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Sandy Hook School Shooting - The Value of Martial Arts in Self-Confidence and Trauma Resilience

My daughter, Harmony after winning a first place medal in a 1988 tournament. She has proven to be a resilient adult.
There have been very few bright spots in the darkness following the Sandy Hook school massacre. Many of us have shed tears at the faces in the photos -- the innocence lost and young lives stolen. 

There were several acts of bravery. Some of them -- especially stories of teachers being killed while saving their students -- brought tears to my eyes. But one act of bravery made me cheer.

Imagine the self-confidence of the 8-year old boy who -- hearing the gunshots in the school and seeing his classmates crying and afraid -- spoke up and said confidently, "I know karate," then offered to lead them out.

I would like to know more about where he studied and how far he had advanced. When we are children, we tend to overestimate our ability to be super heroes, and for this young boy to imagine that he could take on a gun-toting killer was a lot more fantasy than reality.

But he was confident in the face of chaos and tragedy. He was ready to control the situation. And that is fantastic.

I teach kung-fu -- the internal arts -- online, through video and DVDs and in small classes with students. It is my passion. I also work in PR and communications for a nonprofit based in Davenport, Iowa -- Family Resources. It's an amazing organization that offers a safe place for children, women and families that have suffered physical and emotional trauma in their lives. Sometimes, it's very difficult to pick up the pieces of your life in the wake of tragedy, violence, abuse, neglect, divorce, and mental health issues. Family Resources helps.

One of the areas Family Resources is working in very closely is the idea of resilience -- how do people bounce back after suffering trauma?

I'm linking to an article that offers a short explanation. People are more resilient when they have a sense of control, of optimism, and when they see roadblocks, failure and mistakes not as defeat but as a challenge, something that sparks more effort to overcome that challenge.

I lost a daughter in 1980. My oldest daughter, Harmony, was three years old when her mother and I found her sister dead in her crib. It was a deeply traumatic experience for all of us. None of our lives would ever be the same, and even at age three, I understand now that the event had an impact on her just as it did her mother and me.

I was talking with a trauma expert yesterday, who said a lot of the children who have problems as they grow older are those who have suffered trauma, and -- when you ask what they like to do -- say they don't do anything. If you ask what they have achieved, they "haven't done anything." These are children who have no sense of accomplishment -- no goals -- no achievements.

And that's a key lesson the martial arts can teach young people. As I said in another post, martial arts can help unify the mind and body. It is a conquering of self -- of discipline and achievement in the form of martial arts training. When a young person studies martial arts in a positive environment with a good teacher -- even when an adult studies martial arts in a positive environment -- the setting and accomplishment of small goals can have a tremendous impact on the psyche.

It leads to more confidence, more inner peace, and the ability to understand that you can achieve anything you want.

And when chaos breaks out, it can also teach you to be a leader, as the story of the karate boy illustrates. 

According to research, resilient people set solid goals and achieve those goals. They don't see themselves as victims. They have compassion and empathy for others. And they have a positive view of the future. Many adults would see an improvement in their lives if they learned these skills.

There are countless ways for children to learn empowerment and achievement. The martial arts is only one way. This post is not an attempt to offer a simplistic solution to this horrible tragedy. The adults, children, and relatives are going to need a variety of support services including counseling to work through the trauma of this event. Recovery will not be easy. I'm sure -- and I hope -- the children and adults will be monitored over time.

The loss of my daughter is something I thought I would never get over. In some ways, I never will get over it. But it did not defeat me. In fact, as I held my daughter's tiny body in my arms at the funeral home and cradled her for a couple of days before the service, there was a little voice in the back of my mind that spoke clearly through the grief and told me I was going to be okay.

I have always been optimistic, and as I grew older, I learned to set goals for myself and achieve them. Actually, I had that ability before my own tragic loss, but I have achieved some of my favorite goals after my daughter died and psychologically knocked me to the ground. And after some twists and turns in her own life, Harmony is preparing to graduate from nursing school with flying colors. For these reasons and more, the research on trauma resilience strikes a familiar chord deep inside me and I want to learn more. I'm also proud to be associated with an organization that is a leader in this type of work in the community.

There are lessons here for all of us and for our children. I hope none of my readers ever face a tragedy in your lives, but if you do, I hope you are able to respond like the brave little 8-year old boy who "knows karate" and can lead the way out of danger.


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