While this is a bit long of story from a mom in the Washington State area, it is a touching one.

In her own words, she describes the struggles of her child and how martial arts training has helped him get stronger on the inside AND the outside…

“I wanted to take a moment to express my extreme gratitude for what Mr. Joe Tharp and Mrs. Mo Gano have done for our boys.

In short:

Our oldest has much improved self-esteem, better posture, better physical fitness and an overall better attitude. Our youngest is slowly, but surely learning to get along with others, maintaining his focus better and not melting down when he doesn’t get his own way. These changes have occurred in the very short couple of months that we have been coming to Zultimate in Mill Creek. It’s quite amazing to watch. We struggle with ADHD with our oldest, but to look at him now, that is a laughable diagnosis.

In long:

Our oldest son is Alex. He is about to turn 12 years old in March. Alex has face quite a few challenges in his childhood. Almost as soon as he was born, he had ear infections. It was 1 infection after another. Nothing fixed them and nothing made him better. He was hospitalized twice within the 1st year for IV antibiotics and dangerous fevers. I was a single mom until Alex was 5 (when Nathaniel adopted him). The 1st year I struggled quite a bit and needed to use the state system to get him the care he needed. When he was 13 months old, I got my own insurance and was able to move onto a clinic and doctor that wasn’t tragically overwhelmed and underfunded. Within a few hours, that doc had me take him to an Ears, Nose & Throat specialist and I found out that Alex had a congenital disorder that made it impossible for his ears to drain. I also found out that poor treatment of his ears had made him go deaf.

He had his 1st of 4 surgeries within a week. From 13 months until about 3 ½, he was in/out of hospitals, audiologists and sign language lessons for us both. In the last surgery, they repaired the broken bones in his ears and replaced his ear drums with skin grafts from his booty (we joke with him that he is the true butt-head). When he got his hearing back, he was so overwhelmed and scared to death of noise he wore silly putty in his ears until he got used to sounds. With some really intensive speech therapy, we were able to get his speech caught up in time for him to start kindergarten.

All of these illnesses and classes and appointments made it so that he was very severely socially behind. He had a hard time making friends and the 1stfire drill in school made him so upset, he was picked on for days. He was a target for bullying right away. He tried to play by himself, but this made the bullying worse and he was suspended in kindergarten for a melt down at the basketball hoop.

The bullying continued through the 5th grade and he slowly but surely became very isolated and we were very worried about his inability to make and keep friends. He had many a belly ache and begged to be kept home from school many many times. We tried to work with the school, but it was a very small school and they didn’t think it was much of a problem. His self-esteem just plummeted and he kept to himself, ate and played video games. This led to him being very unfit and overweight.

At Vacation Bible School this summer, Alex volunteer with be a leader for some 2nd grade boys (I volunteered to lead the 5th grade girls and quickly became very jealous of Alex’s easy job). It was an PandaMania (an asian theme). The 1st day, there was a karate teacher there from Lynnwood that did a demonstration for the kids and invited the kids to do some punches and kicks. Alex was immediately in love with karate. He begged me over & over to be enrolled. I thought it was a great idea, but… I’m not a very outgoing personality and I was very overwhelmed by the number of studios. I had no idea what was what (tae kwon do – karate – mixed martial arts – what???) and I kept putting him off.

Mrs. Guno was at the Mill Creek Festival this year and came up to me and asked if we wanted 2 free weeks. I told her “As a matter of fact, I do.” We got Alex signed up and the transformation in him has been AMAZING!!! Do you know how I know it’s amazing. His report card in gym has him with an A and a statement that he is “a very good sport.” Alex is an extremely bright kid. He tests above high school in reading, science and math (low in spelling because of his hearing problems – He has 80% of normal – Good enough to live without hearing aids {thank goodness because those were a disaster – another story later}, but it still gives him some trouble from time to time), but PE has always been a problem. He didn’t play well with others, he didn’t like losing, he didn’t want to play by other’s rules. He’s never scored above a C in PE. He did this year. I was so shocked that he’s being a good sport and doing well, I emailed to teacher to be sure she didn’t mix something up (you can award me with Mom-of-the-Year now for such confidence in my kid).

You know what else??? He has friends. I hear about them everyday. He never reports about being bullied anymore and he never asks to stay home from school. They belly aches have disappeared completely as well. He really is a new kid and it’s so amazing to see. He stands taller with better posture (thanks to the weight he’s lost) and doesn’t talk down about himself.

Our youngest is Elisha. He just turned 4 right before Christmas. You should never ever pray for patience. I’m convinced that God does not give out virtues, but gives you opportunities to work on the things you want. I’m convinced that’s why I got Elisha. So I had lots & lots of opportunities to practice patience. Elisha is a very bright kid (he’s like Alex in that he’s obsessed with science and math and loves books). Elisha is also a very sweet, cute kid. But Elisha has energy. LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of energy. He also really believes that everyone should fall for his big brown eyes and do whatever he wants. And when that doesn’t happen, he will stand his ground and not give up until he gets what he wants. I’m sure that kind of tenacity will do him well in his adult life, but as a 2, 3 & now 4 year old, it’s been a bit difficult to raise this boy.

