August 27, 2021

Many things take place in the dojo. At a surface level, we learn how to punch, kick, block. We learn kata, bunkai, kumite, kobudo, nage waza. We make lifelong friendships. We challenge ourselves to refine our techniques a little more with each lesson to achieve greater levels of mastery. We step up into leadership roles to help others. And the list goes on and on and on.

Underlying all of what we do in the dojo, we are always offered a choice:
1. To explore only the surface level, or
2. To go deeper and allow Karate to transform other areas of our lives.

It is probably quite obvious to many that we choose to go deeper into our studies to further simplify not only our technique but also our lives in order to reveal even better versions of ourselves in all that we do. We may not be where we want to be, but we are so grateful for how far we have come.

When it comes to parenting, our time in the dojo has been instrumental in shaping our parenting style and will continue to do so for years to come. When you care deeply about your children, it’s amazing what length you’ll go to in order to give them the best start in life possible. I don’t need to tell you this though.

When you read this piece, I hope that you also see our leadership style shine through and the depths that we travel to bring you the best versions of ourselves to you and your family. We thank you for being on this journey with us and we thank you for your patience, as we are first to admit that we are not perfect and still have much to learn.

Although we may not tell you often, we do care about you all very much and our desire to go deep within our martial arts studies and personal growth isn’t just for ourselves, our children, and our family. It is also because of all of you as our extended karate family.

Every one of you matters and we will continue to dig deeper in all that we do to not only help you explore your karate more deeply but also help you and your family achieve all that you set out to do in this lifetime. And, we’ll also do our best to see that you have a super amazing adventure along the way.

To get this piece started, here is a question that we are asked often and continue to ponder.

What do you do when your children are faced with challenges?

This is a question that we have been asked often over the years and every time we are asked this question we’ll often look at each other sideways as we don’t know it all. In a lot of ways, it feels as though we are making things up as we go based on the unique set of experiences that we meet along the way and meeting our children where they are at.

Over time we’ve also come to learn that there is no one size fits all when it comes to giving advice about parenting and the vast array of challenges that we all face at various times in our lives. All that we can offer is a way that works for us and even then I dare say it is still a work in progress as we learn more.

It’s a lot like karate really. The more you learn, the more you refine your technique execution to higher levels of mastery. With each refinement, you experience greater calm, relaxation, effortlessness, and a sense of harmony and flow.

Here is one of my favourite quotes which sum it up beautifully by Maya Angelou,

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

If you were to ask us today about how to help your children deal with challenges, there is a good chance that we would remind you that you know your children best and if anyone knows the best way forward it is you.

Listen to your children, feel their ‘presence’ with no distractions, no judgements. Watch them sleep. Think of all the things that make you feel grateful, all the times you shared a smile. Ask yourself, what is it that you need to do at this moment to help your children? Before long, you’ll know what you need to do.

I’ll share here a little about our parenting perspective, not as a means to tell you what to do, but more so for another perspective. I’ve always found it good to get perspective in all areas of my life and I am forever grateful for all the wonderful people who have left paper trails of their life experiences that have helped me shape my path forward. I’m also grateful for my mentors and role models who freely share their perspectives which inspires me to continually refine ‘a way of living’ that resonates with me.

After observation, a friend of mine described me as an “engaged parent.” What does an engaged parent look like? What does an engaged parent do?

Below are a few things that we have done regardless of the age of our children and all of which seem to be very helpful in our family home. These ideas form an underlying structure for us all to navigate and explore life with a sense of peace, purpose, and adventure.

They also help us to unify our family home whilst also enabling us all to rise individually and pursue our own path forward with great support and encouragement from each other. Yet, always being careful to respect each other’s journey by being in “the passenger seat” for each other as we know there is greatness in truly living our lives and not having others live our lives for us.

Even when we go head to head with adversity, we take extra care not to take the driver seat of each other’s journey. Yes, we step up our awareness and care for each other. Yes, there are times we have to call each other out for playing the game of ‘avoidance’ or acknowledge that we may have lost our way. We even find ourselves establishing a level of accountability for each other.

For example, I shared with our son Steven that I was procrastinating on some study which I knew I needed to invest time into if I was going to make some informed and educated decisions about a project that continues to creep up on my priority list. He was great. He set an alarm on his phone and he asks me each day, “how have you gone today with your study?” Simple, but effective.

Before I share these ideas, I think it is important to note that these ideas aren’t things that we just do once and put back on the shelf. These are things that we ‘practice’ often with the view to do better as we learn more about ourselves and each other.

As parents, the level of success we experience with these ideas tends to rest more heavily with us at first. As our children have aged we see a reflection in them of how we are performing with our example. This gives us feedback as to how we can further improve our example moving forward which makes way for greater harmony, peace, love, and joy in the family home.

Let’s do this.

1. Practice Respect
More times than not when we are being respectful we can work through things together in a more calm and relaxed way and our kids respond well to us practicing respect.

Being respectful is actually a lot of fun in the home environment. Everyone participates, everyone wins. It’s not a one-way level of respect with only the kids respecting the parents, we practice respecting our children too.

