Podcast 12: Mr. AJ Tufano, Karate Dad

Podcast 12: Mr. AJ Tufano, Karate Dad

Had you done martial arts before you joined Ripple Effect?

Limited. For about a year in my early 20s I trained in Taekwondo in a gym where I worked. So I had a bit of an idea about martial arts-related stuff, but life took over back then.

What fascinates you about martial arts? What brought you back to training?

Personally I’ve always liked the martial arts movies, growing up in rural New York, and my friends and I would try out the moves on each other. We even built some wooden nunchucks that we would hit each other with [laughs].

What got us to Ripple Effect was a promotion at my kids’ elementary school. We saw them at an event, and Caitlin (10) was super excited about it.

What was it like walking through the door of Ripple Effect Martial Arts for the first time?

It was funny, I remember walking in and there was an upper belt class going on. It was loud [laughs]. Those first few steps, the intensity was high. I watched both my kids on either side of me take a step back, kind of flinch a little. I kind of thought, “Is this going to work? How are the kids going to respond to this?”

It was great actually. We had a chat with [head instructor] Mr. Robinson, and he put the kids at ease. Once they stepped out on the mat we knew it was gonna be a great experience, a lot of fun for the kids.

What did you feel like your role was in that initial stage?

When it started, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what Ripple Effect offered in terms of the martial arts curriculum and self-defense, but I really didn’t expect the whole leadership aspect, and the community building. It’s the sort of environment that I wanted my kids to be immersed in.

For a while, it was like the taekwondo was secondary. My kids were two months into training, and my wife and I decided to join. I don’t know of many opportunities for parents to join their kids in an activity,

You talked about having credibility by joining your kids in training.

Yeah. There were excited to have a chance to teach us as parents. That was a lot of fun. You can tell the kids really latched onto it.

When your kids can see that you’re struggling with something, it helps them feel better about themselves. We can work on this together. We keep each other accountable. I get busy with work. They get busy with their lives. There’s a desire for me to keep up with them. I want to set an example. At different times we all keep each other accountable.

What’s your story about your daughter preparing a form for a tournament? It’s a great story of confidence.

Yeah, so she was preparing a nunchuck form. And it’s one we learned as red belts, and we were brown belts at the time, and she was struggling with it. I could see that. And so I was a bit worried that it wasn’t the best form for this occasion. It was a little rusty.

As a parent, I was trying to strike a balance: Don’t say “You’re not ready.” But I had to say “How’s it coming?” I was thinking, I want my kid to succeed, and I named off a couple of more recent [karate] forms. I said you need to practice, it needs to be smoother, let me know if you need help.

She didn’t ask anything of me the rest of the week. Then at the tournament, I was watching from a distance, and she went up to the judges, and performed the nunchuck form flawlessly. No mistakes. And she won first place.

It really cemented for me this idea that they [my kids] can really rise to the occasion. It’s been such a neat thing to see.

You’ve seen this in both your daughter and son?

Yeah. Actually Jacob [age 12] decided to go out for track and field this year. This was a case of total independence. He sought it out all on his own, and he wasn’t even really into sports before training in martial arts. He came up from school this winter and said he’d come back from a track and field meeting at school, and wanted to go out for track and field this year.

This was a case of the martial arts confidence, independence spilling over from Taekwondo training.

Is he doing well in track and field?

He’s doing so well. It’s amazing. He’s keeping up with kids who are a foot taller than him in hurdles. He’s just clearing those things.

How does goal setting fit into that? Has goal setting always been important?

It occurred to me early on that when I was my kids’ age, I never understood the benefit of putting in the hard work, the time and effort it takes to excel. I never put in that time.

Later, in college, in engineering school, when all of a sudden things got hard, I knew I had to knuckle down and put in the time. Learning that skill when you’re younger, not being afraid of putting in the time and work to do something that’s difficult, that’s the biggest thing I want my kids to gain out of marital arts training.

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