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OK, you martial artists… what's next?
Old 03-30-2009, 03:03 PM   #1
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OK, you martial artists… what's next?

What keeps you training past the black belt, and how do you balance it with the rest of your life?

After five years of three nights/week and a number of weekends, my daughter and I have earned our taekwondo black belts. It's been a heckuva ride and I've learned quite a bit about myself that I wish I'd experienced 40 years ago. It's been even more personal growth for our kid, and the belt is a great addition to her college applications. Life is good.

Now that the afterglow is fading I find myself wondering whether I should pursue the next goal. If I hang around for a year, perfecting my kicks and learning the next form, then I'll be eligible to repeat the test for my 2nd dan. I'm only 48 years old. This is (*groan*) within my abilities. But it's possible that my motivation has been more parental than personal.

Earning the belt has been a great parent-kid bonding experience. Showing my daughter how to pass the test's physical qualifiers (pushups, situps, a two-mile run) was a major life lesson for both of us. There was a wide variety of pain but we got through it and the accomplishment has been worth it. The belt test was a huge validation of her struggles and I enjoyed sharing the experience with her. For the rest of her life, when she calls us to vent about insurmountable problems, we'll reminisce about the black-belt test.

However I'm beginning to rue the price of Boomeritis achievement. I'm probably at the top of my physical conditioning, but flaming out seems to happen a lot sooner and with even less warning. This month's three consecutive Saturdays of the six-hour test, the promotion ceremony, and a forms/sparring clinic burned me out. The Monday after all that I pretty much imploded and took a week off. Two weeks later I'm back at training, sort of, but still ambivalent. If I've had a busy day (or if I've missed a nap) then I don't really look forward to that evening's class.

On one hand I could continue training to set a good example for my daughter. But that's parental delusion-- she's mature enough to do it for her own self-interest. She claims she wants to rack up 2nd dan before she goes to college, and she thinks that'll keep her training all year long. If she's really committed then she certainly doesn't need me guilting her into it.

I tore my ACLs before we started taekwondo, but it forced me to figure out my knee problems and led me to orthopedic braces. An outstanding coach showed me how to hyperdevelop quads & hamstrings so that I can continue to avoid surgery. I don't need the braces anymore; I'm actually pain-free and I can do everything I need to do. OTOH I should do more "Younger Next Year" weight training along with the knee work, but I can only exert so much effort among so many activities before it turns into overtraining. I enjoy taekwondo's benefits on my balance, coordination, reflexes, and proprioception-- the only other activity that comes close is surfing. However it all adds up to 6-8 workouts a week to hold the line, and that doesn't include surfing or yardwork or spouse neighborhood walks.

I'm not sure what other reasons I'd have to keep showing up. Other taekwondo parents have younger kids who'll still benefit from parental nudging but I've seen plenty of bad examples. Tournaments have their moments but they're a 10-hour day. I can judge/coach but I'm not interested. We've made some friends at taekwondo, but it doesn't overlap with the rest of our social life. The remaining adults are there for the competition, the instructor experience/$$, or to meet hot chicks. From talking to other instructors I believe I'm the state's second-oldest active black belt, although I've also heard that the age 41-50 competitive category is growing. But it still shakes me up when the guys who look older than me turn out to be younger. Especially when they're owners of a dojang.

So what keeps you training, and how do you balance it with the rest of your life?
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Old 03-30-2009, 03:47 PM   #2
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Sounds to me like the difference between goal setting and achieving a goal vs. a lifestyle. To me, it's so hard to make a lifestyle change these days. I, personally, have a problem with doing something, but not doing it enough so it becomes my lifestyle. I probably wouldn't have started unless I want to do it forever. Not that that's a good thing. It's better to have started and "quit", than never started at all. And, I can see how things change after 5 years.

Mostly, I just have it in me to maintain something as a lifestyle. Fishing, hunting, hockey, etc. Simple as that. If you don't want to do it, don't. The flipside is, once you reduce frequency, you'll always lament on "how good you used to be", if only in your own mind. And, that's a mighty hard pill to swallow sometimes. There's a fine line between keeping your edge and just maintaining. Whatever I choose to do is my life.

Or, have I missed your question totally?

Good luck in whichever path you choose.

