The Olympic Games over the past week have, as they always do, proven to be awe-inspiring. Watching athletes push their physical and mental limits to achieve greatness puts into perspective just how much effort, time, and energy they have committed to their respective sports to get where they are. Sure, anyone can take up swimming, basketball or gymnastics, but not anyone can do what Katie Ledecky, Kevin Durant or Simone Biles do. They show incredible discipline and endurance in practice every single day.
One sport, however, that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the United States, requires superior discipline, endurance and respect from everyone who practices it – whether they’re just in it for the fun, or to ultimately win a medal at the Olympics—and that is martial arts.
This week the Taekwondo events will begin in Rio. If you get the opportunity, watch some of the matches with your kids. Korean karate (which is probably the most common martial art found around our country), and other martial arts, are fantastic sports to involve your children in from a young age. I started Tang Soo Do (which is now Soo Bahk Do) when I was just eight years old. I trained for five years straight and earned my black belt. It was one of the best things I have ever done. Here are some reasons why:
From the moment your child steps on that mat, he or she will learn unparalleled focus and discipline. Not only will this quality help with martial arts, but it will permeate throughout all aspects of life. It can help kids with school, other extracurricular activities, and even jobs as an adult. The discipline that was ingrained in me when I was practicing karate is still a major part of my personality. When I set out to do something, I do not stop until the task is complete. Beyond that, I aim to do things to the best of my potential –that goes for everything from training for a half marathon to doing a spreadsheet for work. I learned that discipline in Tang Soo Do.
As you progress through the belts in martial arts, training can sometimes be challenging. As a karate student, you’re taught to push through any discomfort you feel. When you do this over and over again in class, it begins to become part of your character. Kids learn to incorporate that lesson into physical endurance in other sports, and also to life in general. Mind over body is something you learn very early on. There is something to say about someone who can exhibit mental stamina in life’s tough situations.
In the martial arts, there is a hierarchy that everyone learns to respect from day one. You show a certain respect for your seniors, and your juniors show the same to you. That’s just how it goes. Kids who learn this lesson early are far less likely to exhibit unruly, disrespectful behavior outside of the dojo.
4. Exposure to Another Culture
Whether you choose to enroll your child in Taekwondo or Soo Bahk Do (Korean martial arts), Judo or Aikido (Japanese martial arts) or another that is offered, he or she will be immersed in a different culture. Your child will learn basic terminology, and will most likely learn to count and write some characters in another language. As I progressed towards my black belt, I was required to write some Korean characters and learn about Korean culture as part of my testing.
5. Self Defense
It goes without saying that any person enrolled in a martial art will have a much better understanding of how to defend him or herself. Contrary to popular belief, however, taking part in karate does not necessarily result in a more violent child. In fact, studying karate teaches you the exact opposite: to resort to your martial arts only when absolutely necessary. It creates a sense of humility in anyone who practices it.