A Life Changed Through Martial Arts
By Michele Peterson – Mother of TSMMA Hoboken Student
Born at a healthy 8 lbs 9 oz, he was a perfect baby and the light of my life. With bright eyes and a winning, dimpled smile, he paved his way into the heart of everyone he met. I had never known a baby or toddler to be so easy going and intelligent. He was reading and writing well before his second birthday, but upon entering preschool, I began to notice little things that weren’t quite right. He lacked any desire to play with other children, refused to make eye contact with anyone other than immediate family, and developed, what I used to stubbornly call, quirks. He needed to eat certain foods in a certain order, had the uncanny ability to recall complex information verbatim, and could not sleep for longer than an hour or two at a time. His moods progressed to become very unstable, with tantrums that terrified and mortified me in equal measure. His counselors at school suggested I have him assessed by a developmental psychologist who specialized in autistic disorders. Autism? Not my son. Oh, no. I spent years working with a wide range of special needs children, so surely I would see if he was special too. I had him tested and the diagnosis was quick, definitive, and brutal. Asperger’s Syndrome with extreme ADHD, a combination I knew from experience would not be easy to live with. I began to withdraw and lost hope more and more as each tantrum filled day slipped by
I had him tested and the diagnosis was quick, definitive, and brutal. Asperger’s Syndrome with extreme ADHD, a combination I knew from experience would not be easy to live with. I began to withdraw and lost hope more and more as each tantrum filled day slipped by
By my son’s 6th birthday, he was getting help from counselors at school and a pediatric psychiatrist, but his aggression grew to where he no longer had any control over his actions.He physically attacked me on a daily basis, biting and punching me, screaming how he hated me, only to break down in tears moments later because he couldn’t understand why he did what he did. He loved me. We both knew that very well, but he was filled with so much frustration and excess energy, that it seemed to burst from him at the oddest of times. I was as terrified of him as he was of himself. We tried all different therapies, but nothing worked. He couldn’t contain the rage or hyperactivity long enough to accomplish anything, making him even more frustrated and angry with himself. Every day, the fights got worse. We fought over sleeping, eating, getting dressed, even which side of the street to walk on. He would fly at me and I would whimper and cringe as I gave in because I just didn’t have any fight left in me. My beautiful child had become a living land mine and I always got the brunt of the blast.
In February 2013, I walked passed Tiger Schulmann’s MMA studio in Hoboken, just as I had for at least a decade prior, but something made me stop and wonder if I should give it a try. I did a little online research and found they were open to children with ADHD. I inquired via email about their free class and made an appointment for Connor. Poor, sweet Miss Angie. I was not in any way ready for this step, so I must have rescheduled four or five times before actually going in. She was very nice about it though and just kept reassuring me that I could bring him in when we were ready. My mother was excited and said the instructor’s name was Louis Gaudinot and he was a UFC fighter that she really admired. She waxed poetic about how he moved during fights and how happy he was whenever she saw him on the street outside her job. That’s all she told me though. The day we went in, I was met with this bouncing ball of energy with green hair and an infectious grin. It only made me more nervous, because I had a feeling I was going to disappoint this man (that my mother raved about) with my lack of hope and stubborn disbelief. Connor instantly loved him though. He was super excited and it showed. My poor baby couldn’t sit still to save himself. He wiggled and shuffled and wiggled some more. But oh how he smiled.
When class ended, he was beaming from ear to ear and vibrating with this enthusiasm I had never seen in him before.
When class ended, he was beaming from ear to ear and vibrating with this enthusiasm I had never seen in him before. I, on the other hand, was a shaking, defensive mess. I was sure it would end badly. Sensei invited me into his office to talk about Connor and I assumed he would deliver some cheesy sales pitch, but it never happened. He simply sat me down and asked me what was going on in Connor’s life and what we needed. Not what we wanted, but what we needed. No one else had ever asked me that in regards to Connor. I thought I was purposely seeing what I wanted to see, but, no. He truly wanted to help. Not just Connor, but me as well. He told me it wouldn’t be easy, but he promised it would get better. I looked in this man’s eyes and saw how deeply he believed in what he was saying. I decided to trust in that feeling of hope swelling in my chest as I placed my son’s well-being in his hands. It was the best decision I ever made.
