Give away the victory! Or at least share it…

My desire for a “win”, and how it would get me in trouble

I enjoy teaching taekwondo to Tiny Tigers (for readers who don’t know, that’s 6 years old and under). Not just because “it’s so much fun!” (In fact, if you’re caught off your game, they will eat you ALIVE) I have fun teaching all the age groups. But because I like the mental challenge. I have to figure out the kid. I have to try five different approaches. I have to make a plan with the parent if the usual isn’t working.

So when I figure it out, when my instructional method works, I’m really proud of myself. Oh, yeah, the kid did well too, but yeah, proud of myself. Which can be a problem. Which leads us to my story.


Many years ago, there was a student. Let’s call him “Tom.” Tom was a nice kid, but had some weaknesses. One part space case. One part weak. He wouldn’t really act out, but he wouldn’t follow directions very quickly. He wouldn’t do any punches or kicks full blast, and five minutes into class would come the complaint: ”I’m thirsty…”

Now, Mom wanted him to get better, to work harder, but this “I’m thirsty…” thing sprang her up into action. “Do you need some water?” The world stopped in order for Tom to get a drink. In my humble opinion, the weakness was exacerbated by mom.


Fast forward about three months. Tom was doing better in class. I had set clear goals with clear rewards, I had discussed a plan with the parents, I had explained why he couldn’t just take a water break whenever he wanted. And Mom was on board.

All of the staff had noticed his focus had improved. This former “space case” would now keep his eyes on target. He was yelling louder. Punching harder. Running faster.


I remember sitting down in a conference with mom to discuss, three months in, how proud we were of his improvement. This is the conference where we talk about progress, we ask about future goals, we go over different programs and what’s available at our school, things like that. But something put me off about this conference. It went something like this…
Me: “Mrs. Smith, Tom has shown so much improvement. He’s a different kid in class now from who he was as a white belt. I’ve noticed he is more focused…”
Mrs. Smith: “Yes, we told him he needed to focus. We discussed with him the importance of focus and how he needed to have it. That’s why he did it.”

Me: “I’ve also noticed that he responds quicker when we tell him to do something. He’s working a lot harder, too.”

Mrs. Smith: “He has! About two weeks ago, we incorporated a rewards system where he would get a sticker for every time he did that. He started improving when we did that.”


Hold on a minute. You started this two weeks ago?!?! I have been developing this plan for Tom in my classes and as soon as I implemented this plan, it started to work. It started to work two months ago. And you think that your *(@#&$#@ sticker chart is what did it?

Yes, that’s what I was thinking. And let me guess, you other martial arts instructors who are reading this, or teachers of any subject, really, have similar stories.

But this post is not actually meant for us to angrily analyze Mrs. Smith (No, her name is not actually Mrs. Smith. This was years ago, anyway). Actually, this is what I realized when I was in that conference: “Wait a second…is this what I sound like to some parents? Is that what I’m doing to them? Am I greedily trying to grab the victory to myself, away from others?


We believe in the value of our martial arts program. We believe that is has the ability to change someone’s life. But when a kid improves, is that the first thing I gun for with the parents? “Look, he’s improving because of our program?”

What if the parents, as thoughtful, intentional parents, sat down to discuss a plan of attack to improve their child’s behavior at home, executed it, saw great results, felt good about their choice, and then walked into a conversation with their kid’s taekwondo instructor about how he was the reason their kid’s behavior improved. How would that feel?


The solution: Share the victory.

Every successful student ever, regardless of the subject, is the result of a three-part team:

  1. Student
  2. Teacher/Instructor/Coach
  3. Support (in most cases, parents and family)

We know this to be true because the same instructor will produce two different students. If it was only based on the instructor’s ability, then both students would be the same, would they not? But a student’s drive cannot be created by the instructor. It can only be watered or starved.

I have also known highly motivated students who were not successful because of the parent’s inconsistency in bringing them to class. And then, when the student is unsuccessful, the parent says “He didn’t want to go to class!” That’s because he always feels unsuccessful, because he’s always behind. The parent involvement is a critical element to the student’s success, but the parents are also the most likely to be unsung heroes.


Therefore, the golden rule says that if we want to be praised for our efforts as instructors (and let’s not pretend that we are above liking praise), then we must be deliberate about praising the student but also praising the parents for their efforts.


Remember, whenever we claim the victory for ourselves, we are taking it away from someone else.


If Abrielle is well-behaved, is it because of our wonderful parenting strategy? Or is it because she made a good choice? Or maybe she learned to be good in Sunday School? Regardless, if she is well behaved, I want her to be the one to enjoy that victory.

If I work on stances with a student right before tournament, and that student gets a first place, what will my response be?

