DRAGON Father (or Mother) vs TIGER Mom (or Dad)?

At the end of my previous post I briefly described some differences between Asian dragons and Western (i.e., European) Dragons. The bottom line is that in the East (China, Korea & Japan) dragons are considered generally positive, while in the West (Europe and America) they are considered generally manevolent. This is the first of many cultural comparisons to come!

Moving into the next comparison I need to provide a little personal background…

I have been a student of Korean martial arts (TaeKwonDo, Hapkido and YongMuDo since 1974. After some 45 years of practice I can confidently say “the older I get, the better I was”. Over the decades I’ve learned a good deal about the history, philosophy, techniques and culture of NorthEast Asian martial arts (e.g., Kung Fu, Karate – both Okinawan and Japanese -Jujitsu, Judo, Aikido, and Shaolin vs. WuDang styles in China). I had the great privilege and pleasure of researching, organizing and presenting “Asian Martial Arts in America” for the Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Festival for during two sweltering weeks in the summer of 2002.

In Chinese martial tradition the tiger and our old friend the dragon represent two distinct fighting strategies and styles. Both are powerful, lightning fast, and extremely formidable. However they differ fundamentally in their approach in combat. Strike a tiger and it WILL strike back – immediately. A tiger acts purely on instinct with speed and strength. Whatever is lacking in forethought is made up in reflex and ferocity. The dragon is a different. Strike a dragon, and it MAY strike you back… or it MAY retreat slightly or completely, or it MAY re-direct the strike, leading the attacker into a unbalanced, vulnerable position – and then strike back!

The key difference is that the tiger can only react – immediately and solely by instinct. Whereas the dragon “thinks first, then acts”. This difference is subtle and profound… and has parallels in Asian parenting.

By now the term “Tiger Mom” is a well-known stereotype based on the idea that traditional (if anachronistic) values and practices from “the old country” should be imposed upon the next generation – often with greater zeal and intensity than would have been found in said “old country”. For example, if the Mom had to practice piano for 3 hours a day as a girl, she might require her child to practice 6. The operative mentality being “if it was good for me, twice as good will be better for my child”. The tiger parent generally does not ask: “Why do I really want my child to play piano”; “Is there some other pursuit more consistent with their personality and interests that they might enjoy more and be more fulfilled learning?”; “Have I explained my reasons for wanting my child to learn piano so they can understand and value this too?”

The dragon parent (e.g., Father) thinks first… and then acts. Such a parent may consider: “Does my child want to play piano?”; “Do I want them to play for their sake or to fulfill a dream I never did”; “Would they be happier learning a different instrument or skill?” Such a parent may well insist that their child take piano lessons, but the decision is a reasoned one, well-considered and thoughtful.

In short, the dragon parent is INTENTIONAL in the way they parent. Such a parent does NOT simply accept the way they were raised as the only or best way. They think critically about their “family of origin” (FOO) and compare it to the times, culture and value system their children are growing up in. Dragon parents may indeed conclude that the way they were raised is the best in certain areas – but it is not a reflex action, it is a considered decision.

It is my contention (having been raised by Korean parents who came to the states in 1949, and having raised my own twins – now in their 20s) that as children of immigrants, second-generation parents like me, need to think critically about how and why we raise our kids the ways we do (or do not). lest we perpetuate unproductive and negative traditions and values. We are the filter and conduit through which the very best (and very worst) of our ancient cultures will be passed on to our posterity.

SPOILER ALERT: The next post will include a “litmus test” for dragon parents.

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