Children in the Martial Arts

                As everyone who knows me is aware, but for the benefit of those who may not know me but still read my posts, I teach martial arts for a living. I work for Chuck Norris’ KICKSTART KIDS Foundation. We teach a karate class as an alternative PE credit elective. We are a part of our student’s regular daily class schedule, and this gives us a distinct advantage when it comes to seeing first hand the benefits that children receive from training in the martial arts.

                In a standard commercial martial arts school, attendance from children is inconsistent. And anything we know about the positive benefits from the training, and the impact we have on the lives of our students is going to be heard through the parents.

                Not so for those of us lucky enough to work for KICKSTART KIDS. We see our students in class, in the halls between classes, in the cafeteria, before and after school. We see first hand how they interact with their peers.

                Training in the martial arts changes a child. The wonderful thing about martial arts, in my opinion, is that if the child has a good instructor, they will be successful in it. I do not want any of what follows to seem as if I am speaking ill of team sports, so let me be clear, team sports have a powerful positive impact on the lives of children as well, with the same disclaimer that the coach has to be good at coaching. But what I want to address specifically are the benefits of training in the martial arts.

                Perhaps it comes from some of my life experiences. I was bullied when I was in school. In my early school years (until maybe 4th grade), I was a tiny, sickly timid kid. Later, I was a robust, timid fat kid. I learned early on, without being able to name is such, about the group monkey dance. All I knew at the time was that there was no good reason to trust humans when they get in groups. Once the group mindset came into play, many of the people involved did things completely out of character.  The end result of this and some other experiences led me into martial arts, and later still when I became involved in the sport side of martial arts I really found my niche. Here was a sport, but where my winning and losing was all on me. It wasn’t a situation where if the rest of the defensive line decided to lay down we got destroyed no matter how hard I worked. It was all on me.

                In this setting, the child can learn a lot in a short period of time about self reliance. To the child that participates in martial sports, their ability to truly feel that they can stand on their own will just keep growing. And if they have an instructor who can teach them that the point of the competition is the competition itself, this will only help the child more so. This is one area where some instructors go wrong, and focus only on the actual winning, but this is true for all sports, and going into this in depth would really be like beating a dead horse, so we will move on.

                Self reliance is a much needed character trait in life. The people who do not have the ability stand a much greater chance of being a victim. Anything that can increase a child’s self reliance is a good thing in the long term.

                As stated above, with a good instructor, any child can be good at martial arts. The movements are only slight exaggerations of natural movements in most cases. Especially in the beginner levels, there is nothing really complicated going on. With each technique introduced, the child sees instantly that they can do it right. Self confidence grows. Who doesn’t want their child to be self confident?

                As the student trains more, they get in better physical condition. In America, our kids spend far too much time sitting and playing video games, or sitting and watching TV, or sitting and doing nothing. This is a shame. Enrolling a child in a martial arts class gets them up and moving around, another benefit.

                With martial arts, you don’t need other people or any special equipment to practice. You only need some will power and an open floor space.

                In the standard children’s martial arts class, the instructor will keep things pretty fast paced, and the students are required to answer up and acknowledge each command given. This forces the student to pay attention, and increases their ability to do so. As the classes are dynamic and fun, the student does not become bored, and is engaged in the process of learning. The interaction between student and instructor is a deeply needed psychological affirmation and acceptance that carries a powerful emotional charge for the children involved in the class. Kids want to be noticed, yes, but it is even more important to the child that the child feel accepted. Everyone should be able to understand this need.

                The friendships the child develops in the martial arts class can be long lasting and very positive. I find that when a child is thinking of quitting, their friends have more of an influence on their staying in class than I have.

                Put simply, I believe that there is no down side to placing your child in a martial arts class. The benefits are tremendous, and will serve the child well, even years after they stop training. Don’t focus on the fighting or self defense aspects. Children’s martial arts classes are built on fun, and that is how they should be.