Saving my boy

Here’s this week’s column, brought to you with all the passion I’ve got in my pent-up mommy account.

“There comes a time in every mother bear’s life when she has to ask herself: Do I fish him out of the river, or stand back and watch him choke?

I, for one, am done with the choking.

Two months ago my husband, our therapist and I enrolled my five-year-old, Rex, in a begginer Karate class. He’s young for his age, distractable, and adorably enthusiastic. But the class was for ages 3-5, how bad could he be?

His first class was positively painful to watch. All that pent up anxious enthusiasm led to goofy, non-Karate acrobatics and absent minded summersaults. But, by the end of his 30-minute class, I could see a definite improvement.

The second class was slightly less painful, with a measurable amount of progress. I was impressed. This was a brand new adventure for him, and he was starting to get it.

Then the third class came along. Unfortunately, the head Sensei lady stood in as a class substitute. She’s your typical Type A personality, perfect for running a tight Karate operation. Not so perfect for little boys who are just trying to figure things out.

Having missed Rex’s earlier performances, she didn’t realize that what she saw was improvement. It might have been small, but it was only his third class. At the end of session, she “invited” us to enroll him in private lessons. There was no other option.


Being the non-confrontational person that I’d like to pretend I am, I held my piece and went along with Dad, who immediately jumped on board. Hey, we want our kid to succeed, if a few private lessons are going to help him, we’ll fork over the extra cash and play ball.

I’d like to tell you that watching my boy giving his heart to this woman has brought me joy and happiness. Instead, what I’ve been seeing this past month is a lady who doesn’t like my kid. He tries harder to obey her than I’ve ever seen him try at anything, yet I can feel her palpable dislike for him. And I don’t care what anyone says, you know when someone doesn’t like your child. It shows.

So, per her suggestion, I dropped him off alone last Thursday for his private lesson. He was scheduled to work with the Sensei from 5:00 to 5:30. At 5:28 when my husband walked in, my child was still sitting quietly by the door, looking out the window. She’d “gotten busy,” “other people needed her at the front desk,” and “we just started a few minutes late.”

Right. Because ignoring him for half an hour is totally acceptable. Hey, as long as his overbearing mother isn’t around, why should she give the kid any attention?

After his lesson (which I watched quietly from around the corner, and which he totally rocked) I took her aside to get a read on his improvement.

“Hey Sensei, so how is Rex doing? We’re anxious to help him get back into his class, just wondering what your thoughts are.”

“Oh,” she said, “Well, I don’t think that will be happening any time soon. He’ll need two, probably three more months before we even consider moving him back into a class.”

At that moment, after watching her impose her hard-core techniques on him for the past month (techniques that our therapist was slightly alarmed by), I knew it was time to fire the Sensei.

A karate chop to the throat also crossed my mind.

There are moments in life when a mother has to do what’s best for her child. Sometimes, doing what’s best means helping them pick up the pieces of life’s learning experiences and setting them back on their feet. But sometimes it means kicking the Karate teacher’s trash all the way back to Hong Kong.”


  1. That is NOT the only martial arts available… you are in UT… FIND somewhere else… he wants to succeed at this and is willing to work for it!

  2. Spot on. Way to go, Mama.

  3. Everytime I read about Rex and the Nazi Sensai I want to cry. It makes me wonder if I have ever been the uncaring person who doesn’t realize how hard the kid is trying and how special he is….I really hope I can remember these posts so I never treat any child like that.

    And I really hope you can find an awesome karate class elsewhere that will be good for him. Maybe you should see if Brett from Biggest Loser is availabe for lessons? 🙂

  4. I’m glad you fired them. Adam taught karate for years and was always patient and kind.

  5. I’m with everyone else here. She shouldn’t have been given as much time as she was. And I hope you demanded a refund for that wasted 30 minutes.

  6. I am so annoyed at the Sensai (if they can actually be called that). I had my now 5 year old in karate, right after he turned 4. He definitely had problems fitting in, following directions, etc. The Sensai tried and tried hard and was never anything but proper to L. However, we reached a mutual decision that L was not ready for the program. I’m just so annoyed with your people, I want to scream.

  7. Please PUHLEASE tell me you very nicely, but very firmly, questioned her as to what kind of outfit she thought she was running here, and that, as nice a person as you are, you’re pretty darned disappointed with the lack of patience a children’s karate instructor has.


    Or maybe just a karate chop to the throat?

  8. Find someone who loves the kids they work with. Go to several places and watch as they teach the kids. Really look at what is going on. Look at how the children respond and what they do. You might even consider a parent and child class. One where he could watch you try too. I think Karate can be fun, but there are other types of martial arts and other types of classes as well. You just need to find something that he loves and wants to do and is treated well while he is trying. I think you will find the right sensai for him. Don’t give up, when you find the right one for him, it will be totally worth it! (PS I totally agree with the Karate chop to the throat!)

  9. You & everyone else have said it all. I was ready to come up & karate kick that sensei & I don’t even know you irl! Please find someone else for Rex. I regret w/ all my heart that I didn’t for my son.

