Susan Lennon MSW, LCSW Content Strategist
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The Patience Effect
ATA World, Spring, 2007
by Susan T. Lennon

Instant messaging, express mail, direct TV … we live in a world of immediate gratification. But you can’t snap your fingers and become a black belt. Achieving this goal requires many hours in the do-jahng, plus discipline, positive attitude, and, perhaps most importantly, patience.

“If your goal is to climb a mountain, you can't start at the top of the peak,” says Senior Master Tony Isaacs, 7th Degree Black Belt from Miami, Florida. “You have to take it one step at a time.”

Patience in the Do-Jahng

Unlike many other sports, Taekwondo is primarily a solitary pursuit. You can only improve through practice and repetition – and when you make a mistake, you can only look to yourself. When training gets hard, it can be tempting to give up, especially if you’re constantly comparing yourself to others or thinking about how much longer you have until you can test for your black belt.

If that happens, Senior Master Isaacs offers this advice: “Put your impatience in perspective - you're half-way up the mountain already!”

Reflect on your original goals and what you were like when you first came to class. Remember all the things you never thought you could do? “Look at yourself now – you’re doing forms, your sparring is coming along, you’re breaking boards and starting to teach other students,” Senior Master Isaacs counsels edgy students. “You've come a long way! Don’t stop now – put the focus back to your initial goals – and have patience with yourself!”

Patience with Yourself

Master Jack McInerney, 6th Degree Black Belt, was 36 when he started training - on his doctor's advice. As an adult, taking up a martial art, or any new sport, is a challenge. But Master McInerney’s goal was to become "the me that I wanted to be." At each level, he would focus on one particular goal, and believe that with practice, he could achieve it. "At blue belt, I wanted to do a jump spin crescent kick. At brown belt, a jump spin hook kick. At each belt level, I set a specific, difficult goal ... and to keep from getting frustrated, I'd go to my instructor and ask him to break it down into smaller steps. He would be like a doctor and give me prescriptions on how to fix each little thing. Shift your weight over here, put your head over the right foot instead of keeping it in the middle  ..." Master McInerney learned that he could achieve any goal by visualizing the end result – and patiently putting in the necessary time to accomplish it.

Go with the flow – don’t put yourself on a strict deadline. When you stop measuring your progress against where you think you “should” be, you kick frustration to the mat and free up your mental energy. Focus on what you’re learning, whether it’s a new self-defense move or a way to better yourself – and allow yourself to enjoy the process.

"It's not just learning the techniques,” explains Master McInerney, who teaches in Sayreville, New Jersey. “After a tournament, if someone asked me how I did, I never said whether I won or lost. I always said 'I learned.' To me, that's the real winning.”

Patience with Others

Senior Master Isaacs says that many times, in the same way that kids want instant gratification and instant black belts, the parents want “instant character.”

“Parents want us to fix the fact that their kids don't have patience or discipline – something that’s been ongoing for several years,” he explains. In the ATA, instructors learn how to meet this challenge and to help young boys and girls to meet their potential – but parents need to understand that it takes time. “With time, you can do just about anything," says Senior Master Isaacs, who believes so strongly in the importance of patience that he recommends that instructors “promote patience, self-control and indomitable spirit as a life skill from month to month.” Applying these principles will help students both in class – and in life.  

Patience in Life

Irritations will come your way no matter who you are. Taekwondo teaches you to manage whatever comes up without letting your emotions overflow in annoyance or anger. “How we handle things in life reflects who we are,” explains Senior Master Isaacs. “If we boil over, we lose credibility in the do-jahng and our personal life. I encourage everyone to cultivate patience.”

A One-Two-Three Practical Punch

Senior Master Isaacs offers three tips for developing the life skill of patience:

1)          “When it comes to people and circumstances, build relationships.” It's easy to become irritated with someone who cuts you off in traffic because you don't know them personally. But when you develop self-control, you respect others more, and can go through life more calmly and successfully.

2)          Respect yourself and build up your mental attributes so that you can adjust to any situation that comes your way.

3)          Find a mentor and watch how he or she handles pressure. When you see a person turn a potentially hot-tempered situation around with a sympathetic word or an unexpected gesture of kindness, you realize the power of patience.

Master McInerney says, “A master is not somebody who wakes up and is able to do a side kick perfectly. A master is somebody who works on it relentlessly to make it perfect.”

In the same way, when you practice patience, self-control and indomitable spirit, you can become the person you want to be – and achieve mastery in both the do-jahng and in life.  

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