I can remember the day like it was yesterday, in January 1996, when I went into Elegante Pastry Shop and there was Daniel DeClet as a small boy (4 years old) in his karate uniform. Well, my son Salvatore (who was also 4 years old and a very good friend of Daniel’s) saw him and they hugged each other. They were nursery school classmates and they had this common love of doing Ninja Turtle moves with each other. The encounter that day was a big wake up call for me because Daniel and his family had been telling us about this great karate school across the street for a while and I had been procrastinating bringing him just because. Seeing Daniel so confident and proud to be in his uniform made me feel guilty. I felt like a bad mom because I had neglected to listen and see what karate could do for my son. Right after that meeting, both Salvatore and I went into the karate school and scheduled a lesson for him.
I watched Salvatore take his introductory lesson with Sensei Gene Dunn, who to me seemed like a gentle giant. Sensei was warm with Salvatore, caring, and he expressed how much he truly loved teaching and seeing children flourish in the Martial Arts. I knew right then and there I was in a good place. During that lesson, Salvatore showed qualities that I had never seen in him before. He was listening well, following directions, showing confidence right away. Seeing him so happy just made it so worth it. I knew that training in the martial arts would be a way to raise not only Salvatore, but also my younger son (who at that time was in a carriage just dying to be on the mat with his older brother, but was only 3).
Looking back through the years now I can see that raising both Salvatore and Matteo in the Martial Arts has impacted there lives tremendously. Both my sons trained through their elementary, junior high school and high school years. The Martial Arts has taught them so many valuable lessons, like keeping away from the weak and troubled but still having compassion for those who tried to steer them in the wrong direction. It’s taught them to be the leaders and not the followers in life. I’ve watched as it has instilled in them an inner confidence. This is something which cannot be expressly taught, but can be learned – I watched it as they saw themselves achieving goals and realizing their true capacities.
The Martial Arts has taught them to be active, and it has taught them to find focus and stillness. Both Salvatore and Matteo are musicians and the discipline and focus instilled through the years of training has allowed them to be successful in that field as well: Salvatore was accepted to a prestigious high school for music, and Matteo was in a marching band in High School. The Martial Arts helped them to take hits as well, and it prepared them for anything that may come, whether it be good or bad.
The greatest gift that the Martial Arts has given them is this self-confidence and self-respect. With this inner confidence, they’ve understood with reassurance that life can have obstacles, but it is how we handle these obstacles that make the difference. We can learn from mistakes, and our role as students in life is to just keep learning from those mistakes.
Not only have my sons benefited from the program at Gene Dunn’s Karate, but as a parent, I have also learned so much through the years. I have learned to be a better parent by accepting each one of my sons for their individual accomplishments. I have learned not to be so critical of each and every move. I have learned not to use the Martial Arts as a way to withhold or punish my children (for example, I held my son back from a promotion due to his behavior at home and at school and until this day – 14 years later – he still brings it up to me).
As a parent, I have loved the Martial Arts and, thanks to my sons, was able to experience some of it myself. While I saw how much my sons enjoyed it and supported their progress through the years, I didn’t have the confidence to get on the mat to train. Finally, after three years of bringing my sons to the program and wondering what it would be like to actually do it myself, Sensei Gene Dunn approached me. He reassured me that I wouldn’t be embarrassed by anyone and that I would be taken care of. After that, my relationship with my kids took a huge step forward. Our connection to one another grew so much stronger. My sons, who were under the age of ten, both coached me and helped me in any way they could to make sure I felt confident with my karate. The roles were reversed – my sons were teaching me and I needed them and they loved to help me. That was priceless! The common bond we all shared had made our relationship stronger. And as they moved into their teenage years, we learned to communicate even better. Both Sal and Matt were assisting in the children’s classes at the karate school, and they both had this inner confidence that allowed other students to look up to them. They also assisted in the special needs class that were held at the school.
As the boys grew older, they graduated from the Juniors classes into the Adult program. We now had the privilege of training together in the same class. Could you imagine, mom and sons training together, side by side, supporting one another? Where else could we have found something like that? Soon after that, my husband realized he was missing out on a lot, so he also began training as well. Today, we have all earned black belts, and we’ve done it together. I am very proud to say that we are a black belt family!