Teaching very young children martial arts can sometimes be a challenge....not only must instructors make each activity in class an age-appropriate activity, but we must also be open to a child's attention span, mood changes and learn how to deal with mood swings in a firm yet caring manner. However, the benefit of teaching children, is the many lessons you will learn for yourself while you teach them. :)
One day in my "Tiny Tigers" class (3 to 4 year old kids), we were doing a drill called "pop-up". When a child's name is called, they are to "pop-up" from a seated position and do 2 reps of whatever movement they were taught earlier in the class. After a few rounds, one of the children "Jack", did not pop up when his name was called.
"Jack, aren't you going to pop up and show us your great front kick?"
Jack flopped backwards onto his back as a couple of other kids giggled. "I can't...." he said as his voice trailed off.
"I think you can..." I replied. "You do so well on your front kick. Wouldn't you like to show how strong your front kick is?"
"I can't do it...." Jack said. His voice was a touch shy of being a whine, but he didn't whine.
"Why not, Jack?" I asked.
".....'Cuz I can't...". Jack's father urged "C'mon buddy, you can do it".
"But I can't". Jack said. Odd. Jack was always so good at his front kicks. He started to squirm around on his back, just as little children do as they awaken from a short nap. "I can't do it.".
So as to keep the class going, I asked "Okay, that's fine. But do you remember what you have to do when you are not participating?"
"Uh huh....I sit next to mommy or daddy quiet and not talk...."
"What else?" I asked.
"I gotta ask to join the class when I'm ready..."
"That's right, now go sit down quietly".
After another few minutes of the pop up game, I gave all the kids a short break to get some water. As the kids clamored to their bags to get their water, I saw Jack on the corner of the floor, doing side kicks. I grinned....I thought that maybe Jack just needed a break and now he's back on task.
"Jack! That's a really cool side kick! Can you show me your front kick as cool as your side kick?"
He flopped to the ground. "I can't" he said. I tried to help him up, but he flopped more, make himself heavier.
I reminded him, "Jack, if you cannot participate today, you'll have to go home with Daddy and not do Martial Arts today...."
"But I wanna stay..." He protested.
"Well, sit here a few minutes and we'll see if you can stay on task in a bit", I answered.
After break was over, I got out the "big kids" kicking shield for side kick practice. "Okay! Time for side kicks!, everybody ready for side kicks?"
"Yes Sifu!!" the class shouted. Including Jack. He shouted "Yes Sifu" too. I cocked my head and gave him a grin.
"Jack, what do you say?"
"Uh....Sifu, I'm ready now. Can I come in?"
Jack's father grinned "Go on, and listen to Sifu"
Jack did great for his side kicks....they were pretty strong too! He also did great with his inward blocks and evasive techniques for the rest of class.
As I reflected on the class afterward, I realized that Jack had probably reached an important milestone....the ability to recognize that he can make choices for himself. It wasn't that Jack *couldn't* do front kicks... it was just that he *chose* not to do them. I don't know if he just didn't feel strong at them that day, or if he just didn't find them interesting , but he made the choice not to do them. The only thing was, he didn't quite know the difference between the words "Can't" and "Won't". He didn't quite understand that the word "can't" didn't indicate a physical inability (he's done front kicks before), he said "can't" because he simply didn't *want* to do front kicks. Although he made choices that day based on "acceptance" and "refusal", he simply didn't have the concept of what "won't" meant, or what "refusal" meant.
We, as adults, sometimes do this as well. However, as adults, we should be able to understand the difference between "not being able" / "not knowing how", and "not wanting to". The lines between our choices aren't quite as blurred as they are when we were children. However, when we say "Can't", we tend to apply the word to our lack of understanding of something or to when we feel we're not up to par with our own expectations or expectations of others. Before you blurt out the word "Can't", do a quick mental note of why you "can't". Is it that you just aren't skilled enough? Is it that you don't understand? Is it that you're not trusting your judgment? Is your intuition telling you to hold off till later? Do you feel that you'll be embarrassed if you don't look good in the eyes of others?
No matter what the reason, get to know what that reason is before your say "can't". Yes, it is your choice to engage or not....but try not to use the word "can't" when you really mean "I choose not to", "I'm not interested", or "I'm not quite up to par yet". Choose the words that accurately reflect your position. The word "Can't", for many of us big kids, can easily turn into a convenient excuse if we don't check ourselves.
Want to know how to get "Can't" to turn into "Can"? Its simple.....try.. Everyone is capable of "can", albeit at a lesser degree than our expectations. To meet those expectations, we just have to keep plugging along.
I have to disagree with Yoda on his quote "Do or do not, there is no try". "Try" does mean a path to "do", assuming that we're committed to the task. Not everyone is born as a Jedi Knight, after all. :)