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Old 03-30-2009, 06:04 PM   #3
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Nords, you've reached one of those points in your training when the potential for dropping out is very high. I see it all the time. So, first as you probably know already, it's normal. Now you are facing a real question in your life. Only you can work out the answer obviously. As CC pointed out, is the achievement the goal or is the process its own reward? If you still enjoy it, you'll find your way to what's next in the process. If you've had enough, let it go and move on. By the way, I'm almost 57 and I can still wipe the mat with anyone and wouldn't be surprised if I reach 5th dan at some point sooner rather than later, although it means very little to me; more like a signpost along the way - you are here. For what it is worth, I know exactly what you are saying. I always feel recharged after training regardless of how hard it is to get my butt moving towards class.
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Old 03-30-2009, 06:29 PM   #4
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Well Nords, you now have a license to learn. May sound strange but is true.

I don't know much about Tae Kwon Do Dojos. Or of the financial arrangements . Bearing that in mind you need to first answer a few questions to yourself.

Do you really like the the instructor? Do you like the Dojo? Do you really like the art? This last one may seem absurd after years of work, but is important. Sometimes the question, when a significant accomplishment is reached: Is that all there is?

Sitting back and and thinking about these basic questions can help looking forward and where to go.

It is normal to crash and burn after promotions. At 48 (jeez I don't even remember that) there are a lot of directions.

My perspective would be to go to classes, once or twice a week for a while. Rather than demonstrate how good you are, focus on refining what you learned. By refining I don't mean doing things faster, or with more power. I used to work (still do whenever I get around to it, it is the luxury of being 61) on how to make moves slick, low effort, space conditioning, seeing without appearing to look, awareness of intent. Practice taking falls, yeah i know it is not in that Do, but will come handy, never know when. If you can find airborne qualified friend, learn PLFs. Find one or two moves that fit your body and character, and make them yours.

The concept of owning a move is that you can do it from any or nearly any attack, without effort.

Years ago I knew a fellow we all called Mr Harai Goshi. He could perform it off of any attack. He owned that move.

Hopefully this give food for thought. I assume Ronin will baround with some ideas.

Edit add: Ronin showed up while I was writing. Good.
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Old 03-30-2009, 08:46 PM   #5
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Ah, the dreaded black belt malaise. Been there. I found that I actually burned out long before the black belt test but that I willed myself in the last couple of belt tests. I started my first class in Colorado with a teacher who recently moved to town. I guess he was hoping to meet hot chicks. What he didn't figure out was that tech companies have few hot chicks to begin with and much fewer hot chicks who want to take TKD at work. Long story short, he stopped teaching after my second belt test. Then I drifted to another class that was mostly sparring which was incredibly fun because this class allowed punches to the head, take downs, and submissions. However, for two years, I tested for one belt test. Then I moved back East and had to hunt for yet another school. The school I eventually landed in turned to be very traditional and didn't allow freestyle sparring, so I did nothing but attend class, test for belts, and lift weights. It was good exercise but not much fun. I was just marking time until black belt.

I think what will draw me back full time is a more complete martial arts experience or just a real boxing gym. I find that most TKD sparring is way too stylized. I mean, no punches to the head and take downs? You see guys coming in with their hands down at their waist and chins up just waiting for an upper cut. Come on.

As for working with an injured knee, I don't think that a TKD-centered workout is going to help your knee. It's not a sport designed with the health of your knees in mind. I started having more knee problems since I started TKD. In my cycling days the only knee problem I had was a minor discomfort because I pulled too hard on the pedal in a sprint.

I think going forward, you can think of TKD as two-day-a-week thing to spice up your regular workout routine because the kicking and punching use your muscles differently.

P.S. I find that the hot chicks come to the dojang to meet hot martial artists rather than the other way around. My dojangs have always been male dominated. You don't go there for sweat for an hour and lift weights for another in a hot non-AC warehouse in the hopes of meeting hot chicks, and you can spot those chicks from a mile away with their little tight "sparring" outfits.
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Old 03-31-2009, 07:24 AM   #6
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I don't know anything about martial arts but it seems to me the question is whether the training is truly physically good for you. If so it may be worth trying to find some inner motivation to continue. If not, why not maintain your skills but switch to something else for training? I would like to run marathons but it would be physical suicide for me. Even with careful heating and icing my joints swell up and I end up hobbling like an old man (or did in my thirties - I haven't run since). One of my brothers is the same, another brother runs with impunity and can put himself in the lotus position without even pulling his legs. It is genetics. I switched to cycling and can ride all day without screwing up my joints. Swimming is the same for me. Running and yoga -- forget it.
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Old 03-31-2009, 08:27 AM   #7
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Old 03-31-2009, 08:57 AM   #8
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First off, congratulations! I haven't been around much, so you probably mentioned this elsewhere and I missed it. It's a great accomplishment.

