When my youngest child was six years old, she started attending taekwondo classes from a small dojang in a nondescript suburb of Kuala Lumpur. At that time, there were taekwondo classes at her international school, but we wanted her to learn something of the country she was living in, within a local environment.
Three times a week, she went off to Master Yeow. We paid £10 for the whole month (note: ten years on, the fees are now £20 a month). After five years of training, G came home with the trophy - she had won in the finals of a national sparring tournament after two attempts (she won a bronze and then silver in previous years).
However, the greatest prize from her years of commitment to the dojang was what she learned: persistence, hard work, respect, don't cry and you can't run away. All these balanced our rather laid-back attitude towards parenting as well as her international school's more liberal take on treating children.
There were times when it was difficult to watch and not interfere. Once, she was late because of us, her parents, faffing around. No excuses, she had to run a barrage of 20 students punching her. Till this day, I have not heard my daughter using excuses or blaming others once when things go wrong. She took it all like a black belt.
And that was what Master Yeow said to her: it's easy to get the black belt, but it is more difficult to wear it on the inside.
When she was training for her Second Dan (Instructors' Belt), she had to fight a heavyweight Korean boy on a weekly basis. Several times, he hit her so hard that she cried, but she always stood up and faced him with tears running down her face. She would not surrender. When her father offered to intervene on her behalf, she refused. It hurt me so much to see this brave little girl climbing up the stairs to the dojang with fear in her heart but trying to be brave.
In London, she attended fight nights in the community centre not far from where her paternal grandfather used to box. Her father is full of pride, walking his little daughter down the same path in the estate. And she, for her part, would saunter around in her full uniform, often eliciting jeers from the rough kids loitering around.
On her first session, the instructor asked the other students, "Georgina is from Malaysia. She is a champion. Who wants to fight her?" Every single hand in the class shot up, so she spent the whole night fighting the boys and girls in London, whilst still jet-lagged. At the end of the evening, she said to her proud grandmother who was watching, "Nanny, I have beaten all the English boys. Grandad would have been proud of me. Can I have some crisps now?"
Like at Master Yeow's dojang, she learned the important stuff at the Tan'Gun Taekwondo Academy. I saw this posted on its Facebook page recently:
Truth indeed, for I have met a few adults, despite being fully grown folks on the outside (over six feet tall), who are really frightened little kids on the inside, lashing out childishly with words at the world and generally behaving unkindly, living disharmonious lives.
Thus, I strongly advocate internal taekwondo (which can only be accessed after years of commitment - that being a lesson in itself) as a path for growth and self-realisation.
This is one of my favourite photographs of all time - G's dad proudly leading the way to her taekwondo class along the same streets where he grew up and fought his own battles before earning his internal black belt.
First published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com