Last week I thought long and hard about the future, the future of our young students at Scornavacco Martial Arts Academy, and one question I asked myself was this:
Of all the lessons I teach, what would I absolutely want students to remember, retain and rely on in 1, 10, 20 years from now, even if they forgot everything else?
The answer stared me point-blank in the face when I noticed a distinct pattern among most of our September Belt Graduates.
About 80% of these Belt Graduates were scheduled to earn their new belts one, two or three months ago.
But, for various reasons — from being out of town on extended vacations, to not being ready to advance and needing to practice more, to requiring some extra time to exhibit Black Belt Behavior at home — these students were LATE.
Getting off-track or coming up short when they expect to move up can destroy motivation, elicit tears and discourage students from continuing on.
In fact, many schools (not only martial arts schools) actively work to “never rock the emotional boat” with young students, treating them as if they are precious porcelain figurines that will crack with the slightest pressure…
…So students are shielded from hardship in the mistaken, counter-productive belief that this will keep students motivated, make them happier and allow them to appear successful…
When nothing could be further from the truth!
Belt inflation, Grade inflation, Skill inflation, all make students weaker, not stronger.
Well-meaning adults try to save children from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) when what they are really doing is preventing youngsters from benefiting from SIG (Stress-Induced Growth).
As I looked out on the graduation class, I saw example after example of Stress-Induced Growth.
It wasn’t that these students faced abnormal obstacles, what sets them apart is that they all faced very normal obstacles that challenge all of us…
And they overcame these obstacles to succeed.
But why and how did they succeed when others quit?
First, I make it crystal clear to them that failure is not personal, that my feedback reflects their performance, not their identity — “you tried and failed,” versus “you are a failure.”
Second, I show them the gap between where they are today and where they need to be to reach their goal.
Most students are actually fairly close to passing a test, and when we focus only on the gap, it shows them how close they are to success and makes the goal seem much more attainable.
For example, if they got 8 out of 10, then they only need to improve 2 more moves to succeed — they don’t have to start from scratch.
Third, I speak with everyone involved (family members, classmates, teachers) who all pledge their support to the student to help them improve so they can perform at the level they need to for the next test.
Then, we focus on fixing mistakes, strengthening weak areas and putting in the necessary effort until the next belt test comes around, and they succeed.
And we do it TOGETHER.
It works every time.
AND, years down the road, students invariably report that this particular belt test is their most memorable belt test, and this particular belt they earned is one they are most proud of.
Based on the joyous faces I saw on Friday, I can say that this latest graduating class will agree.
In the end, after all the Forms, Self-Defense Techniques and minutiae of martial arts has been forgotten and left behind, this is the lesson I hope stays with my students — how to try, fail and re-group to ultimately succeed in whatever they put their minds to in the future.
The good news is, when we give them the gift of learning how to face and overcome the challenge of failing a belt test and how to bounce back to eventually succeed…
They will never forget it, guaranteed.