Practicing respect isn’t anything new for martial arts students. Many of you may have heard the famous words of Gichin Funakoshi, “Karate begins and ends with respect.” We’ve simply extended a level of respect, care, and kindness into our family home.

2. Ask for Help
Sometimes we need to be honest with ourselves and say, “I don’t know what to do to help you” and we need to seek help in a respectful way from others that can help us. We’ll turn this into a life lesson and show them how we wouldn’t go to our local doctor to help us sort out our plumbing problem.

Life is so much easier when you seek the right advice from the right people, but first, we have to admit that we don’t know everything and that just maybe there is something that we are not doing so well at that time and we could use a touch of help.

3. An “Engaged Parent” in Action
We observe, listen and encourage our children to make their own decisions. We celebrate the wins and the falls with them, both of which are equally important as they grow into young adults.

After reflection of results they have created, we encourage them to make more decisions and take full responsibility for the wins and the falls although neither are truly good or bad, it just is and we have no doubt that the most beautiful gift of learning will be realised with a touch of reflection. The key is in the reflection.

We are as present as our children want us to be, although we choose not to live their life for them. They lead, we sit in the passenger seat, much like helping people learn how to drive a car. We are always first in line to give gratitude for them in our lives every day and celebrate them for being themselves.

We have so much to be thankful for. And, yes, we steal as many cuddles as we can on any given day and we share positive words of encouragement. Everyone loves mum’s words at school drop-off, “Have a great day, Be great, Be YOU”.

4. Expanding Ourselves
As we are parents that like to observe and reside in the passenger seat, we have plenty of opportunities to become more familiar with what appears to be comfortable and uncomfortable when our children are developing practices (life skills) and new skills like driving, playing handball, cooking, etc.

We are very open with them that it is our goal to move them from points of comfort to finding the point of discomfort and stretching beyond the comfort zone and of course return to comfort again. It can become a bit of a game moving through this process, and it is super valuable for their self-awareness. Learning to be comfortable with uncomfortable is an enlightening journey all on its own.

We tend to do this with their permission and we choose our moments carefully when we venture beyond the place of comfort. From time to time we do throw them into the deep end, knowing that they will be amazing and to their surprise, they are. We demonstrate a belief in them when they don’t believe in themselves and the look on their face after they succeed is always priceless. I’m sure you know this look from your children.

5. Do you Focus on the Challenge or the Gift?
Some time ago I heard someone share the idea that in life, you know that you will be challenged out of your comfort zone by various experiences. This is all very natural and a part of all of us growing and evolving in our lives.

In every challenge, there is a gift. The perfect gift that will help propel you forward in the next chapter of your life based on what you desire to experience. But in order to receive the gift, we have to turn up and move through the experience with gratitude, perspective patience, and openness to identify and receive the gift.

And most importantly, to receive the gift, we ourselves must be courageous enough to turn up and live out this experience ourselves. We cannot have another person do it for us, as hard as it is watching our children experience pain and hurt, it is not our place to fix their problems.

If we step in and fix it, all we are doing is attaching what would seem like a wet band-aid to a wound that will keep falling off and they will continue to attract similar experiences until they themselves move through this experience and receive the underlying gift that will serve them greatly as they proceed to achieve their desired outcomes.

As a person who has made a lot of mistakes and struggled with stress and anxiety unnecessarily throughout my life, especially when dealing with challenges, I have come up with a new way to play this game. Guaranteed to help you level up in this game we call life. Take notes on this section. Absolute game changer!

First, a simple realisation. I spent years focusing on the challenge. The more effort I put into focusing on the challenge, the bigger it became. What was just a small storm passing by, became a storm that filled the sky, and before I knew it, I was stuck. Beaten by fear, battered and bruised by overwhelm, and in no state to take a step forward in any way. Just completely frozen in time in the eye of the storm.

What if, we teach ourselves and our children to focus on the gift that comes gift wrapped within our unique set of challenges? So rather than feeling fear, we feel the excitement. We become curious and excited that it is time to level up and by completing this challenge we will find ourselves at the next level.

In Mel Robbin’s latest book, The High Five Habit, she shares this, ”Fear and excitement are actually the same feeling. And it’s a feeling you can control. Every single time you feel afraid, you can feel excited instead”.

Why not allow ourselves to experience the feelings of excitement and encourage our children to go on a treasure hunt for their next gift that will see them level up in the game of life. And just like that, it is Christmas all year round.

Remember, the more you focus on something, the bigger it gets. The more you have your children focus on the gift and the feeling of excitement, the bigger it gets and the more chance they will find it and reap the benefits. This isn’t just any win on a video game, this is a WIN in the game of life. Talk about setting our kids up for success.

This leads me to my next idea.

6. There is Power in Preparation
Plant the seeds of these ideas from a young age and gently expand on them over time as you all grow together. If they are truly living life with you in the passenger seat, they will naturally apply these skills and get better with time and experience, and you will too. They will start to find their own way in the perfect time for them.

