Friday, May 2, 2008

Bending the rules

My two eldest are learning Taekwondo; the Korean martial art. In Australia, Taekwondo has the quality that it is a real activity where the instructors are actually trying to teach the children the art rather than fill in time and siphon off parents' cash. And, of course, as a result they can impose all sorts of conditions such as attendance requirements, twice weekly meetings and testing. To be sure, these are things that most parents would willingly pay more to not have but sadly, due to the immaturity of this particular industry, the supply of less for more has not yet taken off.

Today, my 9 year old daughter had a full contact class -- called Maniacs (presumably after the parents who permit this). This is a class where the kids gear up (checkbook please) and then beat each other up. Now I am a fairly non-violent person and do not watch violent sports (even archery). But I must say that I get quite a thrill watching my daughter kick some other kid in the chest. And on the same score, I am not too traumatised when she gets punched out. As far as I'm concerned, she had it coming.

After these sessions, we spend a little time debriefing.
"You looked good out there. That girl -- let's call her Gigantor -- was twice your size."

"Yep, and that is much harder too. I did very well."
Or ...
"You really got in some good shots with that boy. But he was quite a bit smaller than you."

"Yep, I was happy with that. The smaller ones are harder to hit."
Suffice it to say, she always comes through against the odds.

So today two things happened that seemed a bit different. The first was when the instructor was demonstrating -- using some small boy -- a series of moves for the class. During the altercation, he pushed the boy. The boy then pointed out that pushing wasn't allowed. The instructor then said, "it is allowed until the referee gives you a warning. Until then you can bend the rules as much as you like."

Well that got the attention of all the parents watching the going's on. It seemed a tad weak on the values front. Normally, these sporting activities are big on values and playing fair and, sensibly, because they are trying to get repeat business, down on things like winning. Let's face it, there just aren't enough winners in an average crowd of children. Indeed, the Taekwondo folks also usually are quite big on honor and restraint and are continually telling the children that they can never use their skills outside of the classroom. I guess during a competition, morals are a more flexible concept.

Anyhow, despite some initial glances, it took only a few seconds for the majority of us to decide that it was all just fine; indeed, better than fine given that at some point soon our children would be getting into a ring with another child (from perhaps an equally less moral club) and we would be hoping for them to survive with limited medical bills.

Medical bills brings me to the second thing that happened. One kid lost their mouth guard during the lesson (they take these things in and out depending on the activity). So the instructor got everyone to take out their mouth guards and hold them up to see if any one of them had the wrong one! Suffice it to say, they didn't but there was some nervousness amongst the parents that their child might have been caught with some other kid's mouth guard in their mouth.

So it transpired that the kid had forgotten his guard. That lead to a stern lecture from the instructor who asked the class if this kid gets his two front teeth kicked out, who will be blamed? Someone said, "you." He said, "exactly. And his parents will shout at me and then, you know what, I will shout at you because I keep telling you to bring your mouth guard."

To me, it seemed like the last bit was not a really credible threat. After all, if there is a kid standing there and bleeding, I suspect Mr Tough Instructor is going to be a whole lot less worried about chewing the kid out. Anyhow, it appears most of the children don't want their teeth kicked out and their parents are likely to be just as happy to chew them out as they bleed as they will face the big dentist bills.

All this aside, by her 10th birthday, my daughter may well be a black belt (yeah, really) and I will be bragging about it until the sun goes down. You should have seen me show off the wooden board she broke with her bare hands. Hopefully, she won't realise her physical power when we negotiate over doing chores.