When I was a tiny little dot, my father decided to take me to watch a karate lesson, to inspire me to take up martial arts. I think I was about 5 or 6 years old at the time. My memories are hazy, but I remember that my mum was not with me – that felt strange in itself, to be going somewhere without my mum and my sister. It just didn’t feel right. I don’t remember the building, or where we went. I simply recall my dad opening a door to a large room filled with men in pristine white karate uniforms with black belts tightly tied around their waists. All the men were carrying out synchronised manoeuvres and were shouting words in frighteningly loud voices. I remember finding these men terrifying! Within a few seconds, I must have started screaming and crying inconsolably because my father just could not pacify me, he drove me home.
Years later, I too have two daughters, and even before they were born, I also developed a huge sense of anxiety and fear – how am I going to keep them safe and secure? How am I going to protect them? How are they going to protect themselves when I am not around? So, when my daughters arrived, I already had a plan of action developed – Taekwondo. By hook or by crook, whether they liked it or not, they were going to learn how to stand up protect themselves if ever the need arose.
You see, I wish that my dad had taken me back to those karate lessons, perhaps when I was a bit older. I completely understand why he couldn’t – he was carrying out further studies after working all day, my mum didn’t drive at the time, it was a difficult time. But I know now why dad would have wanted me to attend those lessons, but he also knew that I wasn’t ready for them at that time.
I didn’t give my girls much of an option, or a choice about it. I spoke to them long and hard about what Taekwondo was and why I wanted them to learn it. I showed them videos on YouTube of little children learning martial arts and what they were able to achieve and the benefits of learning this amazing discipline.
Luckily, I found a family run club, the instructor understood straight away my anxieties for my daughters and reassured me that they would benefit and thrive from learning Taekwondo. She wasn’t wrong. What attracted me to this particular club was that the accomplished black belt instructor was female. I’d only ever seen and heard of male instructors. Since the girls have started attending the lessons, there are at least two other female instructors which is brilliant because my girls can see that it isn’t simply a discipline practised and taught by men. Women and girls can achieve and become warriors too.
In March when they joined, my eldest was already a confident, sparky little girl. It was my shyer, more reserved younger daughter that I was worried about – but to my delight, she is becoming more and more confident as each day passes. I do attribute a huge chunk of this success to Taekwondo. I don’t stay and watch the lessons – there’s no need for that, and my presence would be more of a distraction than a help. But I do watch her in the last 5 minutes of the lesson, before it’s time to finish, and I’m proud to see her looking at her opponent’s in the eye whilst they practice their kicking and punching skills. I’m impressed to see her having a go at carrying out ten push ups and then sit ups too. She’s become more assertive at home and at school too, more confident about disagreeing with others and putting her point of view across.
These skills you can’t grade: confidence, assertiveness, walking around with your head held high, becoming easy in yourself instead of anxious. But from a parent’s perspective, these developments mean the world to me.
When the children are ready, their instructor puts them forward for grading and inevitably, not all children pass their grading. What I loved reading later on, was the instructor’s attitude towards failing. The gist of what she wrote was this: failure doesn’t matter. Failure is a part of life. Not everyone passes everything on the first attempt or even second attempt. Failure helps you to develop, learn and grow and teaches the incredibly valuable skill of perseverance. It is ok to fail – the question is – what have you learnt from failing? And what will you do next time to succeed?
When I read what the instructor had written – by heart just swelled up with joy. This is what I want for my girls as well – to not fear failure. No one wishes for failure – of course not, we all want to succeed in life, I pray for their success all the time. However, at times failure is more valuable than success – it makes you more determined, makes you wiser, makes you empathise with others who have found something challenging and you learn to help others along the way. It helps you to develop coping mechanisms with life when other situations are challenging.
In terms of pushing forward and developing good emotional well-being in children and ultimately in adults – surely we should all look at failure in a different way? It’s not a bad, terrible thing – it’s an opportunity to learn. An opportunity to grow and develop. It may not be something that you would want – but it’s something that helps you nonetheless.
I was talking to my husband about this in great depth and we both shared stories about times when we had failed in certain areas of life – and how we had persevered because failing and then giving up was not an option. We discussed the strength of character it took to try again and ultimately how much sweeter the prize was when we achieved our goals.
We have to teach our children to able to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and go for their goals again if they did not achieve what they wanted, the first, second, third, fourth time – keep going, keep learning, keep growing.
Failure doesn’t mean that you are a bad, rubbish, worthless person. Quite the opposite. Life is telling you to have another go. Go on. Try again. Show the world what you are made of. And when you achieve your goal – there is no other feeling quite like it.
I’ll finally leave you with a story that I only heard quite recently but will stay with me forever. WD-40. WD-40 is an everyday household chemical that people use to lubricate and get rid of the noise from squeaky hinges etc. The reason why it is called WD-40, is because it was on the 40th attempt that the scientists developing it got the formula just how they wanted it. 40. 40 attempts! If that doesn’t illustrate the point that from failure and perseverance, comes success – I don’t know what else will.
Meanwhile, keep pushing yourself and the people you love to try new things in life – and if you fail, you fail. Shrug it off, try again and enjoy the journey.