Thoughts on toughness, strength, and vulnerability… with love.

It is well known that February is the month of love.  Often, we think of couples and romantic relationships, but of course love covers so much more than this cliche.

I want to speak instead about the love and devotion taking me by surprise in my work at Southeast Karate and what it has come to entail.

I remember when I still lived and worked as a mental health therapist in Seattle and Troy had just opened his karate school; he and I used to compare notes about our work long distance. I felt surprise and confusion hearing him describe his involvement in the lives of the families at the dojo; his role was very unclear to me.  Now that I am fully immersed in this dojo and community, I have a clearer understanding of the role and responsibility of a Sensei and a karate school.  

The dojo is a training hall where students practice much more than martial arts. In conjunction with teaching karate, we find ourselves acting as counselors, mentors, family members, coaches and tutors.  Our students learn integrity, courage, humility, strength, compassion, tenderness and toughness, discipline, and commitment. Parents approach us with the most intimate details of their lives and the struggles they have with their children, entrusting us with their stories and their care. I have been a nanny, a teacher, and a therapist and still I am humbled and honored by the trust we receive by this community.  It is a privilege that Troy and I do not take lightly.

So often parents bring their children to us hoping we might instill strength and toughness in them, that we might enable their youngsters to navigate the complexities of childhood and adolescence successfully.   What then, do we mean by strength and how do we define toughness?  I see kids acting “tough” pretending their feelings haven’t been hurt,  concealing their vulnerability, pain, or fear.  My heart breaks for them.  Real strength is not defined by the absence of vulnerability, rather in relationship to it. This is the strength I want them to learn. It is because of the love and responsibility I feel for our students that I am careful with words and what I try to convey to children about their significance.  

Being strong is not about what you feel or do not feel.  It is about what you do in response to what you feel. It is about how you courageously persevere and pursue your heart despite the possibility of failure or pain.

Toughness is never unkind, it does not ignore suffering or belittle the vulnerable.  Toughness is the presence of kindness and vulnerability working alongside persistence, endurance, flexibility, and resilience.  This is what I want our children to learn and it is what we practice in our beloved training hall.  

This is the love I am thinking about this February.