There are many different focal points to martial arts training. Some schools focus on reality-based training. Some are technique-driven. Some are much more spiritual. And others are on the sport/competition side.

Your training has been on the sport/competition side. I'm a TKD black belt, but my school does not focus at all on competition. It is more technique/fitness/spiritual. Before I trashed my shoulder, I also did Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. That school is entirely on the sport side of things as well, and I had a blast there (and I'll go back once my shoulder heals), so I'm not disparaging sport martial arts.

However, as a sport, you might need to look at it as a sport: Is the sport fun? Do I enjoy practicing? Do I enjoy the games? Does it do good or bad things to my body? And it really doesn't end up being a different decision than other activities: Is this how I want to spend my time? If I'm doing this, what else am I giving up? If you don't love what you're doing, it might not be a good fit any more.

What keeps me coming back is a combination of the following:

Understanding body mechanics. The human body is endlessly fascinating in how it moves, and how you can use your body in opposition to another's. I've been doing martial arts for 10 years, and it still feels like I'm barely scratching the surface.

Teaching. Might not be available to everyone, but I lead two classes per week: a beginner adult and an intermediate adult. Mulling over lesson plans and figuring how best to get my points across to those with less experience interests me. And it is a great feeling to watch someone improve at something because of your coaching.

Fitness. It is much easier and more fun to work out in a group than on my own.

Comraderie. We have an amazing group of instructors and students. They are good people to be around.

Kicking and punching is fun. So are hip throws, arm bars, sweeps, knees, elbows, forms, getting kicked in the chest, triangle chokes... I just love all of it.

Finding a new style that is less brutal on the joints might be a possibility if you still enjoy aspects of it and it is more the non-body-friendly aspect that is making it tough to keep going. Sounds like your daughter is mature enough to handle whatever you decide, so make sure you make the right decision for yourself.
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Old 03-31-2009, 09:37 AM   #9
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I like practice a lot. I feel it is like going to the gas station to fill up the tank or topping off the charge on the battery. But since my teacher died 2 yrs ago, I really have no one to help me improve. When I go to class now, either I'm teaching or practicing with a group of kids, basically and a few adult beginners. Even the young black belts, other than being able to take a bit of a tossing, around aren't much to work with. I like teaching, but I'd still like to learn and grow through training. And I know from some of the great teachers I've been around, the next 20 yrs could be incredible. But there's no one around here to work with. I've cut back from 6 days a week to 4. So I'm in a funk about it. This is the 1st time I've felt like this. In Aikido, maybe not so much in other arts, I don't know, the training is really all there is. There's no competition, no real achievements, no mastery, just the path of keiko. So, I'm OK with all of that, and as I said, I really like the training. Just at a dip in the road I guess.
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Old 03-31-2009, 12:00 PM   #10
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I recently came back to martial arts (Aikido) after spending way, way too much time in an office making money for someone else. Your story reminded me of the parable of the black belt, a summary of which is below:

At the beginning you have a white belt. It symbolizes the beginner's mind, pure and unfettered. There are no questions about right and wrong and no hesitation because the beginner hasn't enough skill to intentionally do anything wrong. He is all innocence with intentions as clean and white as the belt around his waist.


Gradually, as the novice trains, his belt becomes stained. First, it turns green from grass stains. Then it becomes brown as dirt stains are added to them. Finally, after years of staining, the belt begins to take on the black hue we now associate with mastery. But the parable tells us that this is really the middle of a true martial artist's journey. At this point he is in the darkest and most dangerous place in his journey toward mastery. It is when he has more skill than wisdom. His intentions are tainted by his ability to hurt people.

In the third and final stage, the belt ages along with its wearer. It becomes frayed and eventually is a tattered white belt as its wearer learns the difficult lessons about being seduced by anger and hate. It becomes white again as the martial artist's intentions become pure again. Experience deepens his insight, and he now knows when it is right to fight and when it is not. His journey comes full circle in mastery. He has the skill of a great fighter, a clear and unfettered mind to guide his use of it, and a white belt around his waist to symbolize it.

Although the foregoing speaks more to knowing when to fight and when not to fight, it has some applicability to your situation. You need to determine whether there are aspects of TKD you still wish to master, or perhaps deeper levels of mastering yourself.
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Old 03-31-2009, 10:54 PM   #11
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I guess I'm glad to learn this malaise has a name! Each workout still recharges my emotional tank, no matter how much my butt was dragging on the way in the door. Good point about lifestyle-- when our kid leaves for college in 500 days I don't know whether I'd keep going. Spouse and I will have to make a few empty-nester adjustments. Black belt was definitely a goal and I didn't think much beyond the ceremony.

