My daughter June started karate lessons last month. She’s enrolled in KinderKarate at Master S.H. Yu, conveniently located two blocks from the preschool she attends. It’s been a great confidence-builder, and of course the dog trainer in me loves the focus on discipline and etiquette. It’s also way cheaper than occupational therapy for improving gross motor skills, and has the advantage of preparing young ladies to deal appropriately with ungallant suitors down the road.

A week ago I also joined, at my daughter’s urging, donning a white belt and the formal, if somewhat uneasy, status of Ninja Mom.

Not to say this was a sacrifice. I’d always wanted to study a martial art, and after two kids and turning forty, I can always use a workout. But the main benefit to me so far turns out to be more professional than personal, and is something I entirely failed to anticipate.

I’ve gained a good deal of empathy for my own dog training students.

Although reasonably fit and coordinated for a forty-one-year-old mother of two, taking up a martial art at middle-age is inescapably humbling. I regularly feel awkward, and occasionally incompetent, confused, or embarrassed. Despite a respectable measure of core strength and a background including riding and yoga, and despite paying close attention, I nonetheless struggle to reliably execute simple instructions, and eat up small praise like a dog taking morsels of food from its handler.

I project it will be a long time before I again allow myself to become frustrated with a client for fumbling an exercise.

The challenge of learning something new, particularly in front of others, is a healthy experience for any instructor. I highly recommend it. I only hope my joints hold up. And I look forward to a day when the six-year-old beside me in line no longer feels compelled to correct my fighting stance.