Due in no small part to the fact that I work for KICKSTART KIDS, I am asked on at least a weekly basis “should my child train in the martial arts?”, “Would martial arts help my kid with…(insert childhood challenge here)?”, and so on. In this article I am going to list the reasons why I feel children should be placed in the martial arts. Obviously I am biased, and add to this there are drawbacks, and I will address those as we go along. But in general, I think that the reason for enrolling your child into a martial arts class is because it is the fourth best thing in the world you can do for them (right behind loving, feeding and educating them). Here is why:
A child training in the martial arts develops self-discipline.
We all hear that martial arts are closely associated with discipline and have a long-standing history of producing disciplined individuals. But what does all of this mean for our kids?
In a typical martial arts class, the instructor who teaches the children’s class is going to bring the students through an opening ceremony of some kind. The purpose of the ceremony is in no way religious, although there are many parents who run away from martial arts schools as soon as they get this fear that the instructor is going to turn their kid into a Buddhist. The purpose of the ceremony, and the reason it is done exactly the same each time is to create a trained mindset in the student. On the deepest levels, they will come to understand that it is time to work and focus. The child will not even need to formulate this thought, it will just be known.
Once the class begins the instructor (if he or she is any good at working with kids) will take the children through a fast paced and high energy workout. The instructor will give commands and the students are required to respond in certain ways, verbally and physically, to these commands. This works on a few different areas of self-discipline for the child.
On one level, the child is exercising their ability to concentrate. This cannot be a bad thing for any child. One of (if not the) biggest complaints professional educators have about children in school is their lack of ability to concentrate. In a martial arts class a child has to pay attention and prove that they are paying attention by constantly responding verbally and physically to the commands of the instructor. In time their ability to do this grows very strong, and with encouragement from both instructor and parent, the child will begin to practice this type of self disciplined attention in school, and can only improve.
Most martial arts instructors give commands in a sharp, almost barking tone. To a child just entering the martial arts class, this can sometimes seem a little frightening. (I typically feel more sorry for the kids who are not frightened when I begin classes this way, as yelling is probably common at home). This works to condition a child to function at higher levels of disciplined attention under stress. The more that the child learns to do this, the less affected by outside stresses the child will be. Every kid needs this.
A child training in the martial arts develops confidence.
When a child trains in the martial arts, almost from day one, they are faced with new challenges in the form of physical skills. Again, if the instructor is good at what they do, the child will begin to see small successes from the first day. These small successes get strung together into bigger successes. As this process continues, the child is eventually ready for a belt test. Every child is nervous about a test, whether it is math or karate. But when the child has faced the challenges and developed the necessary skills, they can begin to approach the test with a self-confidence that they may not have had before. On some level, they know they can do this. In the case of martial arts, this confidence is going to be based on a history of facing all of the different challenges on the test, albeit spread out over a period of a few months. Each time a child successfully accomplishes a challenge set in front of them, their confidence goes up. Each time a child fails, and is allowed to believe that a failed challenge diminishes them, they lose confidence. The answer is not the trendy “don’t count the points and don’t declare anyone a winner” option. The answer is in letting the child know, “You need to work a little harder on this and then you can move up.” I typically build up the moment by showing my excitement that we now “know what we need to correct, and I know how to correct it, so let’s get right to work!”
Confidence is important for more than just grades. For a start, a child who is confident is much less likely to be selected as the victim by a bully. Bullies are not looking for a fight, they are looking to dominate. Also, a child who is confident is going to be happy. Speaking as an adult who was a painfully shy, poorly adjusted, bullied, and fully lacking in any form of self-confidence that exists, I can tell you, my school days were miserable. If I had not had two of the best friends a kid could ask for, I would more than likely be a statistic long before now. Martial arts changed me into a confident extrovert from someone who was far beyond introverted and fully into isolation. It changed me, and in doing so changed my life. Every kid needs this.
A child in the martial arts learns about conflict resolution.
This one can seem a little far out there if one does not look beyond the surface of the issue. A knee jerk reaction may be to say, “How is learning to punch and kick going to teach my child not to punch and kick people.”
For a start, when a child enrolls in a martial arts school that is not part of the “non-competitive” trend, the child will participate in an activity called sparring. The students will put on some safety equipment (pads) and practice strategic karate fighting on other students, with the object being to score points and win a contest. The child will get hit, no matter how much you may want that to not happen. It is much better for it to happen in a controlled setting such as a martial arts school than a parking lot behind the school.
In the martial arts school the child will learn to take the hits, but not take it personally to the point that they lose control. They will also learn (once again…if the instructor is good at what they do) to de-escalate a situation. Working for Chuck Norris’ KICKSTART KIDS, I know that in a school setting, the child needs alternative means of conflict resolution. If they get into a fight, even in “self-defense”, they will be in every bit as much trouble as the other kid. They need to know how to de-escalate, how to stay calm in the tense situations, and when to run. The child will learn how to look at the different things a person can say and do from a perspective that will allow the child to not take every word or action too personally. They learn this in the martial arts classes. Every kid needs this.
Here is a link to a video from KICKSTART KIDS on the benefits for children who train in the martial arts:
KICKSTART KIDS works on a different level in that the kids see us every day. In a commercial martial arts school, the student “does martial arts” when they feel like going to class. With the students in KICKSTART KIDS, they have to train day in and day out, when they feel like it and when they don’t. This brings an added dimention of allowing us the opportunity to teach one of the most important skills a person can have – work ethic. We get the chance to teach the students to give their honest best effort every day. Every adult needs this.