All children should learn a sport from an early age. It can have a massive effect on their early development and teach them all sorts of skills which will help them for years to come.
But which sport should they pick? I propose to you, that all children should learn a martial art.
Of course I am biased as an instructor, however being an instructor has allowed me to see
all of the positive effects of martial arts on children from all walks of life. I began my journey learning kickboxing, a more freestyle art which many view as a more violent and aggressive are, mainly due to the perceptions build by TV, film and the popularity of mainstream combat sports. I have since expanded my knowledge by learning other modern martial arts such as sport karate and BJJ and traditional martial arts such as taekwondo and ju jitsu. What I’ve learnt from this (apart from lots of new skills) is that all martial arts, all GOOD martial arts and GOOD martial arts instructors teach similar values and benefits.
I now teach martial arts as a full time profession, having recently quit my job as a manager at a multibillion pound company in the services industry. I was a manager at a well-known pub brand in the UK (I won’t name for obvious reasons), but doesn’t that sound much better.
So that’s me. Let’s get into it then. Why do I think that every child should learn a martial art? Let’s start with which skills martial arts offer.
· Confidence – Children often have difficulties with confidence at a young age. Being encouraged and feeling like they’re doing something well, is extremely important to their development and can help through their whole lives. From my experience, kids can often be shy in their first session and refuse to come onto the mats, but once they see the value (usually for kids, that looks fun), they tend to join in. As kids feel like they are improving and getting good at something this is where confidence comes into play in the rest of their lives, and it all starts from a simple well done and a high five.
· Discipline – Being prepared to be the “bad guy” is a big part of being an instructor. When I say being the bad guy, I’m not saying being mean to the kids is good and they shouldn’t
perceive you as a bad person, but sometimes as a teacher (in any capacity) you need to be harder on kids. From my experience, parents often appreciate the involvement, eg. The child misbehaved this week, so their belt may be taken either temporarily or as a demotion to a lower grade (remember they worked hard for that belt, it’s there’s taking it away is a big deal). Just having a child in their stances, saying yes sir, no sir and understanding a hierarchy is part of the discipline and structure system of your class.
· Structure – This leads on nicely to structure. Structure is important in varying levels in different children. A structured system allows for kids to know who is in charge, what their role is and how they should behave. Structure and routine can be extremely important for children especially those with special needs.
· Values – Martial arts instructors teach your child that using violence against others is a last resort and should only be used in self-defence, however your child should also be taught that bullying etc is wrong and they should stand up against it when appropriate. Values are instilled in children by building a culture in the adults in their lives. Their home, school, martial arts academy, football club, whichever other places they spend time or do activities all have a culture! It’s important that these cultures are positive for your children and teach good values such as respect, discipline, kindness, humility, positivity etc. This is the place which I believe that martial arts excels in comparison to other activities!
· Dealing with loss – This is an important hurdle in a person’s life. Some people never really learn to deal with losing very well. It takes time and reassurance to help children to understand that losing isn’t the end of the world. After crying for the first few times they lose, with some reassurance, most realise that doing their best is more important than winning and this is often a catalyst to help them to relax, start winning and even building a healthy competitive edge.
· Humility – Being a good winner, showing respect to another person, and being humble in defeat or victory. The instructor and the parents are very important for this, being encouraging in victory and congratulating a child is positive, however allowing a child to build an ego, letting them tell others they aren’t as good as them, or telling them that they aren’t good enough when they don’t win is wrong and will do nothing for them long term.
· Team work – Martial arts as a sport is an individual event, but we can help children become part of a team by helping them to be happy for and encourage others. In competitions, the support of a team can make all the difference between giving up and pushing through physical and mental barriers.
· Coordination, balance, physicality, flexibility etc – Physical attributes which make them more efficient in life are learnt through fitness and conditioning training. Coordination and balance are important early in life not just for athletes, but for most aspects of life.
· Practice and hard work – Hard work and practice should both be encouraged in martial arts. You’ll see a big difference in children who are working hard and practicing at home. This isn’t only a difference seen in ability, but also in the enjoyment and commitment they get out of martial arts.
· Responsibility – In my classes, responsibility is a big theme. Whenever I give out belts, uniforms etc I make sure that the kids know that it is their job to remember them and to make sure that they or their parents bring them to class!
I could go on all day but I think this post is more than long enough. If you made it this far, well done!
There is however just ONE more thing I want to talk about! (promise it's only one thing).
What it teaches you the parents.
Many of the same skills are essential to the parents of children and are learnt by parents through martial arts. You learn to deal with your child’s losses, you learn responsibility (usually because they bug you) and much more. Just look through the values and skills above and I'm sure you'll see some which you have learnt whilst watching your children grow through martial arts.
This is why in my opinion, all children everyone should learn a martial art!