  1. “See, Johnny? THAT’S why we worked on stances in class! Pays off, doesn’t it?”
  2. “I saw that your stances were good in your form. You know why? Because you chose to work hard on your stances, and your choices and hard work paid off. You should feel proud of yourself.”


Instructor number 1 is what my ego inclines me towards. But instructor number 2 is the instructor I want to be.

…oh, and by the way, I have noticed that when I am successful at giving the victory away, people tend to give it right back.


In closing

When I was a younger instructor, and someone said “He really enjoys your school! He’s been improving in respect at home…” I would go into an explanation of how we do it. Because this is a wonderful chance to talk about me.

Honestly, I probably still do that around 25% of the time. But the response I try to do now is “Thank you. And thank you for trusting us with your kid, we really can’t do what we love without you and parents like you.” “Thanks for watching his class. When parents like you do that, it shows him that this is important and he works harder.” “You guys raised a good kid, and you support him. That makes our job easier.”
Striving for less boasting, and more thanking. I guess that’s what I’m going for.

Fear, Taekwondo, and that one kid (A parenting post) – Part 1

The point of this post, in one sentence (in case you don’t have time to read): “A rule without a consequence isn’t a rule.” An awesome rule I learned from this book, “Tired of Arguing with your Kids” by Dolores Curran:

In order to not misinterpret this concept, you must understand our working definition of fear. Fear is to attribute power to someone or something, and respect that power.

THAT DOES NOT MEAN WE GET ABUSIVE IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM! In fact, all that we have to do to apply this concept to parenting is to control our own actions. That’s it.


Lessons from/to a Taekwondo Instructor

As of four days ago, I have been in Taekwondo for 19 years. As of four months ago, I have been teaching it for 15. I hope everybody can tell that I enjoy it.

I can’t claim to be an expert in “parenting” but I can always claim to be a very interested observer. And as a people watcher, the last 15 years have let me make a lot of observations, of kids and parents. Those observations are the roots that grew these next two posts.


Your average student, with average behavior, tends to go unnoticed. Average behavior in the taekwondo school is, well, good behavior. They conform to the etiquettes and disciplines of the martial arts. They move when they’re told to move. It is very unfortunate that we don’t notice these well-behaved-but-not-stand-out kids, so a good instructor has to be thoughtful enough to connect with every student individually.

We easily notice, however, two students:

  1. The 100% student. All or nothing. They always yell loud. They always kick hard.
  2. The one who breaks the rules.

As long as any instructor fails to notice to average student, the students who desperately want to be noticed will try to be one of those two. And the second is far easier to be, and nabs attention quickly. Mission accomplished.


However, most of these problems can be handled with a small negative social sanction. If the students like the instructor, and the instructor communicates in a small way that he/she doesn’t like the behavior, then the student stops the behavior with just that.


What usually works for us instructors…

As Taekwondo instructors with the American Taekwondo Association (Have I mentioned that I love our organization, and that our instructor training curriculum is awesome? Both the old one and the new Legacy Program?), we are taught the Ten Class Management skills first and foremost. So, our attempt at correcting undesired behaviors typically goes in this order:

  1. Verbalize the expectations, make them as clear as possible.
  2. Ignore kid entirely who is goofing off (in case it’s for attention).
  3. Compliment another kid who is doing the desired behavior.
  4. Compliment the misbehaving kid the second he/she starts doing the desired behavior. For two reasons:
    1. To teach them that they get attention by being good, not by being bad.
    2. To get them to self-identify as a good kid (so that good decisions will continue because they believe that is who they are) as opposed to a bad kid (“It’s just what I do”).

Usually, that works. But then you have the child who fails to fear authority.


How do we change THAT kid?

First, some ground rules that affect every relationship ever.


  1. I can never actually control someone else, regardless of their age. Since I control myself and my choices, the idea of me controlling someone else and their choices is ridiculous. I can control my actions and responses to influence them, but they are the ones who choose their actions.
  2. In the end, they must make the decision because of their own wants/desires/values, not mine. Sometimes, we must get our children to do stuff they don’t want to do. Sometimes, we must get our students to do stuff they don’t want to do. But any action they do because “we made them” is short-lived. They will not carry it into their independent lives until they see and feel the benefit.

Chief Master William Clark (8th Degree Black Belt, the Chairman of our Master’s Council, Founder’s Council member, and basically an all-around boss) said this about everybody (students, parents, instructors): “People only change for one of two reasons: Inspiration or desperation.”

To flesh out that concept: People change because of inspiration (they want something) or desperation (they don’t want something). So the only way to change the action is to instill fear in the kid.

“Fear? Like, they’re scared of you? They shake when you walk in the room?”

