Karate: A Family Dynamic

This week I got to talk to Rebecca Quillen, a music teacher at Imagine Charter School in Firestone, Colorado; a karate student; and the mother of four(!) young men. Rebecca, her husband Kris, and elder sons Sam, Seth and Timothy just earned their green belts. The youngest Quillen (Ethan, 4) has graduated to high gold.

Here’s what Ms. Rebecca had to say about her family’s first year of their Black Belt journey.

You’re a teacher—what do you teach?

I teach K-8 music (including music appreciation, band and choir) at Imagine Charter School [in Firestone].

You’re a musician as well? What’s your background in music?

I have a concentration in classical music, and as a performer my primary instrument is the flute. I’ve performed with orchestras, in the pits of operas, at weddings. I love performance.

How did your family get started in martial arts training?

Our second-oldest (Seth) really wanted to try martial arts. We saw a Facebook ad for two classes, and we signed him up. His older brother Sam watched and went, “I’ve gotta do this,” right on the spot. He jumped in and they earned their white belts, together, the same day. Their brothers watched them for a couple more lessons and said “we want to do this too.” Then it was me, and then my husband. We quickly became a karate family.

As a parent and a teacher, this must have been a really tough past few months. What’s it been like to keep up with karate as well?

Actually, for our family, [karate] has helped relieve stress. That’s been a major benefit.

How does your martial arts training relieve stress?

Personally, it’s been an energy outlet that I didn’t otherwise have. I jumped in and fell in love with it. The kids too. My husband (Kris) joined up soon after. Watching our boys love [karate] was huge.

So it’s been fun?

It’s been so fun, yes. And the atmosphere is so welcoming and kind and supportive. Even online. You can feel it through the computer.

What are some challenges that karate has helped you face over your past year of training?

It’s pushed us physically in ways I never thought possible. I don’t love doing pushups. But I love knowing that I can do push ups. Seeing what I can do, being able to see clearly where I want to go. I’m not there yet, but I can already see earning my Black Belt.

What benefits have you experienced professionally? Mentally? Physically?

Leadership as a teacher. There are things that I have borrowed from karate—I’ll share this with students, say “we’re working on self-esteem in karate, these are the words I”m learning… how can we apply that in band?” The kids love hearing that. A lot of my elementary students go to Ripple Effect Martial Arts in Longmont as well. They love hearing [me referred to as] Ms. Rebecca. [Laughs}

What motivates you and your kids to keep up with karate lessons and tests, even as things get tougher?

We know we’re going to be walking into a happy environment. For the hours we’re in class every week, I’m not thinking about stressors of the world and work. I’m thinking 1,2 3, 4. It just feels good to punch and kick, especially at a time like this.

Also, because we’re all [the whole family] doing it, it gives us a common vocabulary. We ask the boys: “Are we going to be able to mark off love and respect on our job charts today?” They want to be able to do that. Karate makes it real. Yes sir, no ma’am, please and thank you have become part of our family and social vocabulary, in and out of [karate] class.

So martial arts has been a kind of moral support, a binding agent to keep your family strong?

Definitely. My oldest son struggles with anxiety, and this has been a rough year for him. I say, “Let’s go to karate,” and he brightens.

To what do you attribute that?

One thing is the good spirit of competition. I can say “This is my high kick—how high is yours?” and we kick our highest and compare. The attitude is so positive. We all embrace the spirit.

All the time?

[Laughs] Well, the younger two boys, there are days they love it, there are days they want to quit. We keep pushing. We want to become Black Belts.

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