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Thread: Is Black Belt Next? Asked The Street Kid Tying His New Yellow Belt...

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    Default Is Black Belt Next? Asked The Street Kid Tying His New Yellow Belt...

    Is Black Belt Next? Asked The Street Kid Tying His New Yellow Belt...
    By Bob Hubbard - Thu, 01 Feb 2007 06:58:52 GMT


    Is Black Belt Next? Asked The Street Kid Tying His New Yellow Belt...

    Mark Kennedy

    Copyright © 2005-2007, Mark Kennedy

    I managed to keep a straight face while replying, No, there are a few colors in between. The naiveté amused me. Yet in fairness, this group of 25 newly-minted yellow belts had been promoted in record time—just six weeks. It had been a special summer program for kids just out of juvenile hall, or expelled from district schools. An experiment.

    So, I could see how they might think the whole process would be collapsed. On the other hand, I'd worked them two solid hours a day, four days a week, hour-for-hour at least the equivalent of a traditional program's three one-hour classes a week for 3-6 months. There was no gimme to it. This kid had conveniently forgotten all the hard work they'd done, although some of those around him—still sore, stiff, and blistered—burst into laughter at his question.

    Yet I sensed a dark side to this mirthful moment as we stood in the afterglow of our hard-won achievement. Sure, on the surface this student's comment appeared to be merely a neophyte's inexperience. But 18 years of working with street-savvy kids kept me from dismissing the pall which had fallen behind my eyes. What was it?

    The unsettling feeling lasted a day or two before I could articulate it. And it was this: there was a dangerous assumption underlying the kid's basic outlook on life. Too often adolescents who have been cut off for long periods from traditional routes to success begin to look for shortcuts. They may feel like failures in one or more areas of their lives: school, social activities, sports, dating, or maybe shame or hopelessness over their family or home situation. As I thought it over, the conviction grew that this boy may have actually believed there was a shortcut. And that was worrisome. Because I've found that the more kids feel on the outs from success, the more such shortcuts will seem acceptable, normal, even preferable.

    So what might I take from this episode to make me better at working with and helping such kids through the martial arts? I believe this street-wizened teen learned by way of that summer that he would have to work for martial arts achievements—and maybe others as well. But he also saw that he could do it. He could be successful the old fashioned way. He didn't need a shortcut. He was capable. And as simple as this sounds, I have encountered hundreds, maybe thousands, of teens who don't believe they are capable. They may appear normal to adults, or even peers, but many teens feel a deep sense of failure in one or more areas of life. What a great challenge—and opportunity—for those of us who work with them, whether in the martial arts studio, the classroom, a church or civic setting, or across the dinner table.

    Mark Kennedy, M.Ed., two-time alternative education teacher of the year and a nationally-certified black belt instructor, is the author of two books for teachers, martial arts instructors, and parents: Lessons from the Hawk (learning for all) and Dance of the Dolphin (creating a learning rich environment). Get free articles, info on how to reach all kids, original ideas, and solid links @ or contact


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    Default Re: Is Black Belt Next? Asked The Street Kid Tying His New Yellow Belt...

    Great story with good insight on a very positive aspect of the martial arts.

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