The first time I read my “The Can-Do Karate Kid” book to a group, it was to child karate students at a special seminar. Right as I introduced the book which helps youth build character, one of the younger kids said, “There’s this kid who says he’s in karate. He says he has a gold belt. But… I don’t think he is in karate,” with a knowing look.
I know the feeling. It must be an age-old conundrum for practiced martial artists. Even adults brag on their karate skills, but lack the ability to show it. Traditional martial artists’ skills should be apparent in their behavior of respect, self-control and confidence even if they never show you their fighting or defense moves.
(Take heart, as the years go by I tend to meet less and less people who brag about their belt or their training while leaving doubt about said skill. Maybe I myself don’t talk about my karate training as much. Or maybe I don’t mention it except when it’s necessary. Or maybe I wear less karate t-shirts or clothing which belies my training. Maybe.)
But I can relate to kids who have bragging classmates and acquaintances. These attention-seekers claim to be awesome with their martial arts skills. And then the same braggarts show a sad lack of self control, or agility, or respect, or assuredness. How does someone like me, who wants to build character themselves, handle such untrained acquaintances?
Build Character by Sharing
On the day of my first book reading, it was “The Can-Do Karate Kid” to the rescue. I told the student with the conundrum of the braggart that maybe sharing my book with kids like the self-proclaimed gold belt could help. “Even if they don’t do karate, the book can help them build character. It can help them to see that things like moral character and honesty are good things to have. They can learn about the Dojo Kun. Maybe it can help them to be more truthful.” (Later on, I realized that it’s also good to tell kids that if their local library doesn’t have the book, they can request it and libraries can get it.)
Sometimes I wonder if I give too much unsolicited advice. Like I tend to do with kids and lower karate ranks. But it’s usually only after they bring up something they are having trouble with or wondering about like in the case above. I see imparting wisdom and making suggestions as part of the responsibility of my rank. My aim is for all of us to consistently build character for ourselves.
Then there are others like my friend Bob Cat who only gives advice when people ask him for it. And he has some really good advice. If you know of anyone who’d like to ask Bob for advice, they can even do it anonymously in Dear Abby style here.