Back in 2002, my two oldest boys and I started on our journey in one of the most fun things we’ve ever done: learning karate. I wanted something that the “men” in our family could do together, and we found it in martial arts. Fifteen years and four black belts later (my youngest son later joined us in our studies), we are all just as hooked today as the when we first walked into the dojo (Japanese for “school”). This study is exhausting, fulfilling, refreshing, and inexhaustible — all at the same time.
The following are just a few reasons why you might want to consider enrolling your child in a martial arts school. (Of course, you also need to beware of schools that are more interested in your money than giving your kid a quality education in karate, taekwondo, or judo. So, check out my article from last year in what to look for in a good school.)
1. Your child will gain self-confidence.
Of course the main reason for most people taking karate or jiu-jitsu is to learn how to defend themselves against larger opponents. That was certainly my motivation when I was a kid in the 70s (plus I wanted to learn all those cool moves that Bruce Lee would do). Once I learned how to put a larger opponent in an arm bar, or that a palm heel strike to the face could potentially knock someone out … well I got pretty confident that I could defend myself.
That confidence grows as kids learn more difficult skills, and participate in tournaments. When your child can do a jumping, spinning back kick and break a board, or when they win a trophy for performing a difficult form with a bo (an Okinawan wooden staff), they will gain more and more confidence.
2. They will learn respect.
Sassing the teacher or one another is not allowed in good martial arts schools. The head instructor (“sensei” or “sifu” in many schools) is the boss. He or she has earned their stripes through decades of hard work. The students will treat them with respect. “Yes sir/no sir” and “Yes ma’am/no ma’am” are the phrases you hear often.
In good schools, you will not hear vulgarity or disparaging comments from the teachers or students. (And if you do, and the teacher decides to tolerate it, find another school.) Expressing respect for one another will carry over into other aspects of your child’s daily life.
As martial artists, we learned respect not only for authority, but also for our fellow martial artists. We took Okinawan kenpō. But through interaction with other artists, we discovered that the guys and gals from taekwondo or Brazilian jiu-jitsu or muay Thai or collegiate wrestling could do some mighty impressive and powerful techniques. They certainly had our respect.
3. Kids will learn focus and discipline.
It takes a long time to learn how to do a roundhouse or hook kick properly. A good osotogari (“outer reaping throw” in judo) is a basic throw, but it takes long hours of practice to master it. The kids are taught that hard work beats talent when talent won’t work hard.
In a good school, belts are not handed out just for showing up. In a good school, students do not automatically pass their tests just because it’s “their turn.” You must earn each belt by the sweat of your brow. They will learn to focus on exactly how to pull someone off balance and set them up for a throw, or how to target that side kick just perfectly. They have to think hard and get their body to cooperate with what they want it to do, and that requires plenty of focus, and practice.
4. Your child will learn to take a hit.
Now that sounds mighty harsh, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’m not talking about six-year-olds beating the stuffings out of each other. In judo or jiu-jitsu, which involves quite a bit of throwing and tripping on mats, I would have no problem with kids as young as seven or eight (when their fine motor skills really kick in) grappling on the mats, provided that they are carefully watched over by expert instructors who take every safety precaution.
If children are enrolled in the striking arts where there is a lot of punching and kicking (taekwondo, karate, kung fu, etc.) then they must be fully suited up in all the protective gear (helmet, mouth guard, chest protector, gloves).
The important thing is that your kids will learn the very valuable lesson of getting hit, and then getting back up again. We have way too many people in our country who take a hit and then whine and cry about it. Fighting is a wonderful life skill that teaches us that life is not fair, people will knock us down, it hurts, but we had better get back up in a hurry and not cry about it. (And we had better learn real fast that the best defense is a strong offense. Martial arts teaches that too.)
5. Kids learn conflict resolution.
Many of the most peaceful people I know are very skilled martial artists. Why? They know the kind of destruction they can wreak on someone, and they are taught from day one that these skills are to be used ONLY in self defense to protect the innocent and defenseless. We are to never show off. We are to always seek peace, and try to use our skills to get out of a situation peacefully if at all possible.
In our school (taught by a pastor and his wife) we were taught “verbal judo” — how to use words to de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation. I have actually used these tactics on more than one occasion, and did not have to send anyone to the hospital (thankfully). Good martial arts schools major in teaching good anti-bullying lessons, stranger awareness, and how to resolve conflicts peacefully. The destructive side of the arts is to be used when all else fails and you cannot get away.
6. Kids will get more active.
Do we have an obesity problem in the United States or not? I wrote about childhood obesity in an article just a few months ago, and it certainly seems to me that more and more kids have their nose stuck in a phone or a video game.
In a well-run martial arts school, kids will be put through their paces with plenty of cardiovascular workouts of calisthenics and hitting the heavy bag. Plus, sparring just a few minutes will burn off calories in no time flat. (Of course, exercise alone will not get someone in shape. A healthy diet is also crucial.)
Wrestling, boxing, karate, jiu-jitsu, and many other arts promote flexibility, agility, coordination, power, speed, stamina, and just overall a healthier positive mental attitude as well.
7. Fun for the whole family.
Our family is a martial arts family, and we’ve loved every minute of it. It gives us another wholesome activity that we can all join in and provides years and years of inexhaustible study and reward. Some families I know of have multiple generations of martial artists (it gets in the blood!).
Maybe you and your family are looking for something fun, interesting, and richly rewarding for all of you to enjoy. Take a look at the martial arts. Once you are “hooked,” you’ll never go back!