Judging from the students & medals, I'm training at the state's most active dojang. The owner personally teaches all the advanced classes and three other instructors (all 4th dan now) have nearly 20 years' experience. All good people. Best of all, our kid has a lot of grrrl power role models. No problems there.

The dojang has over a dozen students in the adult black-belt class, and next month we're moving to a bigger space that will allow the business to grow even more. The other instructors and students are a constant reminder that I've just "mastered the basics to the best of my ability". It stays challenging, too, working on advanced kicks and forms. 3-4 local tournaments a year and as many clinics with Mainland instructors. More importantly, the kinesthetics and conditioning techniques improve every year, and we're always learning the next level of sparring tactics. The training is the best in at least three time zones.

Teaching… don't really care. I spent eight years teaching military training with my peers & senior officers. I enjoy teaching taekwondo kids but if I had to do it three nights a week then it'd turn into a job.

Since I've rehabbed with the orthopedic braces, building up the muscles without re-injuring the joints, my knee problems are minimal. I only wear the braces for "insurance" during sparring. Physically I could keep going for years.

And yes, I still remember my boxing skills and my judo falls and my PLFs. I earned my lead wings as a midshipman in 1979, just before going on my first submarine cruise. My parachuting skills were sidetracked by a completely different lifestyle...

We have a local tournament in a couple weeks, so maybe I'll see how I feel about the black-belt competition. And then I like the idea of cutting back to a night or two a week until I’m feeling it again.

Best of all, I'll see if I can teach myself to stay out of our kid's business and let her make the 2nd dan decision on her own. She has all the tools; it's up to her to use them and to ask for help if she wants it.
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Old 04-01-2009, 09:23 AM   #12
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Nords, sounds like you do have enough enjoyment to keep going.

New black belts that I've seen tend to go in one of two directions. For most, there is a mental letdown that happens right after they get it. Others end up training with even more enthusiasm after seeing that belt around their waist. I was in the latter category, so I really didn't experience what you're going through. I think you're approaching it the right way, though. Back off for a while (or maybe even take a couple weeks off entirely), understanding that you'll most likely renew your enthusiasm before long.

Jay, good parable. We often talk about training "with a white belt mind", willing and eager to learn. In the more literal sense, my belt is getting fairly ragged already, and there are edges that have turned completely white. It's a good look, though... ;-)

Ronin, I'm sorry to hear about your trouble with training. My own instructor passed away around 3 weeks ago. The dojang will remain open, though, and there are still lots of good instructors (a 7th dan with over 30 years experience, several 5th dans, a 4th dan, and so on). There are a lot of people I can learn from and train with. But we're obviously going through a transition right now that is tough to deal with at times. I hope you are able to find a better situation for your own growth.
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Old 04-01-2009, 09:40 AM   #13
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Nords, I think you'll work it out over time. You are right about teaching. I never wanted to either (especially since it is my day job!). It does become work, although enjoyable work.

Kronk, sorry to hear about your teacher. My condolences. Sounds like you guys will continue the good training.

Just like everything else in life, there are ups and downs in the martial arts lifestyle. And I think sometimes situations have their own lifespans and grow to fulfillment. So sometimes it's time to move on. You travel for a time with your teachers and training partners and then you part ways, hopefully no regrets, you take what you have learned with you, both the good and the bad, and continue on your own life's journey. Always seems to work out, doesn't it? No worries, mate.
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Old 04-01-2009, 10:06 AM   #14
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Well, you guys all impress the heck out of me..... I am having an issue with my 9 year old son and TKD. He started at age 5. We went regularly and he progressed well. Now he is at a definite plateau 4 years later. He is a red belt with a black stripe. The next belt is brown, and he is nowhere near ready to test. With all the sports he is in (basketball, baseball, and football), it is a struggle to balance TKD with all those sports.......

He has lost his love for TKD. I feel I have to make the unfortunate decision to "will him" to finish his black belt (probably another two years or so), or let it go. I am not one of those parents that want to "force anything"....

DW has suggested to me that I join the dojo and start training. 25 years ago, I held a green belt with another school, but it would be basically starting over. I KNOW it would help my son, but I am not sure if I AM WILLING to take on the long-term commitment that is required.

