A few weeks back, Starfire received an email that reminded us of the importance of making room for “the spark” to happen. It was written by a mother, whose son Kyle used to attend our day program before it closed. Kyle would be receiving his Black Belt in Gumdo (sword fighting) that Saturday, and they wanted to share the news.
His mother went on to write that without the initial connection that Starfire made seven years ago – between Kyle and Paul Korchak (Founder of the Cincinnati Taekwondo Center) – his dream of attaining a Black Belt might never have been realized.
“I like my martial arts training and I look forward to going to class each week. Each skill is hard at first, but it gets easier the more I practice. My classmates have helped me learn so many moves and they have been great teachers. Ms. Knarr is nice and encourages me to do more. I enjoy most of the things that I have learned. I like to be a fighter with good moves and kicks. I really like to combine my fighting skills to make special powerful moves which include; a power attack, flashing punch, and double kick. I don’t like sparring as much because I am afraid someone will get hurt, but I like to work with my swords, because it makes me strong and builds muscles.”
As part of Starfire’s shift in those days toward more person-centered, community-based work – we saw that Kyle’s love of martial arts might be a natural and meaningful entryway into community life, and spring him out of our day program. So, our staff invited Master Korchak to attend a PATH (planning session) that would focus on Kyle’s hopes and dreams around the martial arts. Asks to the community in those days were something new, and often felt awkward. Will he come? Will he understand how important this could be to Kyle’s life? Will he be confused and ask questions I’m not sure how to answer? Going about the ask itself was a practice in faith. But to our delight, Master Korchak accepted.
And then it happened. At the PATH, Master Korchak extended the invitation for Kyle to come check out his class, and Kyle was obviously excited. This was the best outcome anyone could have hoped for. Without anyway of knowing in advance that it would happen, there at the PATH we saw a “spark.”
“During Kyle’s childhood he participated in a number of different sports: Swimming, soccer, and baseball, but all of them were segregated team sports and none of them has provided Kyle with the sense of joy and accomplishment that he feels with his Gumdo training. The bar is always being raised, there is variety, plenty to learn, and he can learn at his own pace.”
-Jenny, Kyle’s mother
Here’s Kyle during his Black Belt ceremony.
“It did not take long before it was clear Kyle’s interest in Taekwondo was becoming a passion. Kyle was hooked, and it was exciting to see the joy his classes gave him! Kyle’s love for Gumdo and the martial arts has been transformational! Kyle has developed a passion for the martial arts, which has improved his self-confidence, given him purpose, to be the best warrior he can be, and has allowed him to grow in a community that accepts his differences. We thank everyone who has help make his PATH, a plan that came true.“
Receiving an email like this one is a part of our story we don’t always get to tell. We often make room for “sparks” to happen, and they don’t always ignite. And even sometimes when the do ignite, we don’t see the whole story unfold because people like Kyle, his family, and Master Korchak have figured out a way to carry on that spark for years on their own- outside of Starfire’s or some other service’s support.
Stories like these take a measure of serendipity and courage to shift course and try something different. At first the different path feels riskier – and less sure-footed than the typical “disability story” would offer. It takes guts to shift perspectives from believing who someone is based on their label of disability, and instead build a new story of who they might become: a Black Belt, a classmate, a community member, a friend.
“I am very happy to receive my Black Belt and I will continue to practice what I have learned so that I can continue to learn more forms and skills.
And like martial arts, inclusion takes practice. It starts by making that first invite to the community, building a plan, then sticking with it year after year. Then, even when we’ve reached some ultimate goal – we continue going back to the fundamentals, inviting and building, knowing that with discipline and heart the rewards will pay out over a lifetime.
This story is part of our Story Series, “The Spark.” Subscribe and get this series in your inbox every week!