I’ve had 3 babysitters give up on Elisha (I feel like that episode of The Simpsons where Marge & Homer call every sitter in the book & they all run away screaming). He’s been kicked out of Sunday school several times and changed classes once (now he’s with the pastor’s wife and she’s a saint and thinks he’s just got a bit of energy to run out). Notes home from pre-school became so frequent, we quit reading them. We knew what they said. He won’t take a nap and demands constant attention.

About a month ago, I broke down in tears with my husband. I was becoming extremely alarmed at the number of adults who had given up on him. I knew we were headed towards another ADHD diagnosis, but this time I didn’t know what to do.

Nathaniel & I really don’t believe in medicating our kids. We believe in ADD and ADHD and we believe that the medications due have a purpose, but we are adamant that medications are an absolute last resort to use for our kids and we are blessed enough that we can provide several other opportunities to try and fix their behaviors environmentally. Alex was never a behavior problem. He has a very hard time doing homework and chores and would read his book under his desk when the teacher was talking, but he was never aggressive with other kids and his test scores are off the charts, so clearly he’s learning. We were adamant that we are not going to medicate our kids so that they are zombies in a chair for the teacher’s sake.

But, I was getting really afraid for Elisha. Alex never risked being kicked out of school or programs. We just had A LOT of talks about him not reaching his full potential (like Ritalin is going to fix that {eyeroll}). Elisha was showing a completely different pattern and the risk of him losing his placement in preschool was a real possibility. As I started looking towards the future, I saw that schooling was going to be much more of an issue for Elisha than Alex and I just broke down into tears. Nathaniel is amazing and he let me cry and told me that we would do whatever we needed to do to help him and it was going to be alright.

The next day I was looking at the Zultimate website for a phone number (because I’m a flake and couldn’t remember when a class that I had taken Alex to 6 times started). I notice that classes started for 4 year olds. Elisha was 3 weeks away from turning 4. I asked Mrs. Gano if that was true. She was great and said that he could start right away. If he wasn’t ready, they would just wait 6 months and try again.

With Elisha, I am always on the defensive. I’ve had so many adults tell me they couldn’t deal with him, that I’m afraid to hand him off anymore. But Mrs. Gano was great. She was very patient with him. That 1st class was so hard. I wish I had gone for a walk. It was so hard for me to watch Elisha do what he wanted and not listen, but she was so patient. She came back and told me that focus and self-control were definitely issues, but karate was really the perfect thing for him. She was willing to take him, so I signed him up.

I took him the next week to another private lesson and she asked if he was going to stay for a group class. I told her that it wasn’t likely and it probably wasn’t a good idea. She had lots of positive things to say, but again, I was really afraid he’d run nuts all over the dojo and ruin the other kids’ experience.

The next Monday, I took him in for his private lesson. We live 45 minutes away in Lake Stevens and afternoon traffic is so terrible, I always leave really early. I showed up very early for his class and she grabbed him and threw him into the group class that I didn’t know was going on. Mr. Tharp is really great with those little kids. He’s got a bit of a strong no-nonsense militant approach (which is great for me as an Army brat) but he’s also so fun and patient with these little kids. It’s really impressive to watch. I work in Hospice and we have 10-15 kiddos on service at any given time. I’m not much of a pediatric nurse, but I love watching Mr. Tharp with these kids because I keep trying to pick up tips to take back to the kiddos I work with. This is EXACTLY what Elisha needed. The hard mixed with the soft & fun. That 1st class, I was in near tears. Elisha got put in the corner when he wasn’t listening and I was sure I was going to get the ‘we can’t handle him speech.’ Instead, Mr. Tharp came out and said he did great and now Elisha understood that he was Sensei and they could move forward. Elisha does great in group classes now. Slowly but surely, he understands how to listen and take direction and he’s quit throwing tantrums when things don’t go his way. He has had to be excused from 1 private lesson, but even that was handled with the greatest patience. When they tell me about his behaviors, I don’t feel like I am getting the ‘bad parent’ or ‘bad child’ talk. I honestly feel like they put down boundaries with him and follow through with appropriate consequences (I wish I could get his pre-school to do this).

His pre-school teachers have seen quite an improvement. His notes home are becoming much less frequent (we haven’t had 1 in 2 weeks). He still doesn’t want to take a nap, but now he quietly reads a book and allows the other kids to rest. We also have seen fewer melt downs at home.

No other sports worked this way with Alex and I was scared to death to try anything with Elisha. Mrs. Gano and Mr. Tharp are a great pair at that dojo. They are persistent, kind, great teachers and really pretty good with my quiet personality as well. As I write this, I realize that if not for them approaching me in the way they did, these changes may have never happened for my kiddos. I am so incredibly grateful for all that has been done and really look forward to watching them continue to improve.”


-Mackenzie Daniek

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