Now I would love to say the change was instantaneous, but it wasn’t. Nothing good comes easily. His first few months were draining as we adapted to a new schedule and he slowly learned how to control some of his impulses. The turning point for him was in May when Sensei had to take his belt away during class because he would not stop fooling around. It devastated us both and I rushed him out before he could explode and attack me in front of everyone. I didn’t even give Sensei a chance to explain before we left. Connor was confused and hurt and thought Sensei would never want him to return, because, in his very literal mind, once the belt was gone, it was gone forever. My poor boy was inconsolable and I didn’t know how to fix it. I wrote to Sensei and received a reply right away telling me how sorry he was that it had happened, but to please come in to talk it out. He believed this was just a small hurdle and could be overcome. We went in the next day and everything was explained to Connor in a way he could understand. Sensei also readdressed Connor’s tendency to hurt me when he became upset, this time telling him in no uncertain terms that it was unacceptable and he was not allowed to behave that way or there would be consequences. There was no negotiation or discussion about it. Connor recognized Sensei’s authority and respected him to such a degree that now this was law. When Connor feels like he’s slipping a bit, he stops and calms himself, proud that he obeyed the rules and used self-discipline. He hasn’t had an aggressive outburst or tantrum since that day.
Connor recognized Sensei’s authority and respected him to such a degree that now this was law. When Connor feels like he’s slipping a bit, he stops and calms himself, proud that he obeyed the rules and used self-discipline.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he doesn’t get angry or wiggle and fool around, because he’s still a kid. Tiger Schulmann’s didn’t turn my son into a paragon of stoicism and rigid self-control. No. They turned him back into my son. My bright, beautiful, affectionate chatterbox, who loves to make people laugh. Sensei gives him direction, approval, and consistency, while Joshu introduces concepts in a way that Connor completely understands and remembers. They have become an instrumental part of his life and have begun the arduous task of helping me to shape him into a man he can proud of. We go to TSMMA Hoboken almost every day, where Connor enjoys taking his core, grappling and kickboxing classes. Connor gets gently redirected often and I doubt there is a parent or nanny there who doesn’t know his name for the sheer amount of times it is said. However, there is a shift as to why it is said so much. In the beginning, it was “Stop wiggling/giggling/frolicking”. Now he gets called up to the front of the class to demonstrate moves or is used as an example to the newer kids who are wiggling too much. The first time Sensei said, “You should be sitting strong like Connor”, we all kind of froze in disbelief that those words would come out of his mouth. Connor…sitting strong? It was like a dream come true.
Now he gets called up to the front of the class to demonstrate moves or is used as an example to the newer kids who are wiggling too much.
From the start, his doctors told me he would never be able to participate in this type of program because he lacked the ability to focus or maintain self-control and his lack of social skills would keep him from fitting in. Well, he sure showed them.
Recently, Connor received his low blue belt, an achievement he worked, as he would say, “super hard” for. He was presented with his belt by his beloved Sensei, Louis Gaudinot, surrounded by children who respect him for how hard he worked to earn it, while being cheered on by all the other parents, myself, and his favorite Joshu, Jared Salzman. It is this amazing community of people who helped bring my son back to who he always had the potential to be, simply by being there for him and believing in him. He loves them very much and considers them his family, as do I. As my son grows, he will continue to face challenges and obstacles, but he has a place to go where he is accepted as he is. His journey is filled with hope because he found a place where he can thrive. He found a support system that does not waver when he needs it. No one labels him or puts limitations on him. He is encouraged and pushed to be the best Connor he can be. By some remarkable twist of fate, we found a second home at TSMMA Hoboken, and a family we can be proud of, for life.