When my daughter started karate at age 5, it was just for something to do. She had tried ballet and loved the costumes, but was lukewarm about the actual dancing. And, considering the actual dancing was the whole point (plus those costumes cost a whopping $100 a piece. For a 4- and 5-year-old!), I wasn’t about to push her to continue.
Then we found a fabulous tae kwon do school, Dover Dragons. Within a few years, she was showing real skills and owning a few trophies. But what really impressed me—and what made me sign up her little brother for classes as soon as he was old enough—were the more subtle changes martial arts gave her.
My girl always has been exceptionally brave. But she gathered more confidence in her own strength with each class. She learned to push herself, from a more perfect roundhouse kick (and check it out, it’s practically perfect) to something more challenging for my naturally shy girl: approaching others with eye contact and a smile.
The best part as a parent was to see the older kids in her class, how respectful and caring they were when she was a new student. How willing they were to help her. These were kids I wanted her to be around. This was the type of kid I wanted her to be. (I wrote a column about my girl overcoming her nerves during her first class with big kids after graduating from the kindergarten/preschool program here.)
When we moved from Pennsylvania last year, we quickly found another great school, this one specializing in tang soo do. She soon had another trophy for her collection, further boosting her confidence.
I guess it isn’t a surprise that martial arts found its way into my latest middle-grade manuscript. My protagonist starts karate and, from class one, learns much more than how to do a jumping jack without looking like an idiot.
Writers know the “write what you know” tenet well, but I find the best part of writing is living what I don’t know. Rash decisions, exciting relationships, crushing consequences. I’m happy to say I don’t know first-hand many of the cruel circumstances in which I place my characters.
But plenty of real life seeps into my writing, from overheard conversations to, well, karate. Writers, do your protags share some of your family’s or your passions?