecracker so these two are taking two completely different paths but the end outcome will be the same. This is martial arts. He shows her how to be strong and that she can literally do anything she wants to do. She actually surprises him on a regular basis. I am not sure if he realizes how much of her success is based on his own success and growth. She listens to him, she takes orders form him (in class, not at home… I mean, seriously, they are still siblings) she runs to him with a giant smile when they are to partner up. She wants him to be proud of her.

This is the little boy that barely had enough in him to inspire himself. Now he walks into the white belt class and high fives the little eager guys, sits and talks gently to the shy ones that are having a hard time getting the nerve to hit the mats, like his former little self. He helps teach Poomsae, board breaking and holds the targets for the relay kicking.  He helps re-tie belts that have unraveled from all the hard work. He has been known to chases the ones that have briefly lost focus and bring them back in the line. He has had little guys run up to him before class in the parking lot to show him their new belts and look up at him waiting for his excitement, and of course, just like Master Phan would he responds ” wow!! good job, I knew you could do it!” or something to that effect. He is now learning the importance of leadership. Not just how to be a leader but how to be a positive and supportive leader. He is learning to break things down and because of that,  he is improving his skills. He wants to keep them inspired and he genuinely wants to keep pouring the fuel that keeps those lil ninjas engaged. The black belt leaders in the class help guide him but they also let him do his thing and, I guess, like him,  they see their former self and take pride in helping build the next generation of leaders. While there is a ranking system everyone respects everyone.


.                                       Then we add some demo things in for fun.



Over the next 6 months, we prepare for his Black belt test.


This is his journey. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, he is just a painfully shy kid trying to get through the growing pains of becoming who he is. His focus and determination are admirable. His dedication and his willingness to learn and listen will, hopefully, carry him far in life. My hope for him is to know, or at least to have solid knowledge as to who he truly is. We are always evolving and changing and he will inevitably question himself but I hope he never gives up on his own heart. I hope he always sees what I see, a young man with intense drive and a killer instinct ready to devour anything coming his way. We all want the same thing for our children. We all want them to be happy, healthy and safe. I am not so sure that is going to easy with the internet that is about to creep into his life in the not so far future. The internet that will tell him who he is supposed to and not supposed to be. He will be bombarded with articles upon articles telling him why the choices he is making in life are wrong. Or, hell,  even why he is thriving in life. I fall into those articles myself more than I would like to admit and maybe that’s why I want him to have a better grip on who he is and his own thoughts. We don’t need the internet and some blog to tell us we are doing ok. The irony I know.  But this isn’t about you or me. This isn’t a story about being “the best of the best” or even how to be the best. This is a story, a true story, of a 9-year-old little boy with indomitable spirit who is working on bettering himself through the love of his sport, through his own sweat, his own tears, and sometimes his own blood. And I hope that he doesn’t let the craziness of the world put out his flame.

This is just a story about a little boy that is still pushing past those feelings and is still breathing down the neck of his own fears one day at a time. This life is definitely not for everyone, but I do encourage you to find something, anything that makes your heart soar, that makes your mind feel strong and your body feels alive. BAAO.

If you missed part 1 –> My son’s journey with Martial Arts| Taekwondo