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As one of the discussion questions in the final course of the Self-Reg Foundations program (F4), learners are asked to choose one of Dr. Stuart Shanker’s Self-Reg blogs that personally resonates and write a reflection. Susan Baldassi is not just an incredible educator and Self-Reg advocate, she is also a Karate instructor with a 6th Degree Blackbelt.

In this reflection, Susan brings to life Stuart’s discussion of the difference between positive and negative stressors in his blog on “The Joy of Self-Reg”, in the context of her karate students’ progress.

By: Susan Baldassi

“But whereas negative stress simply consumes energy and leaves us strained and drained, positive stress helps us to grow: whether this be new muscle tissue and new synapses or new ideas, emotions, skills, and attitudes.” -Dr. Stuart Shanker

I chose to reflect on this blog because it is very relevant to me in my role as a karate instructor. One of my adult karate students experiences stress at every belt testing and we have scaffolded her test to support her. She would “freeze” and forget some of the movements in her “katas”. We reduced the stress load by inviting her to do that portion of the test in a quieter room without spectators present. In the last six years, she has progressed to being able to complete the entire test with the group present and has even agreed to test in front of a panel which will include my instructor, a 9th Degree Blackbelt, for her next belt promotion. It has been amazing to witness her growth, which would not have been possible without Self-Reg. The test has become a positive event for her and her 12 year old son is beaming as he  watches his mother prepare for her brown belt promotion and push her edge.

One of my adult students shared his reflections on his recent belt testing: “Although the session was a testing one, and one for which my nerves were starting to give me trouble, I found it enjoyable and exhilarating and one in which I surprised myself. Although I have deadlines and expectations to meet at work, it has been a long time since I had to prepare myself to attain a personal goal. I rediscovered what the experience was like, and how good it can feel on the ‘other side’. Thank you.”

I have two teenage Blackbelts who assist me with my classes.  They have developed a keen sense of what is the appropriate challenge to stimulate growth with our young students.  For instance, during our board breaking day which happens twice a year, if a child makes a couple of attempts at a board, I will sometimes give the assistant instructors a signal to perhaps adjust the challenge.  Occasionally, they will indicate that the child is close and let’s wait and give them another opportunity to break.  It is super gratifying for these students and their families when they persevere through the challenges and are successful with the boards!

To learn more about Susan, please visit her website: