So today is my son Jacob, who has Downs Syndromes' next step in achieving his black belt – his assessment to see if he is ready.
I am filled with mixed feelings to be honest.
I hold the coveted Black Belt in VERY high regard, when I achieved mine at the end of 2000 I was on cloud 9 for months, I had worked consistently for three years, trained twice a week every week and attended each and every course available from my federation - I was very insular then, far less so now.
So how then do I ensure that Jacob is good enough?
Jacob trained with my instructor, doing his first grading in 2000 aged 8, his gradings were as follows;
1 Red Sept 2000
2 Yellow Dec 2000
3 Orange June 2001
4 Green Dec 2001
5 Blue/White June 2002
6 Blue March 2003
7 Purple Dec 2003
Took a gap as he didn’t want to train anymore, he came back when his view changed.
8 Brown/White Part1 Dec 2007
9 Brown/White Part2 Dec 2008
10 Brown Dec 2009
Took another break & returned
I have always tried to do my best with Jacob and for Jacob and his ukes in an art I love with a passion - yes I take an income from my business but this is still a burning passion for me. Never wanting to make is too hard for him whilst always challenging him, at times that balance has not been an easy one.
I have never personally graded him, nor any of my family as I don't feel I can be unbiased (I would probably be too hard on them!).
My students grade for 1st Dan externally, this is my choice, and this should be a challenge for them and should push them to the next stage in their development, and if they are not up to the task they should fail. I am very certain that this is the right way, so - new ukes, new dojo, new examiners. I think back to mine and frankly it should have been harder!
The challenge for me then is to ensure that Jacob gives of his best, is pushed enough to do his best and give more than he has given before, whilst ensuring that the task is not insurmountable for him.....is that fair?
Should there be a level for Black Belt that NO-ONE can fall below, if so where is that?
I guess is comes down to the question what is a Black belt?
Is it a superhero?
Is it invincible?
Is it someone that has met and achieved a challenge?
Is it someone who has shown the staying power to hang in there until the job is done?
Should the challenge be the same for everyone, a level playing field….is that fair?
In competition “concessions” are made via weight categories and often via grade, this seems fair and professional sports like boxing have been doing that since time in memorial. At the Special Olympics the rules are altered to make it fairer for disabled athletes and they have a ranking system to level the field further.
I only continue to teach my art because I make a difference in peoples’ lives. Students improve in concentration, confidence, fitness, learn new skills and have the opportunity to become junior leaders/assistant coaches and help others. I believe that this has happened for Jacob too.
Jacob will never be the meanest bad ass on the street or in the dojo, it’s just not in his nature, aggression only comes in the form of screaming at me or one of his brothers if we are hassling him too much or sitting on him! He doesn’t, has never lashed out at anyone to my knowledge. This means that the “controlled aggression” I look for in my students will probably never be shown by Jacob. Instead he will perform his techniques in a measured manner.
Technically Jacob is very good, he is an extreme visual learner partly because his language skills are very low. He performs throws in the lineout, so hip throws everyone from the tall to the huge and heavy – he is only 4’10”! This means that I believe that he is up to the task and ready to move on to his next challenge and when (not if) he achieves his Black Belt HE will be on cloud 9, HE will know that it wasn’t a foregone conclusion, HE will know that he had to work hard for it. I am open to the possibility that it might not happen this time and he may need to return in 6 months and try again, but when he gets it, he will deserve it and I will be one proud dad, as indeed I was when my middle son Morgan achieved his and my wife Amanda achieved hers……I am hopeful that one day my youngest son Duncan will return and complete the family of Black Belts :-).
Good luck Jacob, I will be your main uke, so you’ll need all the help you can get!
14th November 2015
The news story about Jacob Phelps' Black Belt has been published by the Leicester Mercury!
And in the Hinckley Times 12th January 2016