Kenny Karate, by Joseph Barone

Kenny Karate was walking back from karate practice.  The day’s lesson from the teacher was “Appreciation.”  This puzzled Kenny.  He was used to lessons about focus, concentration, power, spirit, black belt attitude, tenacity- but never before did he have a karate lesson about appreciation.  “What good does appreciation do in a fight?” he wondered as he walked several blocks toward home, past autumn trees just beginning to lose their leaves.

He could almost hear his teacher’s reply in his mind.  She says the same thing almost every class.  “Martial arts isn’t about fighting, it’s about overcoming yourself.  If you achieve the best you can be overall, you’ll also be a better fighter.  But that’s a side effect, not the purpose of studying martial arts.”  He walked past some very nice houses with beautiful lawns.  The owners of those houses must feel lucky.  Flower beds were beginning to wither and shed their petals like a wedding ceremony.  “Then why do we practice kicks and punches?”  He thought.  The whole thing confused him very much.  Maybe adults are a little crazy.

Turning the corner, the streets got a bit narrower and the houses a bit smaller.  Some had tiny lawns, some had none.  All-in-all it was an uglier street than the previous one, but at this time of day, right before sunset, the light hit the trees in such a beautiful arc that Kenny had to stop and admire it.  He thought to himself that the owners of these smaller, uglier houses must feel very lucky to witness such a beautiful sunset every day.

Kenny kept remembering the lesson, thinking about it over and over.  A half hour earlier, the karate teacher, Miss Teresa who is a third degree black belt, sat all the students in a circle for five minutes.  She had them close their eyes and sit with their legs crossed.  She asked them to focus on one thing they appreciated about life.  It didn’t have to be the best thing, just one out of many things that there is to be grateful for.

Some students blurted out, “my mom!”, or “my dad!”, or “my video games,” “my dad’s car!”, “my dog!” but Kenny couldn’t think of anything.  He didn’t like the lesson.  Miss Teresa had asked them to keep their eyes closed and keep thinking about that one thing.  She asked them to control their breathing, deep breath in, hold, slowly let it out.  In, hold, slowly let it out.  In, hold, and out.  For five minutes straight.  This was difficult for some of the younger students, but it was good practice in focus.

Then she said softly, “Now open your eyes.  Whatever you were focusing on, I want you to approach it in a new way, with a brand new appreciation.  When you appreciate something, or someone, you want to protect them.  You fight for them.  Next class, come with more intensity, more focus, more spirit.”

“I shouldn’t have said video games,” one student exclaimed, looking sad.  “It’s okay,” said Miss Teresa.  “When you have five minutes later, just close your eyes and think of something else,” she smiled.  “You can always find five minutes.”

Now Kenny crossed the street and walked down a block to the subway.  This street had even smaller houses and apartments with no lawns.  This was a poorer part of town.  Kenny passed by a beggar down the street who looked ragged.  You appreciate what you have when you see what some people don’t have, he thought.  The thought drove Kenny to want to give him something.  He’d had a full bottle of a sports drink and half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The poor person took it and thanked Kenny very much.

He felt good in doing good.  It was then that he realized the power appreciation can have.  “It gives you the ability to act, instead of do nothing.  Maybe it was a good lesson after all.”  And he walked down the steps to the subway a better martial artist than he was yesterday.

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