It comes as no surprise to most when worried parents of energetic children express concerns about the thought of enrolling their rambunctious child in a martial arts program.
“But my child already punches and kicks people enough. I certainly don’t want to encourage more of it!”
Television and media will highlight the barbaric forms of martial arts showcasing boxing rings with bloodshed men and women, which appears to be a complete lack of respect for human life. Without knowledge of what traditional martial arts teaches children, it’s hard to blame a parent for expressing concerns or scoffing at the idea of enrolling their child in a martial arts program.
However, there are benefits that martial arts offers to young children, and these do not include kicking and punching. While not all martial arts programs are created equally, I can share knowledge of the programs that I have personally been involved with, as well as highlight some of the curriculum in one of the 100+ Crouching Tigers classes taught each week.
Benefit #1- Confidence
What can children find confidence in today? In a society of over-praise and participation trophies, the answer isn’t as clear as one would think. In group sports, children are taught that to show up is to achieve and are often left feeling underwhelmed with their success as they miss out on a feeling of personal accomplishment.
When you look at the very core of martial arts, what you will find is an individual activity. Packed solid with a great mixture of teamwork, cooperation and a sense of accomplishment that so few activities can offer, martial arts has been proven to build confidence in children as young as 2 years old. When a child earns a new stripe on his/her belt, breaks a board for his/her first time or releases pent up anger and energy by kicking and punching a bag, each and every accomplishment is rewarded with a sense of personal and individual achievement.
Benefit #2- An Outlet
Most mothers will tell you that their little one spent plenty of time kicking and punching before exiting the womb. Yet when they arrive, we restrain them, we tell them not to punch and kick. When they are angry, we tell them that they simply are not feeling the emotions that are running through their body. “You’re fine,” we say to the angry child who’s friend just snatched the toy from their hand. “It’s not a big deal. You’ll be alright,” we say to the child who’s friend just teased her about her hair cut. We are constantly downplaying the emotion of anger that children see every day.
The reasons for doing this are completely understandable as we look out for the safety of our youth. Who wants their 3-year-old to feel that it is okay to get anger out on a sibling or friends at school? My guess is not many. However, the more we deny children the right to feel anger, the more they struggle inside.
Martial arts is a wonderful tool for letting this anger out in a safe and positive environment. I was once a pillow screamer kid, that kid that would be so angry that it was impossible to contain myself. The only outlet I had before martial arts was my pillow, and I would lose my voice from time to time!
In Crouching Tigers classes, we understand the need for an outlet. We understand that feelings of anger exist within our students and feel that it is our job to allow for them to release this anger. One of our favorite characters, “Mr. Angerson” is described to our students on their first day as “the only person you can take your anger out on”. We teach our students all kinds of techniques to be used on this character and offer them the opportunity to release any anger they have by practicing these techniques in the safest way possible, on Mr. Angerson. By offering a safe environment for children to find this sort of release, we notice a drastic change in the emotions of our students over time.
Benefit #3- Mindfulness
Many martial arts programs include meditation, a practice that is incredibly important for young children. Children today are so incredibly over-stimulated with technology that any form of disconnecting can prove to be beneficial. In a recent class of 6 year olds, I explained meditation in a way that reached my students like never before.
“How many of you have an iPad at home?” Every hand went up. “How many of you close out your apps when you’re done with them?” A few hands went up. “When you don’t close your apps out, they are constantly running in the background, taking up energy.” The class gave me an incredibly confused look.
“Think of meditation like closing out apps. All of these thoughts are running in the background in your mind, taking up energy and using all of your energy and ability to focus. You might not actually dwell on these thoughts for long, the same way you can’t see your open apps, but they are there, running in the background. Thankfully meditation is an awesome way of closing those apps out.” A collective “Oooh!” broke out as I began to lead the students in our seated meditation game.
Only when you’re able to calm the mind of a child will you have their full attention. Oftentimes, our brains function in two modes: Mind racing, jumping from thought to thought, starting new thoughts before old ones are finished, or sleeping. Meditation offers that in-between by allowing a mind to simply be present, if only for a moment. Balance is something that is difficult to achieve but if we can master this in our youth, we’ll see benefits that astound us.
Benefit #4- Respect
In every class, my instructors and I bow individually with each and every student. We maintain eye contact as we face towards our students to complete a bow before entering the area where classes take place. I’ll remind my students of the respect shown when bowing to each other.
To Crouching Tigers students, who are required to memorize the definitions of our life-skills, respect means “Treating others the way I want to be treated.” I love setting a very respectful tone in every class, one that allows my students to have fun, enjoy the lesson but be both cognizant and respectful to myself and their classmates.
Martial arts is taught in a way that the instructor leads the class, allows the students to follow along and ultimately acts as a mentor and role model for the entire class. How many other sports offer this type of instruction? I believe that in order to teach a student anything, you must first have their respect. No matter the topic, if we learn to teach respect first, the rest will come easily.