Playing with Fire : A Relentless Life
Relentless Martial Arts
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Playing with Fire

by Brandon Bennett on 10/31/21

We live in an anxious world. While you may not be anxious (if so, you are in a growing minority) most of the world is. It seems that the 24-hour news cycle, instantly available wherever you are due to smartphones, is driven to introduce a new unsolvable crisis to us minute by minute. This background emotion of anxiety affects not just us, but our kids. A study published in Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics in April 2018, found that in just five years, anxiety-disorder diagnoses among young people had increased 17 percent. Anxiety is also shown to be one of the major contributors to more serious psychological problems.

The question becomes: What can we do about it?

A major contributor to anxiety is a feeling of lack of control. We need to build in ourselves and our children a sense of self-determination. We desire to be in charge.

The Stoics said there are only two things: What we can control and what we can't. Anxiety comes from not knowing which is which. The Stoics were saying our reactions to the world are all we can control for certain. They also advocated making things happen in the world. Here are three things that we can do to help our kids and make us feel like our actions make a difference.

11 1. Progressive resistance

To do 50 pushups in a row is a good physical goal. It is something that all junior black belts must do. Here is the thing - no one starts at 50 pushups. They start with sets of 5. Gradually that becomes sets of 10. Each belt in the kid’s curriculum adds 5 more pushups and leg lifts to the number required. By the time they get to Jr. Black Belt, the pushups are challenging but doable. This same approach works with decision making and life skills. Let's look at how this model is applied.    

We have always felt that we want our kids to be “independent people of good character who realize that their decisions affect other people.”  How do you make independent kids? You let them be independent a step at a time. You start with small things with little risk and gradually build to bigger things. This helps them move to the things that they will need to do on their own. These approaches are not quick or easy fixes. The following are some examples. You may have different examples. Let me know what your favorite way to do this is.

Grocery store trips are great for this. Have the kids go get something from down the aisle or another aisle. Have them pick the cheapest item or the best item. If they pick the wrong item, tell them why you would like a different choice. Be as positive as you can with them. Affirm good choices. Your goal is to build confidence. This will also help when they turn of driving age, and you send them for the thing you forgot for dinner. They know where things are in the grocery store and can go get them. If possible, send them with cash, so they stay on a budget. This will pay dividends when they make their first trips to Walmart in college and when first setting up a house.  

Navigating on the car trip can be a phenomenal skill set that has little cost in time. While coming to the martial arts school, turn your cell phone GPS on with Relentless Martial Arts as the destination. Just have them read it turn by turn. Have them help look for the streets. You don't have to follow their directions if they get turned around or do something silly. You know the way there. Guide them gently and calmly as the GPS re-routes them. Sooner or later have them navigate you there without the GPS. You can also have them use the GPS to take you to a place you are familiar with, but they aren’t. As they get better, they can help navigate on road trips. The ability to navigate with GPS and later with a map will help them for a lifetime.

You may have noticed that we have a lot of student-led activities at RMA. I have led the kids through the exercises that they lead many times when I ask them to teach. They will get immediate feedback from the other kids by inattention or unruly behavior if they stray too far from the formulas. They will get feedback from me as well. They need practice in leadership. It is so low risk to allow them to demonstrate or teach a kickboxing 4 count. I am present if it goes off the rails. I observe their management skills and can praise them. Believe me when I say, that letting them teach is one of the hardest things I do but it pays off.

22 2.  Be Realistic

I volunteered at one time to be a school resource officer. One of the jobs was to teach life skills classes to elementary and middle school kids. During my classes, the number of kids that were future NFL/NBA/Pop Stars was enormous. My job was not to crush dreams. The curriculum I used focused on the same progressive resistance model to help kids develop goals. If a kid followed the model we put out, they were bound to be successful whether or not they were a Sportsball star. We started by breaking down that everyone has the same amount of time in their day. There are tasks that they must do. These included school, family activities, chores. We then started comparing how they spent their time to how the stars spent time. Many still wanted to “live a normal life.” Often many kids still insisted that they would do the things required. We then began to ask how many NFL players came from the same middle school class. Often the realization of the difficulty of those careers began to dawn on them. It isn't just the amount of work that separates the great from the not so good.

Passion plus time on task, enabled by progressive goal setting, is a good formula for success.

SMART goals are important - the acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. (Hint: Homework generally follows the above principles.) 

 If you are not working towards the goals, this may not be what they really want to do. I found that often the kids wanted the money or the prestige (often the love) that they thought the careers would give them. We tried to show kids that there were plenty of jobs that helped them make enough money to reach their real goals of financial security and love from a group of people.

If you want your kid to be a doctor and they want to be a zookeeper, let them be a zookeeper. Your passion for the medical profession is not theirs. Realize that they can have the things that you believe the job provides in a place that feeds their passion and serves their calling. We need to be realistic in goals for our children. That includes not just thinking about their potential but their passion.   

This leads into the last point:

3.  Let there be "I"

We love our kids. We want the best for them. We cared for their every need when they were infants. One of the hardest things we can do as parents is letting go. We need to let there be “I.”


We aren't applying for college. She is applying for college.

We didn’t make the football team. He made the football team.

She made the A or she made the F. He got a great SAT/ACT or he needs to take it again.

We share in their successes and failures. They are responsible for them. There are only 2 ways to get to this in a way that doesn't break our hearts or kill them. Trust them and let them fail.

Craig Groeschel said that there is only one way to learn to trust someone. He said to be careful to write it down.

Trust them.

Trust them. Give them a goal. Don't give them a task with step by step, micromanaging and helicoptering. Give them a task and let them do it. If they have the skill sets needed, tell them to do whatever it takes to get it done. Tell them you trust them to get it done. Give them feedback. Be as constructive as possible. Let them do it until it is successfully completed.   

Wow, this is hard. It might not be as hard as the next thing though.

Let them fail. Let them fail in the small things. Let them fail in something that you don't have the final say in. Homework. Running out of gas in their first car. Not making the cut because they didn’t practice or train enough.  Self-taught lessons are often the best ones. The earlier they experience setbacks, the sooner they can learn to deal with them. There is at least one thing all of us taught our kids where we followed the model. When they learned to walk.

We had to watch them struggle. We had to watch them fall. We created an environment where it wouldn't damage or kill them if they fell. We knew instinctively that they had to fall to learn to walk. If we made their life easy by always bringing them things, they would stop trying. We want them to walk and then run. We want them to be successful human beings.

During our last camp out, I asked the kids to individually make a one match fire. I made it a race. They gathered fuel. They could use a knife to make a feather stick or tinder. They had full autonomy to do the task after some guidelines and suggestions. I asked them to play with fire. There was no safer place for them to do it. They could burn themselves, but we would save them from serious injury. They could not get a fire started and fail.

Almost every kid got a fire started with just 1 or two matches. In less than 10 minutes from go. I expected to use cheats like cotton balls with petroleum jelly or alcohol hand sanitizer. No kid needed it. We just trusted them to get the job done after seeing they had made preparations. 

 The mission statement of Relentless is Building Better Heroes. Heroes overcome obstacles. If we remove their obstacles, we are taking away their chances to grow into the person they can become. Let them fail at the things that they can afford to. Create opportunities to practice being an individual. Let the tasks be difficult but doable. Give them the goal setting skills and the passion to create their own world.    

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