I had a long talk with DW about it. It may sound a little selfish, but I have set and achieved MANY athletic goals in my life, but TKD is NOT ONE that I want to commit to. I already help coach my two son's sport teams, and spend innumerable hours helping them hone their skills in the sports they both love (baseball, basketball, and football). We have a great time and I keep things fun. Any thought on my ramblings
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Old 04-01-2009, 10:41 AM   #15
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FD,

I don't think martial arts should be forced. I think you're looking at your son's TKD as something with a "finish line". Done correctly, there is no "finish line". A black belt might look like a finish line, but it isn't.

I'd evaluate it like any other activity he's engaged in (piano lessons, baseball), etc. Maybe I've spent too much time around 9-11 year-olds who come to martial arts classes but don't really want to be there (some of whom have black belts). But it just seems to be a waste of their time, instructors' time, and the time of impressionable kids around them who aren't trying because others aren't.
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Old 04-01-2009, 10:45 AM   #16
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FD, admittedly I don't know anything about your situation other than what you have shared, so my opinion is not worth much...

but here is what I think offhand...

Your son is active in a number of other activities, doesn't care that much for TKD anymore, and you are clearly not interested on your own behalf (I don't see it as selfish at all). I'd say let it go. Maybe he'll re-acquire interest in the future. No point in him doing it just for getting the belt if he isn't into it...
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Old 04-01-2009, 11:24 AM   #17
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Quote:
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FD,

I don't think martial arts should be forced. I think you're looking at your son's TKD as something with a "finish line". Done correctly, there is no "finish line". A black belt might look like a finish line, but it isn't.

I'd evaluate it like any other activity he's engaged in (piano lessons, baseball), etc. Maybe I've spent too much time around 9-11 year-olds who come to martial arts classes but don't really want to be there (some of whom have black belts). But it just seems to be a waste of their time, instructors' time, and the time of impressionable kids around them who aren't trying because others aren't.
I agree. TKD has DEFINITELY helped his sports, and vice versa. However, he never had interest in competing in tournaments for forms or weapons or anything. When he goes, he has fun, but its like pulling teeth to get him there. I think his interests have changed.

It is tough for DW to understand as she was never an athlete. However, I was a pretty serious one so I understand completely. If he comes to me and says he really wants to go and is excited about it, then that will be my cue.......

BTW, not looking at a black belt as a finish line. This particular school puts the emphasis on getting a black belt. After 6 months, either you make the commitment to get a black belt or they politely tell you to find another school. Not sure that is the best way but it works for them.

I am also KEENLY aware that a black belt at 12 is NOT like a black belt at 18 or 20 years old......
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Old 04-01-2009, 11:32 AM   #18
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FD, admittedly I don't know anything about your situation other than what you have shared, so my opinion is not worth much...
Your opinion is worth a lot to me......

Quote:
Your son is active in a number of other activities, doesn't care that much for TKD anymore, and you are clearly not interested on your own behalf (I don't see it as selfish at all). I'd say let it go. Maybe he'll re-acquire interest in the future. No point in him doing it just for getting the belt if he isn't into it...
I have talked at length with all the other parents in my son's class, for most of them, this IS the only outside activity they are in. As for my son, he is pretty good in basketball, but has serious skills in baseball and football.

Last May, he heard about a track meet that the local track club was holding. He begged me to go, so I signed him up. We show up and watch all the kids jogging around with their fancy uniforms and spikes and stuff. My son's wearing a t-shirt and his tennis shoes. He ran the 100 and 200, took 3rd in the 100 and WON the 200, and he never ran those races before. I was quite proud of him, he didn't even know what he was doing and he blew the field away........ My main thought was, oh boy, I hope he doesn't want to add track to an already heavy schedule........
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Old 04-01-2009, 12:30 PM   #19
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Sounds like quite a natural athlete! Is it too soon to start thinking which sport might have a university scholarship in it later?
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Old 04-01-2009, 12:43 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by ronin View Post
Sounds like quite a natural athlete! Is it too soon to start thinking which sport might have a university scholarship in it later?
Well, my late sister left her 403B to both kids for college, as a legacy, so their college is paid for, at least tuition-wise. I'm not worried about scholarships, I just want to make sure that they try their hardest, enjoy it and practice good sportsmanship.

We went to Miller Park where the Brewers play, which was open for a family day. There is a kids area where they have a radar gun that measures the speed you throw a baseball. My 9 year old hit 41 mph, my 6 year old threw 32 mph......... I realize those numbers are probably not 100% accurate, but over Thanksgiving we went to Lambeau field and they had an area where kids could throw a youth football at and my 9 year old hit 32 mph with the football.......

DW's dad was an excellent baseball player. He played in high school and a local hardball league after HS. They won their region every year.......
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