  10. Good for you! Very good for you! And Rex. I look forward to hearing about a new instructor.

  11. I hope you weren’t nice to her at all! What a beast.
    Mama bear needs to take out hose claws and leave her mark!
    Having raised five kids there are many times I wish I would have let the bear assert herself more instead of trying to be nice.

  12. Has it crossed your mind that maybe it’s YOU that they don’t want in the class? Teachers of all kinds hate pain in the ass parents, case in point.

    • annie valentine says:

      It has crossed my mind. I’ve been nothing short of totally cooperative and delightful with her, giving her every ounce of control I can think of. There is such a thing as a bad teacher.

    • “None,” in order to comment on this remark, I’m going to ignore your appalling lack of manners for the moment.

      I’ve been on just about every side of this equation. I’ve been a private music teacher, a classroom teacher, and the parent of a child who – for whatever reason – requires a different kind of management. You’re right about one thing; it is very difficult for a teacher to have to contend with both the student and the parent, particularly when the parent has one agenda and the teacher is being paid to pursue another.

      However, after 30 years as a teacher, I have also learned the value of telling a parent, “This is not a good fit. Here are the names of some other people who do what I do.” No matter how well-qualified a teacher may be, it’s impossible to be the best choice for every student. Nor is it always easy to combine my professional agenda with some parents’ agendas.

      And as a parent, I have to be an advocate for my special-needs child, even if it leads others to pass uninformed judgments about me and the way I raise my kids.

      Where this teacher went wrong was in not admitting that she wasn’t up to the task of educating this one little boy. This wasn’t a super-specialized form of training that only she was capable of carrying out. It was children’s beginning karate, something this family could get from any number of other trainers.

      Regardless of how she felt about Rex or his parents, it was unethical and unprofessional for her to continue taking their money knowing as she did that she had already given up on the child. Her dislike was visible, her neglect apparent when she made a 5-year old wait 30 minutes for a ‘private’ lesson.

      Most of these commenters have spoken as protective mothers. I’m speaking as a long-time professional educator. And it is as an educator that I stand by my assessment: Ultimate ownership of this problem belongs to that instructor. I hope she develops some professional ethics, or the next time something like this comes up, the family may not go away so quietly.

  13. I need to hear the rest of this though! I want to know what you said to the instructor and if she’s sorry for being a complete and utter -insert bad word here-!! I hope he gets into a class with people who SHOULD be teaching children. What an idiot lady.

  14. Echo Yates says:

    I just found your blog a few days ago, and after catching up on the last 9 months of your posts. I have come to the conclusion that you are a wonderful woman that is always looking out for what is best for your kids and family as awhole! This karate class needs to figure out how to work with kids if that is what they are going to do for a living…love the blog!

    • mom of a mob says:

      Welcome Echo! Annie is addicting, isn’t she!! Imagine hearing her stories in person… 1oo x better! Plus, she’s as wonderful in person as she “sounds”.

  15. If you need any volunteers to karate chop her ass back to Japan or China or wherever she’s from, I get to be first in line.

  16. I want to hear more about the kicking her trash to Hong Kong part 😉

  17. Oh, this hurt my heart. I have a five year old who is not “cookie cutter” and I could feel and empathize your struggle. Ouch.

    Good for you for taking him out. More than anything it sounds like a ploy for cash.


  18. Good job Mother Bear! In my first experience with my antsy, anxious boy in a classroom setting, I believed the preschool teachers reports on what “inappropriate behavior” she saw in my child. I made him keep going, because I didn’t want him to learn that quitting was ok. It became obvious that she didn’t like him, even punishing him for behavior that she ignored in other students. I think now his preschool experience did more harm than good. And miracle of miracles, when he got into kindergarten with a teacher with some decent teaching and classroom management skills, all his “problem” behaviors have all but disappeared. Wish I had followed my gut. No reason to continue to expose your boy to someone who lacks the ability to deal with a child who acts like, oh, I don’t know, a child?

  19. Please tell me that the “firing” involved some sort of kicking of the trash. Even though I know it’s been resolved, and for the better, her behavior still just made me mad. The nerve of that woman! She’s not good enough to work with your son. Her loss.

  20. Just wanted to add another “good job Mom”. It takes a special attitude to work with small children. Some people are just there for a paycheck and the best way to tell the boss you think they or their employee is not worth it, is to take the money elsewhere. There is a lot of competition, not every “product” (dojo) is equal. Your kid,no matter what, should leave the dojo feeling stronger and better, even if they know they have a lot of work to do. Anything less than that is unacceptable.

  21. I’m sure you have no recollection of meeting me at CBC, and I’m not sure what provoked me to pull up your blog tonight, but here I am commenting.

    My 5yo has Asperger’s and Sensory Processing Disorder. We signed him up for karate last fall because occupational therapy was one-hundred-and-sixty-not-covered-by-insurance-dollars-an-hour. We, too, have had “issues” with a certain female instructor at the studio. I found myself in the director’s office sobbing one day when the instructor was particularly witchy. She (the instructor) then enjoyed a couple of weeks “off” and came back much, much nicer.

    What’s my point? I have no idea. This entry just really spoke to me.

    And when the instructor announced she’d be shaving her head if she could raise $1000 for cancer, I may have made a large anonymous donation to assure she’d have to.