Nurture them through practice during the calmer seasons so that when they need to draw out the big guns, they’ve got a level of skill to rely on to help them move forward. Much like in the dojo, repetition, repetition and you guessed it… repetition. Repetition of any or all of these ideas during the calmer seasons will prepare your children with greater calm and ease. With every repetition, they will soon become more confident to navigate both the calm and rougher seasons of life.

7. Lead by Example
Model habits and practices that you would like to encourage your children to do. Model the words that you would like them to speak and pay attention to the details. It may just come down to the tone of your words which makes all the difference.

Often, there are no words required, just an example. Before long, the result will be revealed. The results won’t show up in the mail, but they will show up as a reflection in your children.

We choose to humble ourselves to receive feedback acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses. We tend not to focus on disciplining our children, especially when it is very clear that it is our example that they had modelled.

We see it as a challenge to see how we can do better. How can we give a better example and often we won’t even mention it to them and within weeks, if we have done well, they too have altered their behaviour.

When it comes to some life skills, it isn’t always easy to observe so we have in the past deliberately shared perspectives verbally so that they could gain a greater appreciation of what may be happening underlying a variety of experiences.

Being an engaged parent opens the doors to a lot of these opportunities to learn and grow together. And when we openly share these lessons and skills as it happens, it gets us thinking more deeply and it leaves our children feeling more valued and included in our lives.

8. Gratitude
There is so much to be grateful for in our lives and this is something that we like to share with our children. Gratitude forms a big part of our lives and there doesn’t seem to be a day that goes by when I am not sharing gratitude for someone or something.

I’ve been known by some to be grateful for all seasons. Even now, 5 days post-surgery, I am genuinely excited and grateful for this experience digging up as many gifts as I can find that I know will help me live more fully.

If we go back to a previous idea, “do you focus on the challenge or the gift?”, I shared the idea of what we focus on expands and we attract and enjoy more of that. The same is true for gratitude. The more I focus on gratitude, the more I seem to have to be grateful for. It’s an endless supply that continues to expand and the feel-good feelings that I enjoy, I can’t help but want to share with our children.

9. Celebration
We always seem to be celebrating each other. Once again, I see more and more every day that you truly do get more of what you focus on. There aren’t enough weekends in our year to celebrate the endless supply of things for us to celebrate. We are having to get more creative as to how to celebrate in other ways. Leaving our celebrations for the weekends just isn’t cutting it anymore.

I will share though, we tend to celebrate the growth and development of these life skills more than we do physical awards such as certificates, medals, trophies, etc. Although it is great to receive these awards in life and be acknowledged by our peers, we tend to give greater importance to the wins that strengthen us from within as opposed to the wins that are left to fill a room and collect dust.

A more recent example is that both Sami and Steven have earned themselves Gold Awards at their end-of-year presentations. For Sami, she has had a gold award in her sights since year 7, but not quite getting there until now in year 11.

Seeing her light up, after years of chasing this moment is one of those priceless moments that you as parents would know all too well. And the best part, we only accompanied her on the journey in the passenger seat. It was all her. Imagine how she must feel right now? I get chills down my spine just thinking about it.

It is truly a proud moment as parents to see them both succeeding in their own way, but as mentioned above, it’s not the award itself that we primarily focus on when we celebrate.

We celebrate the journey. We remind them of the highs and the lows. We acknowledge the strengthening of the life skills, their effort, their ability to stay focused on what they want as opposed to what they don’t want.

We acknowledge their ability to remain on course despite distractions. And, we acknowledge the moments they had to venture outside of their comfort zone with a feeling of excitement as opposed to fear to collect all the gifts left for them in their own personal treasure hunts which would one day see them achieve their goals.

10. We Love Mistakes
Do we make mistakes? The answer is yes and we make a lot of mistakes every day and we roll with it and make good the best we can as we continue to move forward.

Mistakes are very normal and a necessary part of our growth. We normalise mistakes and don’t make a big deal of them. If anything we are grateful for their presence in our lives and look for the gifts. That’s right, more presents for everyone.

It is the many mistakes that we have made that have brought us to where we are in life now. It’s because of the accumulation of all my mistakes that brings you this piece of writing.

In saying that though, we are first to acknowledge our mistakes and apologise when required even to our children. We say sorry often to our children and ask for their forgiveness as we do in other relationships in our lives.

Final Thoughts
As one day ends, another begins. The promise to self that we will live a little better with each day, smile a little more, love a little more and give a little more, play a little more, do all things important to us a little more. A little more with each day is all it takes to be the change that you want to see in the world.

And, if you are still reading,

Have your best day EVER,

Be great, Be YOU!!

About the author 

Sandra Phillips

Sandra Phillips
Chito-Ryu Karate-Do: 5th Dan, Renshi (Master Instructor) & Kobujutsu 3rd Dan

Sandra is passionate about living her best life and helping people like you live their best lives. No matter what you may be going through, know that your best days are ahead of you. Choose to challenge yourself to do something today that is important to you (no matter how small it may seem) and create ‘practices’ that help you live your best life.

Be Great, Be YOU! Let’s Grow!!

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