Not at all. More like this: I can’t make you do what I want…but you can’t make me do what you want, either. I have the power to deny you what you want.

If they respect that power, they fear you (by the above definition).


Part 2 is coming next!

The tension of dependence vs. independence – How my worldview and career blend together

So false alarm…that is NOT going to be the name of this site. I’m choosing a different name, and the next good idea (of which, I have so few when it comes to naming) will result in another name change, for now. (I’m very open to suggestions!)


However, the reason I wanted to make this one blog post so centrally important is because, on some weird level, this one blog post is going to explain…… The way I see things. The way I do things. This blog post is going to explain two very core values of mine as to how I see the world. If you want to understand how I see the world (I know, I know, everybody ever wants to know how Carson Clews sees the world.) (I promise that was sarcasm, not arrogance), this blog post is basically handing you those “glasses” that I wear, in a sense.


First things first, I am an evangelical Christian, purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. My purpose in life is to glorify God. When I successfully act like Jesus, I want people to know who Jesus is and that His Spirit lives in me. When I fail to act like Jesus, I want people to know who He is and the grace He approaches me with when I fail.


Secondly, my chosen career, something I’m pretty passionate about: I am a taekwondo instructor with the ATA, and I really love martial arts and therefore I really want to teach people who also love martial arts.


Those two elements explain the direction I want my life to go.


Big sidenote: “What about your wife and kids, Carson? How dare you not mention them in the direction your life is going? I mean, I understand the Jesus being more important thing but are you saying that your career is more important than your wife and family?”

No. I buy into John Eldridge’s (author of “Wild at Heart”) teaching that my wife is my companion on this adventure. My wife is not the adventure itself.

But this is a sidenote here, so I will cover this in better detail in a separate blog post.


So I love Jesus, and I also love teaching martial arts.

Does anybody see a contradiction in those two, however? If you look right at the surface, you’ll see this one: “Didn’t Jesus teach people to turn the other cheek? Where does self-defense get into that?”

I will cover that one later, because there is a much deeper contradiction between those two.


What does God want me to be about?

Let’s keep Christianity as simple as possible: Anybody in a deistic faith (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.) basically wants to do what God wants them to do. However, they believe different things about what God wants them to do.

Amongst themselves, I wouldn’t say that Christians widely disagree on what God wants…however, I would say that Christians seem to emphasize different things. Does God want me not to smoke? Does God want sexual purity? Does God want my church attendance?

Any Christian knows that what gets us in the door is faith. God wants us to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. However, it is very easy for us to forget that faith is not just what gets us in the door, but how we are supposed to live our whole lives.

At first, we figure that faith means “belief”. But soon we learn that this definition is incomplete. The book of James teaches us that faith without works is dead. Yet, we also hear stories of Pharisees who did MANY actions in order to secure God’s nod of approval…and they didn’t get it. So God didn’t want just “belief.” He also doesn’t want just “actions”.

So we find a synonym for faith that fits the biblical examples given: Trust.

Or let us use another word: Dependence. If the trapeze artist is not willing to fall into the net, his actions reveal that he does not trust the net.

What God wants from me, in a nutshell, is for me to depend on him. And to teach others to do the same. Everything else He wants from me falls into that umbrella. And anything I do in which I don’t depend on Him is out of bounds concerning what He wants from me.


What is martial arts about?

Most people automatically say “self-defense!” But that’s too narrow. Most people know that there is more to martial arts than self-defense. But can all that martial arts is about be “rolled up” into one concept?

Actually, yes. Yes it can. In fact, before I was in taekwondo, this was one of the questions on the Instructor Certification test:

“What is the endgoal of all martial arts training?”

The answer? “To create an independent human being.” Every single thing that martial arts teaches can be tied into that one concept.

Will a person be okay if they cannot defend themselves? Yes…my daughter Alsea is doing just fine, and she doesn’t know self-defense. But that’s because we are here, ready to protect her. She cannot protect herself.

I, personally, do not have a gun. Fortunately, other people, police and military, are protecting me. Someone will be okay as long as someone else is ready to defend them. But what happens when we need to defend ourselves?

Will a person be okay if they are not self-disciplined? Yes…as long as there is someone there to discipline them. As long as mommy is there to get them out of bed and get them to school. But martial arts is meant to take those people and make them self-disciplined. To teach them self-defense. To build their self-confidence, as opposed to them needing to find their self-esteem in the eyes of others.


So now, we’ve found our contradiction:

  1. God wants me to be dependent on Him. (See Judges 7…the battle with the Midianites is a prime example of that. Emphasis on verse 2)
  2. Martial Arts training wants me to learn to be independent, and to teach others to do the same.


…so my whole mission in life, my whole direction, is a contradiction.
…or is it?


Continued next post