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The Best-Kept Secret

by Frank Silverman


Every now and then, we all can use a reminder of how special our profession really is. Of course, there’s the daily regimen of training, teaching, coaching, etc., but as you all know, those things add up to so much more. I received that reminder again just last week and thought now was as good a time as any to share it with you.

I was at karate class watching my 6-year-old. She had just moved up to the beginner’s class, having graduated from the Lil’ Dragons program. Since we’re still social distancing and this school’s waiting area accommodates only eight to 10 parents, I was standing outside to watch so all our members and clients could squeeze in.

As I stood there, I noticed another family watching from inside their car. They had parked where they had an unobstructed view of the class. In the car was a mom, her daughter and an aunt, and inside the school was the 6-year-old son and father. They told me they were heading off for a family stay-cation — but first, they wanted to watch the son’s class. It was his first week of training, Mom said, and he was going to “break a board” and earn his white belt.

The way she put air quotes around her description of board breaking let me know that she didn’t think it was serious. The young daughter in the car with the mom looked bored. As you might imagine, I jumped in. “This is a big day for him,” I said. “What an accomplishment, to break his first board! You all really need to go inside and watch.”

So they filed in. They squeezed together, and the other watchers found a way to make space while social distancing.

The instructors brought up the two new students to break their boards. The school uses Century boards — for the 6-year-olds, they don’t use thick boards, but they are real wood. They won’t break if technique is poor. But when the board is held correctly and the strike is thrown the right way, they make a huge snap when broken. The audio is as impressive as the visual.

Their son was up first. Little Johnny, we’ll call him, faced his board, looking nervous and determined. He hit the board once, twice … to no avail. No break, no snap. Quickly, one of the instructors stepped forward and gave him a few tips, and the crowd shouted encouragement. Johnny stepped back and got into his stance. He threw a perfect side kick. The board split in two, and the crowd went wild.

I was watching the parents rather than Johnny. Their excitement, enthusiasm and pride were palpable — no air quotes here. As their son ran over to them, they jumped out of their seats to hug him.

It turns out that was just what I needed to see that day — a perfect reminder of how important what we do can be. This was just the first step in what I hope is a long journey of training for the boy. But whether it is or isn’t, this was a special memory and a special accomplishment the entire family got to experience. What we do on a daily basis in our schools should never get old and never be taken for granted. We change lives and we make a difference. Don’t ever forget it.

I encourage you to spend some time contemplating the difference you have made in your community. Think about how you can let more people know about the benefits you offer. It’s important that we share stories like this within our industry, but it’s equally important to share them with our current and potential customers.

I often believe that we martial arts professionals have the world’s best-kept secret: We know the true value of martial arts. Together, let’s make sure we’re spreading the word that martial arts is so much more than kicking, punching and rolling around on mats. Learning martial arts is life-changing, and the millions of stories we all have like the one I shared here prove it.


To contact Frank Silverman, MAIA’s executive director, send an email to [email protected] Find him on Twitter and Facebook at @franksilverman.


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